Perfect path
Photo: Jerry Pavia
BROAD STEPPING STONES laced with low-growing plants create an informal path that complements this rustic Vermont home and its free-form garden beds.
All gardens have paths, planned or otherwise. A well-designed one keeps your feet dry and provides safe, easy access to your house. A great one does more. Whether it directs you and your guests under an archway of jasmine or around a bend to a reflecting pool, a path that works makes the garden more inviting. A successful path also shapes and defines garden areas as it connects unrelated parts to create a coherent whole. "One of the most important functions of a path is to link the house to the garden visually as well as physically," says Vermont landscape designer and author Gordon Hayward.

Here's Hayward advice on routing a path, determining its size and choosing among surface materials that include everything from mulch, which you can get for free, to relatively expensive cut stone.

PLOTTING YOUR PATH
How well a path works depends on how you route it. Hayward suggests starting with the most essential type, the primary path. This kind leads to or from the front and back doors, and often connects with the street or sidewalk.

Hayward advises keeping a path near the house straight to extend the architecture of the building, although this is not a hard-and-fast rule. A straight path is easy to follow and predictable, and produces a formal look, which Hayward believes is appropriate near the house. But you can soften the formality and add interest by planting along the edges of a path once it's completed.

A secondary path branches off from a primary path and usually extends farther into the landscape—perhaps to a vegetable garden or secluded bench. Because a secondary path doesn't see as much foot traffic as a primary path, you can make it narrower and less obtrusive. You can also give it gentle curves to make it more casual and level out a gentle climb. "Be sure curves appear natural and logical, not willy-nilly," Hayward warns. Three ways to do that: Curve the path around an existing tree; set a garden feature, such as a boulder or a shrub, inside it; or follow the dripline of trees—the area that's just outside their branch tips.

Also consider routing a path to create interesting visual illusions:

•A path that curves and disappears around a corner draws attention to what lies beyond. Use a meandering path to alternately reveal and conceal special plantings, a garden sculpture, a striking view and other features.

•A straight, narrow path can make a garden appear longer, especially if the end point is hidden.

•A curving path, or one laid on the diagonal, draws the eye from side to side and counteracts an elongated appearance.

•In a yard dominated by lawn, a stepping- stone path breaks up and adds interest to the expanse of green, and protects the grass from wear and tear.

Ask TOH users about Driveway & Walkway

Contribute to This Story Below