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The Garden Maker's Manualby Rosemary Alexander
Paths and paving are two vital elements necessary in almost every garden and, because they are highly visible features, it is essential that you explore their design and construction potential before buying materials and starting to build. The earthand#39;s surface can be vulnerable and fragile, especially where human beings, animals and vehicles constantly put pressure on it. The natural processes of precipitation and#8212; water, wind and frost and#8212; can dramatically erode it. Paths and paving serve a double purpose, protecting the earthand#39;s surface, while at the same time making it comfortable and pleasant to use.
Paths are the arteries of the garden leading you from one area to another and around bends and corners. A well considered path system. punctuated with focal points and resting places, could carry you round several acres without your making any conscious effort or even noticing the distance that you have travelled. Paths also form the lines of communication between house and garden, often shaping a major part of the layout by indicating and underlining the structure and providing a framework from which areas, spaces and features can be accessed. Paths can be manipulated in their width, thickness, colour, texture, direction, shape and flow. Bold lines will help to reinforce a strong, confident design, while gentle, understated paths may be appropriate in a more informal or naturalistic garden.
Paving can provide the essential link between indoors and outdoors, or a level platform for relaxing, viewing or stepping off to enjoy the rest of your garden. Paved areas may also be important for access to maintenance areas or as hardstanding for storing equipment.
Both paths and paving may combine with bridges, boardwalks or stepping stones and#8212; they can be straight, geometric and formal, perhaps slicing through the underlying shape of the land or hugging the curves of a sloping garden where they can help to define the organic shape. Paths can offer smoother textures, lighter colours and cooler surfaces (ideal in hotter climates); compact and stable materials for vehicles, softer (and inedible) materials for young children; easier surfaces for wheelchairs, childrenand#39;s prams and strollers; noisy surfaces to announce arrival and uncomfortable surfaces in areas close to danger or where you wish to discourage use.
Both relaxation and active use, as well as childrenand#39;s needs for bicycling or skate boarding, need to be considered and doors and gates opening across paths should be avoided. Gradients must also be suitable for the ability of users. Larger paved areas for tables and chairs should be flat and stable enough to prevent penetration of table and chair legs.
For centuries designers and builders have selected materials based upon local resources. They will have used clay bricks in an area where clay prevails, or local stone where this occurs naturally. Today materials suitable for paving come from all over the world, at a surprisingly low cost and provide us with a vast array of colours, textures, shapes and sizes; the range increasing all the time as technology develops and as manufacturing, extraction and transport becomes more efficient. New materials, and alternative ways of using more traditional ones, are being tested all the time, some with great success, while others, although technically sound, just look contrived. Most people, however, choose materials that have stood the test of time, but may also look for new ways of using them.
Choose materials suited both to the garden layout and your budget. Costly projects may need materials that look expensive but are not necessarily so. Contemporary designs may allow new and innovative ways of using and detailing materials. Less formality and control may be more suitable in country areas or where the approach is naturalistic or ecological. From the outset, you should bear in mind the environmental implications of your selection. Cheap materials, especially imported ones, often have hidden environmental consequences for their country of origin.
Although the appearance of the surface is likely to govern your decision, the paving must also be practical, reinforcing the ground beneath, while withstanding the load and wear it will receive. For example, bark is attractive in informal areas, but will need replacing every couple of years. Ceramic glazed tiles can look effective, but may be dangerous when wet and frozen. Your chosen surface must be durable and maintain its strength and integrity through its design life. It must also allow water to drain away quickly to ensure that it remains safe and useable.
Ideally the garden design should be in sympathy with the locality, so take a lead from your surroundings. What are the buildings made from? What colour are walls and surfaces? What colour is the soil or local rock? You may not want to use the same material, but should consider complementary colour, tone, texture and shade.
Choose materials that fit in with your overall design intentions, design style or theme. Clean minimalist lines might suggest using a single material where the shades and tones may derive from how the material is detailed or how it is affected by cast or reflected light. Local building traditions and skills may well be important and you may wish to get craftsmen to combine materials to make intricate patterns or decorative motifs.
By studying the wider design context, a clear architectural style may emerge. Choose materials that unify house and garden by being similar or complementary in appearance and style.
Instead of resorting to inert materials, it is sometimes wiser to leave the existing surface in place, or to use grass paths. A grass walk through the centre of two areas of planting can provide an informal link between path and planting. Where the climate and situation allows it to flourish, grass is a wonderfully cool surface, but may not stand up to constant use, such as under a seat or childand#39;s swing, where the turf will become unsightly and possibly dangerous when wet. Existing soil and rock surfaces may also be suitable without any need for alteration.
Because paths are linear elements within the garden, they can serve to guide and control how the garden is used; to give access to views, focal points and places for gathering and relaxation. Paths can be given a hierarchy by width, with the wider ones having the status of a main route, whilst narrower paths and different surfaces might indicate that they are for more occasional use. Paths should always be located for a reason. In particular, avoid creating junctions where people might be tempted to cut the corner and trample plants or wear away grass edges.
