The front of our current house presents a very long surface to the road, having been added onto twice by attaching rooms to the side. It faces the most level land to be found on the entire ten acres, the front lawn. And yet, the house does not relate to its surrounding. When we moved in, only a scruffy scrim of shrubbery clung to its exterior walls. The bushes surrounding the middle terrace and kitchen door were overgrown to the extent that we weren’t quite sure where the pathway was supposed to be. The effect was aloof and unwelcoming, daring you to figure out which was the proper door to knock on.
Better Proportions Needed
To some eyes, the shrubs just needed a good haircut with hedge trimmers. But considering what a large mass the house presented, to my eye there wasn’t enough horticultural mass to balance it out. Indeed, Joe Eck, in Elements of Garden Design says that “borders should extend in width at least two thirds the height of the structures that back them. In the case of foundation plantings, beds should be at least as wide as the largest plants in them are tall.” (p.43) I didn’t take that as a rigid rule to follow, but as permission to remove some lawn in the interest of creating better proportions (and having room to grow more plants, I confess).
I’ve already described my design considerations for the front walk (which was actually created after the path I’m discussing now). I am now considering the front cross path, that goes from the driveway across the front of the house, connecting access to the three doors in front and taking the stroller all the way to the other side of the house.
Who Will Use This Path?
Let’s make one thing clear: if you’ve parked your car in our driveway and you’re familiar with our family, you’re not going to walk to the front of the house. You’re going to enter through the door on the attached garage, as we do. That’s the most-used house entrance and, thanks to the previous owners, it’s the only entrance with a doorbell. So who would be using this path?
- Strangers who don’t know where the doorbell is or who just assume the front door is the proper entrance for them to use.
- People who pull into the driveway and see others sitting on the porch and decide to join them.
- Kids running around the house because that’s what kids do.
- Anyone inside the house wanting to visit The Secret Garden.
- A certain someone who, upon leaving the car, wants to see how the garden is doing before entering the house.
This would not receive enough foot traffic to require paving. And then there is the matter of providing truck access to the double set of doors at the end of the house furthest from the driveway. So what I am calling a path has to be wide enough for a truck–but only on rare occasions, like maybe once a decade.
What Should This Path Accomplish?
I want to create a path that
- Connects the driveway to the front of the house
- Connects the three front doors to each other
- Follows foot logic, the natural inclination of walkers (or runners) when they’re not really thinking about where they’re going
- Allows for nicely proportioned garden beds up against the house
- Leads the walker to discover the Secret Garden
- Is not too fussy or formal, because this is not a fussy, formal household
The heavy dotted black line in the map below designates the path I have in mind.
The three entrances would join into this path. By the time you reached the far end of the house, you would be able to see (indicated by the red dashed arrow) the entrance to the Secret Garden, though you would still have to go down a slope and across more lawn to get to it.
I used some old garden hose, saved especially for this purpose (“Mom, why are we keeping this hose if it doesn’t work?”) to mark out the curve I wanted.
I didn’t get the curve right on the first try. I laid it out, and then I walked it, keeping my eye not on the path but on my final destination. If I found myself tripping on the hose, I knew the hose had to move. If the line displeased my eye, I adjusted it again. I left the hose there for several days (from one lawn mowing to the next), and I would walk the path at different times of the day, from both directions, and from each of the doors. I left the hose there long enough that the grass grew up around it, leaving a clear imprint when I removed the hose. This made the next step easier.
Following the imprint left by the hose, I sprayed the line with landscape marking paint. Landscape marking paint is basically spray paint in a can that has been modified to spray upside down. It doesn’t come in as many colors as regular spray paint, but you can usually get it in white and fluorescent yellow and orange at a big box store.
Since I intended for this path to remain as a grass path, what I really did was determine the edges of the expanded flower beds. The painted line showed where sod should be cut and removed. The creation of those beds will be the subject of another post.
Since it is a grass path, all that is needed is to re-cut the edges and keep the grass mowed.
Once I am positively sure that the edges are where I want them, I would like to install more permanent edging. Re-cutting the edges is a chore that often gets away from me, and it is easy for the line to get moved without laying out the hose again, which is a bother.
For the path to really look like a path, it needs a facing border on the other side. Exactly how this border would be shaped is a delicious puzzle that has yet to be solved–and perhaps never will. I am trying very hard not to create more garden than I can manage. And yet, as I look ahead to gardening years where the gardener’s body needs increasingly more accommodation, it does seem like the quasi-level front lawn would be the best place to concentrate one’s efforts, and the front porch the best place to view them from. It may be that there is already enough garden created to keep an aging gardener busy.
This post is part of a continuing series chronicling how I am designing new gardens at my new (to me) house. All the posts are gathered under the category New House, New Gardens. Here is an overview and map of the environs. News Flash! Check out contributor Rundy Purdy‘s guest post on DR’s Country Life Blog.