Why Pathways Are Such A Compelling Element In The Garden

When I began learning about garden design, I became intrigued with paths – no – make that obsessed. Maybe it dates back to my childhood memories of The Wizard of Oz. Who doesn’t remember when Dorothy reaches a crossroads on her journey to the Wizard and is confused about which way to go ~ and how the talking tree chimes in with his opinion?

Fran Sorin garden

Fran Sorin Garden – top level in backyard


Fran Sorin garden- front pathway

Fran Sorin Garden- Front Pathway

The dictionary describes a path as:

~ a way beaten, formed, or trodden by the feet of persons or animals.

~ a narrow walk or way: a path through a garden; a bicycle path.

~ a route, course, or track along which something moves: the path of a hurricane.4.

~ a course of action, conduct, or procedure: the path of righteousness.

Paths are a lot more than that. They can create a sense of mystery. Or a feeling of excitement, anticipation and fear ~ even a journey into the unknown. And when it comes to garden making, without well laid out paths, our gardens are chaotic.

 Sorin cutting garden

Sorin Cutting Garden

When I designed my cutting garden,  I used mulch for the pathway. I wanted an easy to maintain, non-formal walkway that would allow flowers to flop in a natural, overgrown style.

Chanticleer hillside garden

Chanticleer Hillside Garden – hidden stone path

The stepping stone pathway at Chanticleer’s hillside garden is practically invisible until you set foot on it.

Jacqueline van der Kloet garden

Jacqueline van dre Kloet garden

Jacqueline van der Kloet’s pathway is gentle with a female quality – as is her garden – which is a visual feast.
Aspen Colorado

Aspen Colorado

The trampled grass is an unspoken pathway that leads hikers towards the mountain.

Chanticleer -path to Tea Cup garden

Chanticleer -walkway to Tea Cup Garden

Although this stone entry ‘walkway’ to the Tea Cup garden doesn’t qualify as a pathway – it is too wide – I couldn’t resist inserting it in. Why? Because – when walking through it, the visitor has no sense of what’s beyond. The wall – upon which the bicycle is leaning – keeps the visitor in a ‘not knowing’ state until she walks through an entryway and then – POW – in a split second,  the Tea Cup garden ignites all of your senses.

Chanticleer cutting garden

Chanticleer Cutting Garden

The straight grass pathway is perfect for maintaining a sense of geometry and allowing a sweeping overview of the cutting garden in all of its glory.

If you’re interested in reading other articles I’ve written about paths on Gardening Gone Wild, click on the links below.

My Pathways

Pathways In My Backyard

Pathways In The Garden ~ At Chanticleer

If you enjoyed this article, please share on FB, Twitter, and other Social Media.

NOW IT’S YOUR TURN. Tell us about paths you’ve created in your garden or a favorite path you’ve been on.

About Fran Sorin

Fran’s book, Digging Deep: Unearthing Your Creative Roots Through Gardening, now considered a classic, was groundbreaking when published as no one had written about gardening in the context of creativity, spirituality, and transformation.

In addition to being a recognized garden expert and deep ecologist, Fran is a broadcaster, journalist, Ordained Interfaith Minister, and Soul Tender.

Google+ | LinkedIn | Facebook | Twitter | Pinterest

If you enjoyed this article, get email updates (it's free).

, , , , , ,

31 Responses to Why Pathways Are Such A Compelling Element In The Garden

  1. Vidya Sury March 2, 2013 at 10:29 am #

    Quite gorgeous! I love those mysterious paths. Just recently I was browsing Garden Notes (BHG dot com) and of course, as always, ended up browsing page after page of sheer beauty. I remember I arrived on a slideshow of “Glorious Garden paths” and they were so beautiful.

    :-) I love this blog of yours – solid visual treat. And the great feeling of being in the midst of nature. Thank you, Fran. Love to you!

  2. Jason March 2, 2013 at 1:15 pm #

    I agree that paths really create a big part of a garden’s feel. I think my favorite paths are grass paths between tall flower borders, as well as red brick/paver.

  3. Pam March 2, 2013 at 8:29 pm #

    And who can NOT resist following a path? They beckon us forward to explore what is to come.

