At the Brenton Arboretum, outside Dallas Center, Iowa, there is a small path that leads around their visitor’s center. It caught my eye and I’m so excited to talk about it – I love thinking through how we move through garden spaces. This walkway is awesome on so many levels. While it’s at a public facility, it could just as easily grace a homeowner’s yard. Let’s talk about just the path itself, and leave the plants, the view, and the location for another day. Here are 3 things to think about when creating a path, and how this example just nails it:
Scale, Shape, and Surface
Scale: The path is a minor option off of the wide main sidewalk to the Visitor Center’s entrance. It is a secondary choice – and as such, it’s much narrower than the main walkway. The major thoroughfare in any landscape should be wide and easy to navigate, but secondary paths get to be interesting, and this one surely is. It’s not quite wide enough for two people, so you can’t go too fast. It’s meant for someone who wants to take time to wander. It is tucked up close to the building, but doesn’t feel dwarfed because of all the plant material.
Shape: It has this delightful curve. You’re taking your time here – no runway needed. Curves slow us down and add mystery. You can’t see the final destination for this path – the curve obscures it. And that’s GREAT for a secondary path. It’s not what you want for the main path to your home (or a Visitor’s Center) – but it’s exactly right for a quiet stroll.
Surface: Oh, this one is fun! We’re at an arboretum – a living tree collection – so of course we’ll use tree slices, or tree cookies, as the steppers. Set in concrete, these are not perfectly level and they’ll break down and change over time, but it’s a great material for this site. Not only is it a nod to the location, but it adds a graphic, artistic quality that plain gravel can’t provide.
For clients, I like to think about the job of each walkway, and make sure that the scale, shape and surface we use line up with the role that path plays. This little path is beckoning a visitor to come explore more – and I’m first in line.