Building Garden Paths And Walkways

Building garden paths and walkways to create a boardwalk for the garden, includes step-by-step instructions, tools and photos.

| June/July 1996

Down the garden path in style building garden paths and walkways to beautify the garden. (See the path and walkway building photos in the image gallery.)

Building Garden Paths And Walkways

Back in the 1800s when America was expanding west, no sooner did the railroad come to a rowdy frontier settlement or scruffy trading post than the town elders got the urge to citify. One of their first civic improvements was to built boardwalks to protect ladies' skirts and gents' shined boots from the mud roads. Then they took the twists and turns out of the coach road and named it Main Street. Next they paved the road and replaced the old boardwalk with a poured-concrete sidewalk—all evenly graded and arrow-straight.

But, have you ever noticed that there are no even grades or straight lines in nature?

To me, sidewalks—straight, flat, rigid, and purposeful—symbolize citymen's relentless urge to civilize: to impose order and efficiency on the lovely curves and chaos of nature.

In contrast, the deer trails and the faint hillside rut that's all that remains of the old Indian path running through my woods keep their curves and seem to meander. But they are as purposeful and efficient as any city sidewalk if you can accept a pre-industrial concept of efficiency. They don't impose straight lines and artificial order but take their own "path of least resistance." That path may be longer as it winds along ridges rather than up hills and down gulches, but it guides you gently to travel at a deliberate pace using minimal energy and no technology beyond a soft grass cushion inside a well-stitched moccasin.

A city sidewalk issues orders—telling you where to go and how to get there—and it goads you with its endless straight-out agenda to get there as quick as possible. Hurry, hurry. Where's a cab anyway?

DWight Downs
2/23/2012 1:16:49 AM

"But, have you ever noticed that there are no even grades or straight lines in nature?" With respect due the author, there are countless examples of straight lines and even grades in nature. Consider the myriad geometric shapes of crystals, which occur naturally not only within the Earth, but also within living plants, animals, clouds. Crystalline arrangements are - if I remember correctly - efficient and economical in their arrangement of atoms, in the same way that sidewalks and streets make efficient use of space to get people from point to point, but most would say that crystals are beautiful and contemplative. My point is that there's no need to invoke an adversarial "nature versus built environment and hectic lifestyle" premise. A meandering path through a beautiful landscape is a wonderful thing, but not because straight-line efficiency is bad, unnatural, or unsightly, but just...because. Isn't that enough?

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