  4. Margaret (Peggy) Herrman March 3, 2013 at 9:54 am #

    SOOOO, excellent I’m sharing on my Doc Peg is IN page on FB. Fran, this post crosses my passion for gardens/orchids/growing green and conflict work (my Doc Peg personna). Paths are a wonderful metaphor, a way of mystery and clarification and living through ambiguity. So, you see why I am sharing. thanks as always, Peggy

  5. Gareth March 3, 2013 at 1:31 pm #

    I really like the Jacqueline van dre Kloet garden and path, it meanders into the borders every now and again!!

  6. Shenandoah Kepler March 3, 2013 at 3:38 pm #

    Hi Fran,
    Thanks for your post on paths and your earlier posts on your paths and on Chanticleer’s — they are all beautiful! I have been modifying the paths in my garden for several reasons, the most important being “visitability” for my less-abled friends and family, and for accessibility for me because I now use a walker/rollator.

    My paths have had to be broadened (to at least 36 inches to accommodate a wheel chair) hardened (to make it easier to roll without sinking into mulch) and, in some instances, repositioned to remove the necessity of having steps to get from one point to another. I started the revisions as a way to avoid accidents in the garden, but have found that it has taken on a bit of a life of its own as others lesser abled have been able to visit our garden and enjoy it with us.

    It is an ongoing project, but one that is meeting with some success. I have written about some of our efforts in my blog at http://gardenaginginplace.com and would welcome any insights you have on accommodating wheelbarrows, lawn carts, and wheeled people in the garden.

  7. Fran Sorin March 3, 2013 at 11:31 pm #

    Shenandoah – Thanks for sharing how and why you are revising the pathways in your garden. It sounds like it has gone from being a ‘it’s time to do this’ type of project to one filled with fun, rewards, and i would guess it’s stretching your creativity muscles as well. Great stuff. Fran

  8. Fran Sorin March 3, 2013 at 11:33 pm #

    Peggy – I do see how a post on pathways intersects with your passion. And yes, the metaphor for living a life of ambiguity is a great one. Am going to get on your website as soon as I finish commenting. Thanks for chiming in. Fran

  9. Fran Sorin March 3, 2013 at 11:35 pm #

    Gareth -

    Jacqueline is an international ‘super star’ designer. Although her garden is sweet and gentle, the design, plantings, and bones – including the pathways, are meticulous and a creative masterpiece. Fran

  10. Fran Sorin March 3, 2013 at 11:38 pm #

    Pam -

    Yes, I feel a sense of childlike wonder I read your words ‘who can NOT resist following a path?’ Children do it without thinking ~ wonder, curiosity, etc prompts them. We adults can learn a lot from them – and from paths :) Fran

  11. Fran Sorin March 3, 2013 at 11:42 pm #

    Vidya -

    Why am I not surprised that you browse through garden photos. Pathways are finally getting the attention they deserve in the gardening world – They are not only necessary but can add so much to a garden. I haven’t been on BHG’s site in a long time. You’ve prompted me to do so. It’s great to see you on GGW- It does my heart good to know that you’re enjoying it. xxoo-Fran

  12. Fran Sorin March 3, 2013 at 11:45 pm #

    Jason – Good choices for your favorites. You prompted me to think what my favorite one is ~ I LOVE a mowed pathway surrounded by a meadow or tall grasses on either side that haven’t been mown. (but that could change tomorrow). Thanks for sharing your thoughts. Fran

  13. Jeannie (Geno's Garden) Hanson March 4, 2013 at 3:39 am #

    Hi Fran. I, too, love a path. I also like a place to sit in the garden, and a path’s a nice way to get there. Even if you don’t use it, that path and that sitting area are like an open invitation … come when you can!
    The other thing about paths, is that kids love them. So do dogs.
    That’s my take on designing with paths.

  14. Fran Sorin March 4, 2013 at 7:29 am #

    Jeannie -
    Your take is a great one. How true that children and dogs love them. I remember when Longwood Gardens created an indoor maze for children. I got lost in watching the kids run through the paths. And now you’re reminding me that when I deadhead or am weeding and look up to see the garden, it is the path the leads my eyes towards the ‘surprise’ or a ‘focal’ point. :) Fran

  15. Fran Sorin March 4, 2013 at 7:34 am #

    Shenandoah – a post script. I just got on your site and ‘liked’ it. You’ve got some great stuff – love the giveaway. I have dealt with wheelbarrows – always by making my paths wider than 36″ (that’s it I think). I have not dealt with wheeling people into the garden. As you already mentioned, it’s not just the width but the material of the path. If I come across any new ideas, I’ll send onto you. :) Fran

