ELEMENTS OF DESIGN
Bring planting to life by paying close attention to the defining features of your garden Paths Steps Terraces Levels Edges
In part two of our gardening series, find out how to enhance your outside space with paths, steps and terraces
Providing the counterpoint to your planting and other decorative features, paths, steps and terraces are the linking areas of your garden. Thoughtfully designed, they can provide a resting point for the eye and a quiet space that helps to set the rest of the garden in context. Make terraces as wide and expansive as you have room for – once planting matures around them, the effect will soften. Consider the practicalities of a firm, dry surface for tables and chairs with enough room to move comfortably around them, then create a sense of enclosure with some climbers or screening.
Paths are a means to an end, but they can be so much more. Essentially they are an invitation to explore – a brick path that winds out of sight, partially shielded by overhanging foliage, is an enticement to see what lies beyond. They can add texture, character and intrigue, encouraging you to saunter or hasten to the end, depending on the atmosphere created.
DEFINING AN AREA
You can manipulate your space by using a variety of different materials to define particular areas, such as a place for dining or relaxing. Stick to one colour palette – for instance, grey or honey-coloured gravel alongside pale decking and cobbles – to ensure a harmonious effect that doesn’t jar. Alternatively, use just one surface material, such as brick or stone, and lay it in varying designs to highlight sections – regular repeating patterns such as herringbone look restful. Some fragrant planting brought right up to the boundary will help to enclose the space.
BLURRING THE EDGES
As one of the most versatile materials you can use, gravel suits both formal and informal settings. Soften the look by allowing planting to spill over onto it, or plant through it to break up a larger area. Low-growing hardy geraniums, the small daisy Erigeron karvinskianus or creeping thymes all look charming. Intersperse gravel with paving slabs to give a sense of arrival in a gateway or to mark a directional pathway across a wide expanse of stones.
VIEW FROM ABOVE
Consider the bird’s-eye view of your garden. An upstairs window can be an excellent place from which to plan a layout, as it’s also one of the spots from which you will most often observe your garden. An obvious pattern can be attractive to look down upon, especially during the winter months when the garden’s structure is laid comparatively bare. Circles and curves have great visual impact – they can be combined and interlocked to draw attention to their shape, or you can offset them with more geometric elements, such as straight stepping-stone paths. Materials of a specific size and shape, such as granite or concrete setts or pebbles, will be needed to create the curves – some of these are supplied as ready-made features in various sizes.
Wood has a natural affinity with gardens, especially when rough-sawn across the trunk into log rounds to create a woodland path. Treat them with timber preservative and set them into a compacted sand and gravel mix, sprinkling bark chippings or gravel between them to fill the gaps. Or you can achieve the same look with Timberstone-finished concrete, which is rot- and slip-resistant (stonemarket.co.uk). Sawn planks laid in parallel lines widthwise, then interspersed with stone chippings, make a smart path for a more formal setting.
CHANGES OF LEVEL
Echoing the style of your planting and encouraging visitors to explore, steps offer an opportunity to make a strong design statement in a garden. Make sure each riser is even and regular – wide, shallow steps are the most comfortable to use if you have sufficient space. A landing halfway up can help you change direction and may prompt a pause to take in the upcoming view. With rough-hewn stone steps, it is best to have a meandering course for a natural finish. On a tight budget, gravel offers a cheaper, but still effective, solution.
Steps offer an opportunity to make a strong design statement
Grass is the obvious way to green the floor of your garden, and, when lush and healthy, it is one of the most natural counterpoints for planting. In a low-traffic area, you can have grass paths – get creative with the mower and run through areas of longer grass to create attractive patterns in the lawn. Where practicality is a consideration – for a path frequently used by a barrow, for example – a line of paving stones laid corner to corner down the middle may be all that is needed to prevent wear and tear.
LEADING THE EYE
The width and configuration of a path can help set the mood and atmosphere in a garden. In a formal area, make it as wide and generous as space allows, laying large paving slabs into grass in a crenellated pattern for added interest. The repetitive nature of the design is visually pleasing, and may actually help to slow down the pace of its users with its unhurried feel.
You can echo the sense of rhythm by placing a line of trees on one or both sides – these will act as sentries along the way and offer glimpses through to the rest of the garden. A pergola with regular uprights would do the same job. The formality of topiaried hedges on either side of the gateway would highlight the sense of arrival and change the atmosphere as you move from an open area into a more enclosed one.
Hard landscaping provides an opportunity to play. Alongside materials such as brick, gravel, stone and slate, there are other more unlikely ingredients that can add texture and character underfoot. Mark an entranceway with a pebble mosaic bedded into mortar to create a centrepiece akin to a decorative doormat. It is time-consuming, but immensely satisfying, methodical work that can be completed in sections. To emphasise a route through a space, place long, narrow paving stones in parallel lines. This creates a tramline effect and can be softened to either side with stone chippings. Handmade ammonites make a wonderfully detailed, organic surface (available in composition stone or terracotta from thomasoncudworth.com). Upturned bottles – sunk into the earth or set into mortar – make a witty, decorative border for paving stones, or could be used as a path edging.
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