Thursday, December 6, 2012


Gilman Park Arboretum, Pierce Nebraska

Check out this wonderful piece on garden pathways from Karma Larsen, written for the Nebraska Statewide Arboretum.

         “It was a lucky day for me when I discovered that I could put the lawn mower blade on the highest setting and cut a path through the tall grass that, at a stroke, transformed that sorry patch of grass and weeds into something altogether different—into a meadow... I don’t know exactly what it is, but that sharp, clean edge changes everything; it makes a place where there wasn’t one before.” from Michael Pollan’s Second Nature

            Garden paths are much more than just a way to get to a destination. They’re an invitation to take a closer look, a promise that there’s more to see. The initial goal may be accessibility—getting from the street to the house, from the kitchen to the vegetable garden—but the best pathways make us want to see what’s ahead. They draw us in and give a sense of order and structure to the landscape.
            In a small yard, carefully planned pathways can make it seem much larger and worth walking into. Larger landscapes become more accessible and inviting when a pathway reveals the way in. Pathways can be as simple as a mown path through taller grasses or perennials or as complex as a passageway through varying levels of hardscape materials with dramatic focal points scattered throughout.
            Practical considerations are important. If the goal is to get there quickly and easily (hauling groceries from car to house), a straight, wide path on a flat surface is probably best. If the destination is a bench under a big tree, a winding pathway through perennial beds is more appealing. Even less-travelled routes should be slightly elevated and have good drainage so they’re not muddy or underwater for parts of the year. Before installing or changing sidewalks in the front of your home, check with your local planning department and consider, too, whether you want the yard to be handicap-accessible.
            The width of the walkway is important. Heavily used walkways should be at least 4’ wide, enough for two people to walk comfortably side-by-side; lesser-used paths about 18” wide. Varying the width can make the path more interesting and can indicate “destination” points like patios, fire pits, benches or flower beds.
            For hardscaping, the options are endless: concrete sidewalk, stonework, treated lumber, gravel or crushed stone. When availability and expense permit, using materials in keeping with the building or the larger landscape strengthens the sense of place—limestone around a limestone building, wood chips through a forested area, grasses through a prairie, etc. If you prefer stone or other fairly expensive hardscaping but can’t afford it, one option is to set it into less costly paving materials like concrete or gravel to decrease the cost.
           Pathways need to be managed just like the rest of the landscape, so they should be able to accommodate mowers, snowblowers or any other equipment that might be needed.  Placing bricks or pavers flush with the ground on either side can eliminate the time-consuming task of edging.
          Turfgrass is best-suited for heavy foot traffic but some groundcovers can handle less-trafficked areas. Lawn alternatives for sunny areas include: buffalograss, blue grama, Carex, yarrow, basket-of-gold, snow-in-summer, winter creeper, creeping juniper, catmint, sedum, lambs ears and thyme. For shade or part shade:  Carex, goutweed, perennial geranium, sweet woodruff, deadnettle, pachysandra and periwinkle are good options.
November 2012 “In the Garden,” written by Karma Larsen

Ferguson Center, Lincoln

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