  16. Sandi Crabtree March 5, 2013 at 7:47 am #

    Loved this compilation of paths, each one unique and all useful giving the gardens they are laid in channels of movement. I have a favorite path that I walk daily in the lower 3 acres of the naturalized meadow in our gardens. It’s two riding mower passes wide and about a 1/2 mile in length cut into a flowing serpentine pattern. When on that path, it’s just you and the field and sky. We call it the “meditation path” because of the feeling of grounding we get from it. It forces one to observe the natural minutiae that would otherwise go unnoticed. Love your blog-Sandi

  17. Fran Sorin March 5, 2013 at 11:47 am #

    Ahhhh- I can see and smell your pathway. How divine – serpentine and a long stretch of land. I understand why you call it the meditation path. Talk about nature and you – in silence together- as one. Thanks so much for your thoughts. They are beautiful. Fran

  18. Mark McKnight March 5, 2013 at 12:09 pm #

    What a beautiful pathway, Makes you feel like you’re in a garden of eden.

  19. David Stevens March 5, 2013 at 5:22 pm #

    Hi Fran,
    I’ve been treading the pathway of Life and there have been many interesting ones that I have walked…..and many more to come. Thankyou for the visual feast and with words to match.
    Be good to yourself
    Life Coach. Listener. Life Lover.

  20. Cathy Taughinbaugh March 5, 2013 at 11:39 pm #

    Hi Fran,

    Garden paths do add beauty and can divide up the garden in an interesting way. Love all your pictures – beautiful!

  21. Jerry March 6, 2013 at 7:26 pm #

    What splendid photos!

    I love the surprise and drama of paths. And I find it intriguing how sometimes, despite the best intention of a garden planner, one can see how visitors have deviated from the prescribed route to follow their own “desire path” – through grass or trees, perhaps – towards something that has stirred their imagination. Paths are for me a vital part of a landscape, part of its essential mystery.

  22. Angela Artemis|Powered by Intuition March 6, 2013 at 7:30 pm #

    I love the new site. It is absolutely gorgeous. I so enjoy looking at all the beautiful photos of gardens too.

  23. Fran Sorin March 6, 2013 at 10:53 pm #

    Thanks Angela. I could spend hours looking at photos of gardens ~ and better yet, I can spend days being in them. :) Fran

  24. Fran Sorin March 6, 2013 at 10:56 pm #

    As I’m having my morning coffee and reading your comment, I’m thinking to myself – ‘Hmmmm….what a beautiful thought – one that more people should subscribe to’. Your words are a lovely way for me to begin my day. Thank you. Fran

  25. Fran Sorin March 6, 2013 at 10:58 pm #

    Mark – I love your thought. Imagine if each of us carried it in our hearts as we walk down a pathway :) Fran

  26. Fran Sorin March 6, 2013 at 11:04 pm #

    Designing paths effectively is the foundation of a great garden ~ Fran

  27. Fran Sorin March 6, 2013 at 11:05 pm #

    Am glad you feel it was a visual feast. And yes, paths in the garden are a great metaphor for the paths of life. Fran

  28. pete veilleux March 8, 2013 at 8:35 pm #

    i have a few clients w/ really huge yards – one of them is 300 acres. i used to be so baffled as to how to begin such a job as that, but now it’s much easier since i began to base my designs on the paths. the first thing i do is map out where people are walking on the land – where the natural footpaths are and then i look at whether any need to be modified for any reason. another really point about paths is access points – where do people need to have access and where would you like to see them accessing more – woods? vegetable garden? once i’ve done that, the design all falls into place. i really like paths where you can’t quite see where they go to – maybe just a little hint. i guess the natural progression would be to now talk about destination points…

    thanks for the interesting article!

  29. Fran Sorin March 9, 2013 at 4:44 am #

    You raise a lot of good points. The gestalt of what you wrote is that you listen to the land – the ‘genus loci’ – it tells you what to do ~ what you’re describing is not about imposing what you want the paths to be but letting the functions and ‘natural paths’ lead you in your design. Really good information Pete. Thank you ~ Fran

  30. Landscaping Fort Worth Texas March 20, 2013 at 5:48 am #

    Great job fran..keep writing more informative blogs.

  31. Fran Sorin March 25, 2013 at 11:25 pm #

    Thanks grass guy!