Saturday, June 14, 2008

Meandering down the garden path: A Slight Detour.

I'm afraid this post will be largely irrelevant to balcony gardeners and Anne in Reno, as she's already begun work on her paths and "rooms." But, as I started writing up Week Three, "The Entryway," I realised I had a lot to say about what leads up to it and where it ought to be before I discussed it by itself. *

As I am making this up on the fly, so to speak, there are concepts I'm learning about which we should have covered in weeks one and two. For example, what is the difference between a garden and a landscape? As far as I've been able to figure it out, the "landscape" is the entire area around your home. The garden is an area (or several) within it.

When considering the entirety of a landscape, it should be "divided" up into areas, or "rooms" or zones. The play area, the eating area, the sit in the shade and read a book zone, or the dog run, for example. In week one, you would consider what you need/want/already have (the bones) and you would begin marking them off from one another. (P. Allen Smith, in Garden Home recommends using surveyors flags.)

In Week One, we should have also discussed "flow" (or breath) from this perspective, as well. Basically, it's the idea of linking each of these areas together.

For example, how does the front yard flow into the side yard and then into the back yard?

This is, admitedly, a peculiarly suburban problem--and suburbia only of a certain age. (Big Houses on Small Lots in "modern" burbs do not have side yards. I think that's a large part of why they look so awful. If a developer wants to build the houses 6" apart, I say give it up and just build row houses already. At least it's a vernacular that's comforting and familiar--and eco-friendly.)

The most obvious way to connect different areas or "rooms" is by providing a path. (Is there another way? I can't think of any, though I suppose if I started thinking in terms of making visual connections and not merely physical ones, I probably could.) It should be logical (a straight path from the garage to the house so you can get there quickly; curvy and meandering for strolling (but not necessarily!); and not exactly either from the sidewalk to the front door.)

A straight path can be situated in what I'm going to call a vista. I'm sure there's a proper landscaping word for it, and if there is, please let me know. A "vista" is simply a straight line of sight from one point to another. Inside the house, this may simply be a long hallway with something at the end of it (Sarah Susanka would have it be a window or some point of light). Outdoors, the idea is the same. Here's a remarkable example from the gardens at Arley in Cheshire, England.

On a more modest scale, a birdbath or a bench may do!

By the by, the thing you "walk towards" need not even be on your property. You could "borrow" a tree from your neighbour, or use a feature of the landscape, a pond, for example, or something on the horizon. The trick, here, is to not "just" miss it. Either it will be obviously in the centre, or it won't, and if it isn't, then it should be screened off (and thus NOT a "borrowed" view) or balanced, in some way.

The path could terminate at this point (making the walk to the point of interest the point) or it could lead to the entrance to another "room." It could simply take a turn (in which case something round would be an ideal "thing to walk towards") or, if you had the room, you could "turn" the path unexpectedly in a maze like fashion. I drew a hedge (above), but a vine climbing on a fence, or something on a wall would provide something to walk towards and divert the path as well.

Apparently, you can control the speed with which people walk along the straight path. It depends on what plantings you have and how close together they are. If you provide lots of similiar things close together, (like a clipped hedge) people will walk quickly. If you provide lots of different things, drifts of different perrenials for example--the widths of the drifts and the spacing of repeated elements like colour or shape or texture can slow a person down and force them to look. You can then tuck in interesting whimsical bits to reward the walker. Plants which release a fragrance when you brush them (or crush them if you use them underfoot between paving stones or embedded stumps) are perfect for an "entryway" type garden room.

I haven't read much about serpentine meandering paths except that they are appropriate for "informal" or so-called natural gardens and best laid out with the garden hose.

So, the landscape, Week One.
  • Make up a list of the functions your landscape needs to serve.
  • Divide up these functions into zones and start marking them out.
  • Can you create a vista?

  • Breath:
  • Consider how you will connect these zones. Straight paths? Curvy?
  • Will there be something to walk towards?
  • How will the path end?

  • Heart:
  • How will you provide interest along the path?
  • What materials will you use, both beside the path and for the path itself?

  • Head:
  • Lay out the path and walk along it.
  • Figure out what you need to create it (As Anne in Reno has already done.)

  • Up next:
    Landscape, Week Two, (Rooms)
    and then back to gardens for Week 3: (a)The Entryway and (b)Colour. About which I know nothing. But I can read.

    (The current stack of gardening books from the library. The fact that it is now closed on Sundays, until October, is cause for much anguish.)

    PS: I haven't forgotten focal points and how to bring them together.

    *I should mention that I had difficulty implementing Macunovich's approach discussed in Week 2. I came up with a plan for my "main view" but I was frustrated because it didn't seem as if it was connected to anything but my front door. I had a nice little "garden plot" but I wanted to figure out how this little part related to the whole. I am always much happier when I have the whole plan in front of me and then, when I do, I'm content to go in and concentrate on the parts. This post was inspired by my reading P. Allen Smith's book "Garden Design" which took exactly the right approach for me: from principles to practical design. (He doesn't even talk much about individual plants, which is great because I couldn't grow half of what he does mention).

    As if this post isn't long enough, there is a short addendum here.


    Anne (in Reno) said...

    Oh I am so in the thick of this! I have a nice sturdy path suitable for wheelbarrowing upon around the stupid A/C unit now and a longer path that points you nicely to the big maple. What I want is a focal point for the other end of the path when you're coming away from the maple. Matt vetoed my firepit idea as everything in our yard (well, state) is too flammable. So I'm thinking something more on the lines of a birdbath. It continues...

    Alana in Canada said...

    Excellent! I had you in mind as I wrote this! A birdbath sounds wonderful--how about upping that and making a fountain--would Matt agree to that? (Maybe eventually, it could be mega $$ for the water lines.

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