What do you picture in your mind when I write the word ‘garden’?
It’s different for everyone. There are those who think of endless beds, full of flowers that are always in bloom. Maybe it’s having plants that surround your house without a lawn in sight. Is it what you grow in containers on a balcony or patio? What about the garden being a view through a window, which I wrote about here (click!). For me a garden is where I can be alone with my plants. I hardly ever visit with anyone there.
What I have learned from working in gardens for 20+ years is that almost no one thinks of people when they think of gardens, but what is a garden if people aren’t considered in the planning and enjoyment of it? From this gardener’s perspective, it can make for a very unwelcoming space, but who wants to hear that from their gardener? This is why I write.
So, why no consideration for people?
Let me just start by saying that I don’t think it’s intentional. We’re just not seeing the whole picture. My theory is that when you “picture” a garden you’re only thinking about the plants. This visualization gives you pleasure and you automatically assume that this is all that is required to get enjoyment from it. It’s important to not stop there, but to then consider the human element and how different areas are to be experienced.
Paths: a way to include people or just control their experience?
Here’s where I could get into trouble; suggesting that gardeners have controlling personalities! Awhile back I came up with a definition for gardeners, “A gardener is a person who has opinions about plants.” I came to this conclusion while doing some soul searching, asking questions like, “Why do I care so much about a plants color and placement? Why does this matter to me? Why so opinionated?!!” Eventually, I figured out that this was what made me care enough to bother with all of the time and work it takes to create such a place. Gardeners: we care a lot!
A Way In
While pathways give you access to the garden, they can limit the way you engage with the space while there. By their very nature, they “direct” you and show you exactly where to go. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing to keep people on “track”. You can’t have them tramping all around and going through the beds! Even just the thought makes me feel a little anxious…
A problem I have with pathways is that most of them go nowhere, with some actually stopping abruptly in a random spot. Another common scenario is, you’re walking along and before you know it, you’re right back to where you started from! Was there really no where to stop along the way? If not, then why not? A pathway is like a hallway, it should take you somewhere; a room, a place to sit, a view or a surprise just around the corner! Give me a reason, a pleasant reward for my effort!
Another issue with garden paths is that they are not made wide enough.
It’s as if pathways are seen as wasting space that could be used for more plants! What generally happens is that once the plants grow to their mature size they encroach and take over that little bit of space that was intended for movement and function. Three feet is a minimum. Anything less is not functional for maintenance or enjoyment and both of these activities are what makes a garden a garden.
A narrow path suggests rapid movement,
with the effect being very trail-like. This can be a good way to create a strong relationship between two points, but consider if that is the purpose of your path. When your forced to walk in a single file, company and conversation are restricted and your not encouraged to stop along the way. Are we walking for enjoyment or just an end to a means?
A wider path will allow for a slower, more meandering progression through a garden.
Here is where the rhythm can vary. The feeling is more casual: you can pause to observe a point, accommodate side-by-side strolling or even room to pass someone coming from the opposite direction. If your garden is full and lush with plants reaching out to you, consider a path five feet or wider. It sounds like a lot, but it’s not, and you’ll be happy with the results if you plan it that way. Just remember, pathways don’t take away from a garden, they add to the experience of it!
Stay tuned for Pathways: a Garden Divided “Part Two”!!!