Walking a path into a new garden is an exciting moment filled with anticipation. Map in hand, you scout the areas and choose the path you will follow. You are ready to enjoy new sights, sounds and smells.. Before you charge ahead after looking down at the map, look further down and notice the path!
I’ve wandered many a pretty garden path and discovered such beauty and variety right under my feet. Yes some are strictly utilitarian, helping the gardeners move efficiently to prune and plant as they scurry about in their carts and trucks. Others are elegance and charm just waiting to be noticed. Made of stone, shells, tiles, and brick, the materials are artfully arranged in patterns of circles, triangles, pinwheels or diamonds. Some are formal, highlighting a dramatic entrance. Others are casual, yet so creative you can’t help but stop and admire the great work. Here are a few of the extraordinary ones I’ve admired over the years.
Solid, purposeful and traditional brick paths set the style in many gardens yet often go unnoticed. There is a range of patterns; basket weave, running bond, and herringbone to name a few. In Madame Ganna Walska’s Lotusland gardens in Santa Barbara, CA, the brick is a mix of large and small accented by bright green moss. In another area of the garden, the brick is mixed with tile accents adding bits of color and interest, elevating the ordinary brick to extraordinary.
In Kauai, Hawaii in the Allerton Garden, part of the National Tropical Botanical Garden, sand colored concrete is imprinted with large blossoms of hibiscus, palm fronds & ferns. Should you look down or look up? While it’s difficult to take your eyes off the lush green tropical plants, this path is worth a look.
Stone paths may be as simple as crushed gravel or as elaborate as hand laid patterns. In the Chinese Garden of the Huntington Library and Gardens in Pasadena, CA, smooth white stones are laid, one by one on edge forming interlocking circles. The circles are set among slices of slate placed tightly together. So carefully positioned and so uniform in size it forms an even pathway.
A garden path rarely moves just from point to point, rather it seeks to hide and reveal as a visitor explores. Japanese gardens master this technique using uneven granite stones. The pathway is designed to require careful concentration of each step as the traveler stays attentive to the ground at one’s feet. As the path evens out, look up and out to a scene designed for enjoyment especially for that spot in the garden. This pathway in the Chicago Botanical Gardens accomplishes this perfectly.
In Beverly Hills, LA, the Greystone Mansion and Gardens is named for the color of the Indiana Limestone used for the mansion walls. The roof is Welsh slate, three to four inches thick, in shades of blue, red and gray. This same slate is used for the pathways and patio areas of the elaborate gardens which surround the mansion. Here you may wander through an allée of Italian cypress leading to a fountain or down a grand staircase to another fountain with each path made of the multi-colored slate slabs. It is obviously a durable material as it was installed in 1928 and is one of the most beautiful paths I have found in my garden travels.
Walking grand paths are a special part of traveling and perhaps the best are in estate gardens. In the Virginia Robinson Mansion and Gardens in Beverly Hills, I walked up the same green terrazzo entrance way where Mae West and Charlie Chaplin walked years ago when they came to dinner.
Gardens hold so many fascinating elements to enjoy. Visiting there may spark ideas and inspire you to make your own pretty path. Creating an entrance into our garden is a special creative opportunity to make our own garden grand. Pretty paths are a sweet step in our own journey. Don’t miss them!
Originally published in Roots & Shoots, the Maricopa County Master Gardener Newsletter, http://cals.arizona.edu/maricopa/garden/mgcentral/uploads/2013-September_r-s.pdf