Why Pathways Are Such A Compelling Element In The Garden

– Posted in: Garden Design

This is a re-print of a post that was published here in March 2013. As fall approaches, it’s a perfect time to re-evaluate any changes you want to make in your garden. 

When I began to learn 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?

Pathways in Fran Sorin Garden

Fran Sorin Southwind’s Drive garden top level in spring

Fran Sorin garden- front pathway

Fran Sorin’s Southwinds Drive 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

Fran Sorin’s Southwinds Drive 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 der Kloet’s personal garden in Holland

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.

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.

Learn more about Fran and get free resources that will help you improve your life at www.fransorin.com.

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Fran Sorin
38 comments… add one

Leave a Comment

Vidya Sury March 2, 2013, 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!

Jason March 2, 2013, 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.

Pam March 2, 2013, 8:29 pm

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

Margaret (Peggy) Herrman March 3, 2013, 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

Gareth March 3, 2013, 1:31 pm

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

Shenandoah Kepler March 3, 2013, 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.

Fran Sorin March 3, 2013, 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

Fran Sorin March 3, 2013, 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

Fran Sorin March 3, 2013, 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

Fran Sorin March 3, 2013, 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

Fran Sorin March 3, 2013, 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

Fran Sorin March 3, 2013, 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

Jeannie (Geno's Garden) Hanson March 4, 2013, 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.

Fran Sorin March 4, 2013, 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

Fran Sorin March 4, 2013, 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

Sandi Crabtree March 5, 2013, 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

Fran Sorin March 5, 2013, 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

Mark McKnight March 5, 2013, 12:09 pm

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

David Stevens March 5, 2013, 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.

Cathy Taughinbaugh March 5, 2013, 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!

Jerry March 6, 2013, 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.

Angela Artemis|Powered by Intuition March 6, 2013, 7:30 pm

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

Fran Sorin March 6, 2013, 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

Fran Sorin March 6, 2013, 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

Fran Sorin March 6, 2013, 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

Fran Sorin March 6, 2013, 11:04 pm

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

Fran Sorin March 6, 2013, 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

pete veilleux March 8, 2013, 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!

Fran Sorin March 9, 2013, 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

Landscaping Fort Worth Texas March 20, 2013, 5:48 am

Great job fran..keep writing more informative blogs.

Fran Sorin March 25, 2013, 11:25 pm

Thanks grass guy!

Jane McGarry September 13, 2014, 9:16 am

These pictures made me remember why i want a pathway in my next garden. thank you!

Jennifer September 15, 2014, 4:00 pm

So many great tips in this article! pathways are a beautiful addition to gardens and yards. thanks for sharing.

Fran Sorin September 18, 2014, 5:36 am

Jennifer- I’m so glad you enjoyed it. For me, pathways are one of the key players in determining whether or not the design works. When I go to a site or garden, that’s immediately where my eye is drawn—envisioning pathways or analyzing the ones in place already. I appreciate your comment. Fran

forth worth lawn care October 7, 2015, 4:37 am

These paths can make any yard look absolutely beautiful! im starting a project to making one in my back yard

Allen Kang June 10, 2016, 12:21 am

I always like your article and Thanks for sharing such excellent information!

Diana@Gardeners Services London June 23, 2016, 5:47 am

I have the same passion for paths! Love the mystery it adds to any space, especially gardens. You never know what’s around the corner and I love it 🙂

Nemasys Info June 28, 2016, 5:28 am

Depending on how they’ve been designed and where they are placed, a pathway can make an area really inviting.

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