Landscape Design: Paths


Ralph Waldo Emerson once mused that the qualifications for taking a walk include “an eye for nature” and “vast curiosity.” For many homeowners, there is no better way to enjoy the simple pleasures of the outdoors than by strolling through their own yards.

To get the latest scoop on garden paths and learn what needs to be considered when planning them, we spoke to Michael Dollin of Urban Earth Design, LLC; Misty Hancock of Marvel Building & Masonry Supply Inc.; César Mazier of César Mazier Landscaping & Consulting Inc.; and Chad Robert of Exteriors by Chad Robert Inc.

According to Dollin, paths allow people to connect to their landscapes and experience the outdoors in a natural way. “You’re getting back to the land in your own backyard,” he says, explaining that walkways are an extension of the renewed trend toward cocooning and enjoying the benefits of home. Here are some planning tips:
• Choose a concept. Robert highlights the importance of identifying a theme for the area surrounding a footpath before planning the logistics. “Ask yourself, ‘What is the experience of this pathway?’” the landscape architect suggests. He outlines a few popular concepts: a visual contrast created with colorful vegetation; a sensory experience using plantings such as lavender and rosemary; or a layout geared toward attracting wildlife. Butterflies and hummingbirds are relatively easy to draw to a Southwest garden, Robert states; try such plants as Salvia greggii and butterfly bush.
• Deciding a route. Regardless of their size, landscapes often have unused space that is ideal for pathways. Mazier recommends walking a property to look for eye-catching vegetation, spots that would accommodate groupings of plants, or appealing views (perhaps of the home from an unusual angle or of a nearby mountain). He notes that trails should meander and curve, wind around plants, and loop so there is no end point.
• Light the way. Our experts agree that low-voltage lighting is an essential part of a successful design and should be included in the initial plan. Robert says that pathway lighting can be overwhelming and create a runway effect. Instead, use spotlights to
illuminate a grade change, obstacle or steps,
or install fixtures in trees for diffused ambient lighting similar to moonlight coming through branches. Dollin recommends tinted lights such as blues and purples for pops of color.

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