Various visual devices can be used to make the path seem longer, shorter, narrower or wider. For instance, bringing the edges closer together as the path disappears into the distance will make it appear longer; placing a focal point, large or small, at the end of a path will also accentuate its length.
Conversely, placing a group of small objects in the immediate foreground will make the path seem wider or shorter. Layouts visualized on paper will always foreshorten on the ground. A path that allows two or more people to walk side-by-side while chatting encourages a more enjoyable, gentle saunter, whereas a narrow path, with room for only one at a time, tends to hurry people along. A wide area with a seat invites you to linger. A path curving around the edge of a space will create a totally different experience from one that cuts through the middle.
Adding focal points or incidents will give drama or interest to your paths: a glimpse of a bench or an urn can encourage you to walk to it; at the arrival point there may be a choice of direction with another intriguing view or object that you wish to explore, so tempting you forward along the path without you really noticing.
Paths can be a series of parallel lines that divide the space up into blocks. Bold geometric shapes with strong lateral lines that the eye can follow as you progress through the garden give a sense of great control and order. Horizontal patterning accentuated by planting allows the eye to move from side to side. Key plants located diagonally along a path will carry the eye forward. Where paths are narrow, perhaps to go through an arch or between planting, they can create a sense of anticipation until they widen out again.
People have a tendency to avoid walking in straight lines and long straight paths can be uncomfortable. Straight lines drawn on maps and plans may become paths that are steep and difficult to negotiate when translated on to sloping ground. Paths that curve and snake their way through a garden can be more responsive to the site as well as generally being more comfortable. On sloping and undulating ground, paths can traverse across slopes rather than over them, the path following the contours or slowly rising up the slope as it curves around, Curved paths of irregular width can be very artistic especially if accentuated with more than one material. If plants are taken through paving, try to make them appear as if the route of the path has been caused by avoiding existing plants.
Avoid creating and#39;stepping stoneand#39; paths across grass, as they always result in an awkward, self-conscious effect and make the turf less easy to mow.
Path widths are largely determined by the following:
Generally paths of l.0and#8211;l.2m(3ft6inand#8211;4ft) are wide enough for generous use in a garden situation, with up to 1.5m(5ft) being preferable for two people walking side-by-side. The minimum path width for a secondary path is around 900mm(3ft), although narrower paths, through planting beds or vegetable plots, for example, are possible. So that unnecessary cutting is avoided, the detailed dimensions of paths made from unit materials will be determined by the size of the units themselves. Make sure that there is sufficient turning room for any maintenance equipment, such as lawnmowers or ride-on tractors.
Larger areas of paving, concentrated into flat terraces or patios, provide a useful and durable surface for entertaining and activities that would otherwise wear away unprotected ground. Their overall shape will emerge from general design decisions and the ability to achieve it with sourced materials that fall within your budget. Simple squares and rectangles are easy to construct from rectilinear units supplied as slabs, bricks and paving blocks. Curved, circular and more organic shapes may be extremely difficult to construct from readily available building units, but will be simple to make from more fluid construction materials, such as gravel and in situor poured concrete.
Larger areas for outdoor living should be considered as flat, although in practice they should slope slightly for drainage. This might mean including a low wall along some edges in order to raise the level, and steps or ramps to return it to surrounding ground level.
Existing or proposed buildings or structures might suggest shapes and patterns, perhaps associated with the rhythm of doors, windows or framing elements. Landform and availability of level ground might dictate the outer limits of the paving. Unlike most paths, these larger areas provide an occasion for patterns with straight lines, right angles, geometric shapes and smooth surfaces to indicate formality, while loose, natural curves and rough or textured finishes tend to be informal.
Orientation of the paved area will also be important. What can you see from the paving? Where are the good views? Where are the sunny spots? There is little point in locating one of the main features of the garden in a miserable shady place with a poor view, just because it is close to the house, when a more pleasant location might be just a small distance away.
These areas must also be functional. How many people will use the space? Will more space be required for parties and gatherings? If space allows, a minimum of 4m(l3ft) in any one direction should provide a useful and adaptable area. Sufficient room is needed for pushing back chairs after a meal (approximately 1.5m[5ft]), for moving between sun loungers, perhaps beside a swimming pool, or for pushing a loaded wheelbarrow or trolley. If the use of chairs and tables is planned, a smooth solid surface will prevent them rocking, but textured finishes will be less slippery.
Finally, consideration must be given to the relationship between indoors and outdoors. The use of the same surface material on either side of a glass door can create an exciting continuity and transition so long as the material is durable outdoors. Contrasting materials can also be used to good effect but be careful not to muddle styles, colours, textures and quality of finish.
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