Past Articles Library | Landscape Design Principle-Creating Visual Interest through Garden Path Design
Previously, it was mentioned that whenever possible one should always use curved lines. The reason for this is the fact that curves occur in nature and in doing so look more natural. Second, curves can create interest as to what is around that curve but there are times when a curve is not possible or does not make sense.
Below are two examples of how to deal with straight lines in a landscape. The third example still uses curves but the path design element in a nutshell is still a straight line. While these three landscape design principles may sound out of reach for a small yard, they really are not. You simply have to take the design elements and tweak them to fit your environment.
The Long View
The best description of a long view is a driveway or a long sidewalk. The straight lines of either force the eye to look ahead, anticipating what the end of the journey. This is so very true since most of the time you can see the end. While this does not build mystery or frankly really any interest, you have to create some.
The first technique by which you can use is to make the path narrow. While I do realize that can be difficult for driveways, walks paths are another matter. The narrowness does two things. First, it makes the stroll seem longer, which builds anticipation. The second reason for narrowness is you want to create a journey that is meant for one. Having a narrow walkway creates that environment. Having said all that about the walkway, you do not want to make it so narrow that it seems never ending or unsafe. A good judge is to keep it at least a gate’s width plus a few extra feet on each side. This will accommodate a person plus any extra items that person may be carrying, such as a basket.
Now that you have your walk path designed, do not stop there. Consider different hardscapes that can cover the walking surface. Ideas include brick or stone, stepping stones or the old standby concrete. One idea I really like is to dry set stone, which means without mortar. The stones can be set in pea gravel or soil. The goal is to make a planting area around the stones. While this approach is more for informal areas, I can tell you nothing beats walking down a path that releases aroma with every step. This can easily be accomplished with plants that can take a beating, keep on living and produce a pleasant scent. A good example is creeping thyme.
Next, you want plant material to line the way. I actually like to build “living walls” of plant material to follow the path. To accomplish this, I start off with planting evergreen shrubs several feet away from the walking path. Once that is done, I like to go behind these shrubs and plant a deciduous type of shrub that will be taller than the evergreen shrubs. Lastly, I layer short growing annuals or perennials along the walkway. This flower planting is in two layers. The one closest to the evergreen shrubs will be taller than the one planted along the walkway. In doing so, you actually end up having four different layers of plant material before you get to the walkway.
All of these techniques will create pleasant stroll down through the walkway to a destination that you can see.
Tricking the Eye
Another technique to use is to fool the eye to think the straight line is longer than it actually is. This is a wonderful trick to use if you are working with a small yard. The steps by which you make something look longer than it is starts off with angling the edges of the straight line inward. This tricks the eye into thinking the straight line is longer. Also, making one end slightly narrower is another approach to use. To continue with the theme, plant foliage that has a growth pattern by which it will hang over an edge but will not grow tall. This also works on giving the illusion that the straight line continues down the path.
Taking all these techniques, let’s see how this would work with a drystream bed. The concept of a drystream bed is that once in awhile it will have water running through it. Whether this it is actually designed to hold water is up to you but the bed needs to look that way. The drystream bed will have a slight concave appearance with the edges slightly folding in on itself. As the drystream bed follows in a straight line, the end will begin to narrow a bit but not so much that the eye picks up on this narrowing. If this happens, the illusion will not be of extending the straight line but a hint that something is wrong and/or the path is not as long as first perceived. Finally, add plant material to the design that has a drooping or cascading type of growth. Do not though only plant one layer. Several different types of plants layered over each other will aid in the illusion as long as they are directed to spill and tumble over the edge of the drystream bed.
Pooling and Channeling
This technique utilizes a common habit of humans and that is when the path narrows we tend to rush through as though something bad is going to happen. On the other hand, when the path opens up, we tend to slow down. This is the channeling part.
Pooling, on the other hand, is an area by which you want people to stop at, such as an overlook. This approach is used many times at parks to move people through areas that are humdrum to more scenic areas.
Both of these approach can be used in landscape design but really require a large landscape to be effective. One of the best areas to use this technique is on the side of a hill. While the side of a hill can be challenging to landscape, creating a terrace with winding paths that narrow and then open up to beautiful scenery is a wonderful approach. Just remember though, make the pooling area larger so that it is viewed as a stopping area by which several people can gather.