Bring plant­ing to life by pay­ing close at­ten­tion to the defin­ing fea­tures of your gar­den Paths Steps Ter­races Lev­els Edges

Country Living (UK) - - Contents - Words by paula mcwa­ters

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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.

En­joy gar­den fea­tures, in­te­ri­ors inspiration and more in CL’S free weekly news­let­ter. To sign up, go to coun­tryliv­ing.co.uk/ news­let­ter.

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