Perhaps it is a bit extreme to say “Paths make the garden,” but ever since I was a child paths have been an emotionally significant element to my enjoyment of a garden. I didn’t realize this until we moved to the rural 15 acres where we now live, when I struggled with how to turn acreage into a garden.
That a path exists gives a sense of safety. You know you won’t get lost or swallowed up as long as you can see the path. The fact that you can’t see where a path leads is what lends it the air of mystery, what gives you a little tingle of excitement.
Once I realized that paths were called for, the problem became one of creating and maintaining them. (I still feel abysmally ignorant about this subject, so if anyone knows of a book on trail maintenance, please let me know.)
The entrance to the Secret Garden
As you walk up our driveway, the most obvious path is to continue straight uphill, past the vegetable garden, through the field, and up into the woods. I prefer to turn left shortly after leaving the driveway, and walk down the entrance to what I call the Secret Garden. After threading through the Secret Garden, the path will go uphill, sandwiched between the property line and a trickling brook. Eventually it will turn right to join the main path, which continues to climb even as it circles around, finally going downhill to rejoin itself.
Here are five seasonal views of that entrance. In March, the snowdrops are reason enough to venture out of a warm house into the chilly air.
In May, poet’s narcissus (Narcissus poeticus) nod to me as I pass by. If I’m lucky, the apple trees will be blooming at the same time. May is also the time of year to search for native spring ephemerals. It’s a magical time of year.
As the narcissus fade away, the wild cranesbills (Geranium maculatum) take their place in early June (above), superseded by goldenrod and asters starting to bud in mid-August (below).
In October, the brilliant foliage and blue skies beckon, and the prospect of seeing the witch hazels (Hamamelis virginiana) in bloom convinces me to bundle up against the brisk breeze and take to the trail.
Design Challenges for Woodland Paths
In her second post on pathways for the Garden Bloggers’ Design Workshop, Fran asked, “If someone waved a wand and told you that you could re-create your garden paths regardless of the price, what would you do?” Looking ahead to my declining years, I’d like to improve the footing along the path. This would include
- A stairway cut into the steepest hill
- Bridges where the path crosses the stream and boardwalks over the wettest portions
- Replace the bench that’s rotted; figure out suitable spots for more seating
- Remove rocks and bury protruding roots to eliminate tripping hazards
Of course I hope to always have enough health and strength to make it all the way up the hill and back. I’ll ignore the fact that many of my children run up and back.