My Pathways

– Posted in: Garden Design

In response to Nan’s Design Workshop for November, I decided to share the story of my garden pathways.

I have been gardening on a sharply steeping, aberrant piece of land, about one half acre, for the past twenty-six years (Yikes, that’s a long time!). The picture below is how the front of my home was landscaped when I first moved in as a 28 year old woman with a newborn and toddler, having only done some weekend gardening chores in homes where I had lived before.

For the first ten years, I spent a lot of time learning about gardening, experimenting with a variety of plants and being frustrated. Even though I learned a great deal about perennials and how to use them effectively in the garden, I became acutely aware of how disjointed the entire garden was.

Initially, I was overwhelmed when I began to make changes but then decided I could deal with the garden if I broke it up into projects to be done over a protracted period of time. I began with the front yard, where I had made some changes but was still working with a cookie cutter straight, concrete walkway from the driveway to the front door. I decided that I wanted to create a perennial garden, and with the help of a great gardener, Chris Woods (Ex-Director of Chanticleer and newly appointed director of Montecito Coastal Gardens), I dismantled the entire front yard and turned it into an area for perennials dotted with some deciduous shrubs. The straight stucco walkway was turned into a winding stone walkway. I had a vision of creating a rambling environment so I used no concrete in between the stones in order to let plants self seed.

Initially I fell in love with this garden but as renovations were happening in other parts of my garden and as I learned more about the importance of paths in creating the ‘bones’ of the garden, the time had come for me to create another garden: in large part because the path only led from the driveway to the front step with no way of accessing the garden beyond. I was living with a hybrid front yard: not the typical shrubbery but then again not a real garden where one could stroll about and admire the plantings.

First, I dug up all of the plantings and set those aside that I planned on using again. Then I re-shaped the beds and laid out a pathway from the front door through to the other side of the garden (which led to the other side of the house). This layout, I realized, would not only facilitate me in creating my rambling, English garden but finally allowed the front area to connect seamlessly with other gardens on the property. My instincts told me that the extension of the original stone pathway should be done in grass (plus it was much less expensive). For whatever reasons, designing a walkway in half stone and half grass worked. The pictures below are the latest renovations of the front pathway and garden.

Anybody else out there who turned their conventional front yard and or/pathways into something other than what was originally there? If not, what is it you dream about doing with your front property?




Fran Sorin

Fran is the author of the highly-acclaimed book, Digging Deep: Unearthing Your Creative Roots Through Gardening, which Andrew Weil, M.D., recommends as "a profound and inspiring book."  

A graduate of the University of Chicago with Honors in Psychology, she is also a gardening and creativity expert, coach, inspirational speaker, CBS radio news gardening correspondent, and Huffington Post Contributor.

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Fran Sorin
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Pam/Digging November 13, 2007, 11:48 am

Wow, you totally transformed your lot into a lush garden. It’s lovely.

I agree that a good path is the key to making a garden work. You’ve got to be able to get into your garden if you want to enjoy it. A lot of plant lovers look down on hardscaping, but it’s critical to the gardener’s and visitors’ enjoyment of the plants.

fsorin November 13, 2007, 8:54 pm

It has been alot of fun Pam. This past week, I and my gardeners actually dug up about one third of the plants because I just have to keep on learning and experimenting. Fran

mss @ Zanthan Gardens November 16, 2007, 9:25 pm

What an impressive accomplishment. How pleasant it must be to stroll through it now. I love that “rambling English garden” look. Your garden looks so green and inviting.

fsorin November 17, 2007, 8:51 am

Thanks mss. Yes, initially it was impressive and made me feel wonderful. But like most gardeners, eventually I want to try something new. And although I don’t plan on changing the structure (and I still do love the pathways), I have just dug up about one third of the plants in order to re-plant with different specimens next spring. One of my favorite English rose gardens is at Montisfont Abbey!!
Their ability to combine a bounty of magnificent roses with a slew of perennials makes me salivate!! Thanks for your note. Fran

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