Roads To Nowhere
Key to all effective garden designs is creating the impression that the garden leads places. And the reason you want to create pathways, be they actual or suggested, is to give the eye something to follow. We instinctively prefer to scan and seek out interest rather than assimilate everything at once.
There is nothing more boring than having everything there is all on view at the same time, and it’s not just gardens that illustrate this central design tenet. It’s a well established and proven fact that wearing revealing garments that nevertheless leave at least something to the imagination is invariably more alluring and seductive than all out nudity.
I don’t know why, but we somehow seem to prefer it when we think there is something more we haven’t yet seen. Fortunately, where garden design is concerned the human brain all too easily accepts what the eye tells it and the human eye is all too easy to deceive using a few simple landscape design ideas.
However, hiding parts of the garden from view is only part of the trick. If that was all you did then the effect would just be to make the garden appear smaller than it truly is; not exactly the desired effect. What you need to do is not only obscure certain views, but make it clear that actually there is something else behind those bushes or whatever – it’s just that you can’t quite make it out from where you are.
And one of the easiest and most effective ways to do that? You got it – have a path that clearly leads to this out of sight section. Now you can design a path any which way you can think of: marker stones; posts; different surface materials; sequential planting; simply mowing a strip through rough growth and so on.
But these days you probably also want to consider how your garden appears at night as well as during the day, since many of us make much more use of our outdoor spaces in the evening. Thankfully, modern solar garden lights provide some really easy ready made solutions that satify both day and night time requirements.
Solar Stepping Stones
The simplest way to kill two birds with one stone when creating a path is to use solar stepping stones. You can easily create an instant, hard wearing path that leads somewhere both day and night.
You lay them exactly the same way as you would regular stepping stones – either cut out recesses into the lawn or bed them into a gravel path. Which ever you opt for though, be sure to observe these tips.
Firstly, lay the stones out roughly where you want them and gauge how far apart they should be to accommodate your own normal stride. Try to avoid walking on the stones themselves until they are properly bedded in otherwise you run the risk of cracking them.
This step ensures that you won’t end up with stones that require you to walk awkwardly with a stride that is either too long or too short (or both in varying degrees). You can also get an idea of whether the layout “looks right” or not by doing this.
Stepping stone paths can be laid either informally or in a regular pattern depending on the effect you’re after, but try not to fall between the two styles otherwise it will just look like you didn’t lay it quite right. So either get them all aligned and accurately measure distances or go for a decidedly higgledy-piggledy layout.
Needless to say, the style of layout often mirrors the style of the stones, so rustic looking stepping stones look best when laid informally and modern looking stones often better suit a symmetrical layout. But there really are no rules and frankly I always take the attitude that gardens work best when they reflect the personality and tastes of the owner, so don’t get hung up about it.
However, do get hung up about laying your stones so that they are easy to walk on and will bear weight without cracking. Obviously you really don’t want to trip over or catch them with a lawnmower so you want them to be just about level with the grass or surrounding gravel which usually means doing a bit of digging.
Having dug a suitably sized recess, you must ensure that it is dead level and there are no stones or roots that will push against the stone and make it prone to cracking under weight. The best way to do this is to dig slightly deeper than you need then put down a layer of either sand or sifted soil. This will ensure that the stone is properly supported all round and cushioned against impact. It also makes it a whole lot easier to get it level.
Finally, when choosing solar stepping stones do make sure that you can replace the internal rechargeable batteries. Trust me, they do not last for ever and you will need to take them out from time to time. Initially to give them an occasional boost on a mains powered trickle charger (the sort used for regular domestic rechargeable batteries is usually suitable) and eventually to replace them.
Otherwise, you will find yourself grinding your teeth a few years down the line, not so much at having to buy replacement stones but at having to get down and dirty re-laying them! Fortunately, most do permit relatively easy access to the battery compartment (for obvious reasons it tends to be well sealed), but it is worth checking.
Solar Path Lights
If you want a less formal style of path (or can’t actually be bothered with all the digging) then there is a solution also perfect for you: solar path lights.
These typically take the form of solar post lights (commonly also referred to as solar spikes) which are exactly what they sound like. A short post with a spike that is pushed into the ground at one end and a light with an integral solar panel on top at the other.
As with solar stepping stone their big advantage is that you don’t need any cabling (though some units do come with pre-attached cables that connect a group of lights to a central solar panel) so you can put them in the ground and that’s it – instant path lighting.
Similarly they also always include dusk to dawn sensors so they automatically come on as it goes dark and switch over to recharging when it gets light again. But the caveat regarding replacing the batteries still applies since although the solar panels are typically good for a couple of decades, rechargeable batteries are for practical purposes often good for less than 1000 charging cycles.
The great thing about solar path lighting is that you can create a path just about anywhere – the fact of sinking posts into the ground in a series makes a path. The path is where the posts are – end of story. You can also invent night time only paths that don’t appear to exist by day simply by using a slightly more subtle form of lighting.
Whereas solar post lights are designed to act as clear path markers in all light conditions, solar rock lights or the fairly recently introduced solar ice bricks will do the job perfectly at night yet be effectively invisible during the day. Hence a path that only appears to exist at night, which is just one of many ways that garden lighting design can effectively create two gardens in one.
Of course you don’t have to use formal light fittings at all in order to illuminate (or create) a path at night. These days solar LED landscape lighting offers a whole range of options, such as LED rope lights, to create new variations on old themes.