The Design Role of Paths
Paths are more than pedestrian conveniences for getting from
place to place. They are the backbone of the garden. As such,
they are of vital importance to its design. Paths that bend
their way around trees and shrubs or that disappear through
a hedge opening create anticipation and add mystery to the garden.
The materials used reinforce the period and style of the house
if like material is used. Intricate brick and stone patterns
may speak to an earlier time period, whereas color-rendered
concrete gives a more contemporary look. A path system can also
establish intricate patterns in the garden, for example by laying
down herringbone or basket weave brickwork, that are particularly
noticeable from windows and elevated decks.
Paths also influence perspective. A narrowing path planted
with bordering trees and shrubs makes a space seem longer.
Flagstones used as stepping stones extending from a flagstone
patio onto an adjacent lawn unite the areas, thereby acting
as a transition, and merge the foreground patio with the middleground
lawn. To help avoid visual confusion and to achieve a cohesive
look, it is important to coordinate path materials with those
used for walls, copings, steps, lamp bases and patio surfaces.
Furthermore, path design should be as unobtrusive and as respectful
of the environment as possible. This is aptly demonstrated
in country gardens, where infrequently mown paths snake through
meadows, and boardwalks skirt sensitive aquatic environments.
An informal limestone pathway
Successfully designed and implemented garden paths appear
as if they have always been there and follow lines that are
obvious and natural. They should never appear to be contrived
or forced upon the landscape.
The style and lines of your house (formal and symmetrical
or informal and asymmetrical) will influence the alignment
of an entrance walkway leading to your front door. Likewise,
a side-yard storage area (where you keep your garbage bins,
for example) warrants a direct route to the street to make
carrying those bins to the curb as easy as possible. On the
other hand, in a garden with a naturalistic design, a backyard
path that meanders will draw attention to marginal features,
whereas a straight path would quickly propel eyes forward
to a terminus. As previously noted, path alignments are strongly
influenced by site constraints, as well as by design features.
These constraints can cause paths to become divergent. In
terms of design considerations, retaining a comfortable setback
from neighboring properties must also be considered, particularly
if you or your neighbors are concerned about privacy.