Plan the perfect path

Adam Frost

Adam Frost

TV gardener Adam Frost shares his expertise on designing garden access to give a sense of movement and destination

The design, materials and shape of your paths all directly impact your garden, visually and practically. As well as being a way of getting from A to B, a path can help divide up the garden, enhance the drama and geometry of a scene, gently wend its way to far-flung corners, or even create a visual ‘pull’.

The most important aspect when designing a path is its purpose. Think about the path’s destination, how quickly you want people to get there and how heavily used it will be.

Paths determine the way people navigate a space. They’re also a way to direct people around your garden and steer them towards focal points or views, or slow them down to enjoy a feature.

Without a path, people tend to move haphazardly through a space. Think about how you’d walk through a wild area such as a woodland; most likely you’d be looking down for trip hazards rather than enjoying the views. Adding a path gives a sense of movement and destination.

As soon as you provide an access route you don’t have to think about where to put your feet and your head can come up instead, allowing you to look around.

MATERIALS & EDGING

The style of your path has a massive impact on the overall design of your garden. Look to use materials that suit the age and style of your house and choose a path type that fits with the garden colour scheme and planting style. 

You’ll also need to decide what kind of edging to use where a path meets other features such as borders or a lawn. For instance, gravel paths may need edging to prevent gravel spilling into flowerbeds; using flush edging no higher than the lawn makes mowing easier.

Simple brick edging gives a classic, timeless look. You can create different effects by the way you lay the bricks – such as the classic, timeless stretcher bond or more visually exciting herringbone.

Timber edging is cheap and cheerful and can be used straight or curved, while steel edging gives a smart edge to a lawn, but needs to be installed carefully, especially if it’s used to go around bends or sharp curves.

Small units such as granite setts are hardwearing, easy to use, and you can obtain them in various shades of grey. They’re particularly useful for situations that require tight curves.

Stone edging is a good way to tie in with, for example, the stone used on a terrace and helps to give continuity of materials around the garden. 

WHAT TYPE OF PATH?

1. GET THERE FAST

1. GET THERE FAST

1 GET THERE FAST Are you just going from A to B or is the route more convoluted? Is the path to be used every day (primary path) or only occasionally? A primary path should be roughly 1m (3ft 3in) wide so it’s practical to walk along, although paths used less often can be narrower. Primary paths that are heavily used need to be made from hard-wearing materials. Tie them in with the overall look of the house and garden by colour or texture etc. Use focal points to invite people to travel along the route.

2. SLOW MOVEMENT WITH A CURVE

2. SLOW MOVEMENT WITH A CURVE

2 SLOW MOVEMENT WITH A CURVE
While the quickest route from A to B is a straight line, it might divide the garden in a way that’s not useful to your design. Curved paths can slow people down and bring a sense of movement into a garden. A focal point encourages people to linger midway along a path, while arches or a pergola provide interest and a sense of mystery. Edge your path with planting to stop people from cutting the corner.

3. ADD A PAUSE FOR THOUGHT

3. ADD A PAUSE FOR THOUGHT

3 ADD A PAUSE FOR THOUGHT

Add seating along a path to encourage people to pause as they move through the space. This will invite them to enjoy different views, slow down their journey and get more out of the garden. Use different materials and paving  patterns to make your pausing points distinct from the path. Irregular paving, with planting to the side, will soften the path lines. If you’re adding seating, remember to provide a good view or focal point for people to look at.

4 OFFER A DIVERSION

4 OFFER A DIVERSION

4 OFFER A DIVERSION

Paths that are only used occasionally can still become part of your overall design. They lead the eye, invite possibilities and tap into the power of suggestion. Vary the materials or match the primary path to help integrate the diversion into the design. Stepping stones might not be heavily used, for example, but they provide a real focal pull and, practically, they help prevent wear and tear on your lawn.



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Adding a bench invites people to sit and pause awhile, enjoying the planting around the seat and views up or down the path. Be sure to offer a good view to look at from the seat. A decorative pot, urn or small water feature can be positioned at the far end of a straight path, acting as a focal point to draw people along, even if the path leads ‘nowhere’.

 

This is an edited extract from RHS How to Create Your Garden by Adam Frost (£20, DK), available at all good book retailers and garden centres