Garden Paths: Inspiring Designs and Practical Projects

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9780944475409: Garden Paths: Inspiring Designs and Practical Projects
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Shows how paths are used in different gardens, offers design ideas and concepts, and provides detailed instructions for creating a garden path

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About the Author:

by Gordon Hayward and illustrated by Elayne Sears

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

Introduction

The idea for this book grew out of my work as a garden designer. Time and again I found myself turning to paths for help in starting a design. They organize space, break design problems down into related parts, and help my clients understand a design process that results in a garden they can use and enjoy. After countless designs for clients, after years of developing our own gardens here in southern Vermont, I still approach the garden design problem the same way. First, I establish where the major elements of the garden -- terraces or patios, a grape arbor, perennial beds, the vegetable garden, large trees -- will go in relation to the house or existing outbuildings. Then I turn to paths as a way of linking the house to existing as well as planned elements of the garden. Finally, I turn to plants to help me define the nature of each area. It is this process, this sequence, and particularly the role of the path within it, that I want to share in the hope that it will enable you to more confidently design your own landscape, for it is an approach to garden design I know works for me and for others.

The goal of this book, then, is to give you the confidence and the knowledge to begin designing your own garden. While it cannot provide you with all the plant information you need, it will give you a place to start your own plant choices within a framework. Confidence will build on confidence, and you'll be surprised how successful you really can be at designing your own garden once you let the path lead you.

Of course, I did not invent this idea of the path's importance in good garden design. When I spoke to garden designers working throughout America and England, and when I turned to the writings of great garden designers from the past century, I found support for my notion that the path is central to the early stages of garden design. In 1962, Russell Page, the late and eminent English garden designer, wrote in The Education of a Gardener,

Paths are all-important. Before I begin to elaborate my composition, I like to establish ... the lines of communication between house and garden .... Paths indicate the structure of a garden plan, and the stronger and simpler the lines they follow the better. They help define the organic shape of your garden; an indecisive arrangement of paths will make an amorphous and weak garden, a basic error which even the most skillful planting will never be able to put right.

Lanning Roper, a distinguished landscape designer who moved from America to England to live and work, wrote in 1957, "No matter what the size of your garden or what the design, there are inevitably paths or terraces, and often both. The design of the whole garden will depend to a large extent on these features."

And Fletcher Steele, an influential American garden designer, places paths at the very heart of the landscape. In 1924 he wrote, "Beds and decoration are but to enhance the path.... Paths play an important part in giving character to the garden."

The Role of the Path in Design

It is one thing to be assured by great garden designers past and present that paths make a big difference, but quite another to be given guidelines on how to use paths in your own property to make a good garden. The way you lay out the paths through your garden will determine how you and your visitors experience it. As you pass from one garden space to the next along the path, the meaning and feeling of each, through contrast, becomes clearer. When I asked Rosemary Verey, an English gardener and writer, for her understanding of the role of paths in garden design, she underscored this idea:

Their layout and material will determine the garden style. Paths, allées and walks also dictate the way you wish people to move around your garden. They are the skeleton of the garden. They frame beds into manageable sizes and divide the garden into different areas, leading you on from one section to the next, through gates, under archways, round corners and along vistas.

Often the word "path" conjures an image like that of W. Eugene Smith's 1946 photograph, "The Walk to Paradise Garden," the last in the photographic essay, The Family of Man. The photo shows the backs of his two very young children, hand in hand, walking from a shaded woodland path into a sunny idyllic garden. Or we imagine a nineteenth-century Helen Ellingham painting depicting an English woman sweeping a simple way between two borders to the front door of her rustic thatched cottage. These certainly are paths, but in this book, I expand the definition to include any combination of footpaths, walkways, footbridges, boardwalks or stepping-stone paths, whether curving, straight or meandering, narrow or wide. Pathways may be made of cut stone, fieldstone, lawn, brick, concrete, wood, gravel, trodden earth or the naturally occurring woodland floor. Steps, too, are paths in that they also focus our movement, inviting us to enter new garden spaces.

Redefined, the garden path not only leads you from one area of the garden to the next, but also provides you with a sequential design process. The concept of the path can help you divide spaces into specific forms and shapes, dividing the design problem in such a way that you can think of parts of your design, and then use the path, and later, plants, to create a whole garden. Here is an example.

In a sense, the entire design for the 1 1/2-acre garden my wife Mary and I are developing around our 200-year-old farmhouse in southern Vermont started from one gently curving 20-foot-long lawn path. We had created a spring garden under wild plums, and across an amorphous patch of lawn, a rectangular herb garden answering the rectangular shapes of an old wooden garden shed. But the two did not relate in any way. Out of the amorphous lawn, we cut a curving 5-foot-wide path, extending the herb garden toward the spring garden in the process. Instantly the two garden areas were drawn into a relationship with one another. The path simultaneously established logical edges for the herb garden and spring gardens. And as we followed the line of the path around the other side of the herb garden, it helped us draw the nearby rock garden into a relationship with the herb garden too. And so it went. The effect of making that first path eventually rippled the length and width of our property, and continues to do so, nine years later. Without realizing it at the time, we were following a precept of Russell Page's: all the lines in a garden -- whether initially established by streams, driveways, the edges of beds, the driplines of overhead trees, or, in our case, a single path -- should relate to one another. The application of that idea when gathered around paths that lead articulately throughout a garden results in a coherent design that has what Capability Brown, an influential garden designer in 18th-century England, called an itinerary.

But Harland Hand, an artist who gardens in Berkeley, California, pointed out to me that the concept of the path goes even deeper than design:

For a garden to be more than color or form or variety -- for it to inspire and move you -- it must contain three elements that fulfill ancient, primitive human needs: shelter, trails and lookouts, not garden rooms, paths and views. These words are removed from the natural world. They do not speak directly to the feelings you might have when, having hiked all day along a high, exposed ridge trail, you come, as dusk falls, upon a ravine where a knot of trees offers shelter for the night. When you find such a place you feel good and warm and safe. Trails produce mixed emotions, a sense of expectation and a sense of direction. A lookout brings a sense of power and exhilaration. This is how primitive people saw nature and how modern people experience nature and even gardens, whether they know it or not.

Throughout the history of civilization, paths have been important in determining the shapes and

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