Bordering on Wild

Ah, the allure of a path billowy with flowers, plumes, foliage, herbs, and groundcovers that have made their way from adjacent beds over edging and across pavers. Navigating it requires a slower footfall and much meandering. Hands brush over lavenders and ornamental grasses. It’s straight out of the English garden playbook. But how to get this look without ending up with a border that looks like you’ve forgotten to tend it? The trick is to design so that it’s soft and undulating, but also with just the right amount of structure. Here are some of the best ideas we’ve seen for pathways that feel natural.

Above: Curving through a side yard this border is filled with vigorous and long-lived perennials and shrubs that pump out beautiful foliage and flowers, including purple smoke bushblack-eyed Susan, buddleia, and daylilies year after year.

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Mow right through it

Perhaps the simplest (but how romantic) way to create a path is to take a mower and plow a walkway though it. In this walled courtyard, beds of Queen Anne’s lace soften the impact of the formal sheared conifers and it’s color connects to the white of the gate. Have a side yard and want something easy but drop dead? This might be it!  (Also works with daisies and ornamental grasses.)

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Plant in wide swaths

Grasses are a natural foil to create the juxtaposition between man and nature. They sway and swirl while instinctively nestling up to hardscape such as this plank boardwalk. Rather than a bit of this and that, try massing various grasses (tamed only by pink-flowering sedum ‘Autumn Joy’) to add a seaside vibe. This border uses only three grasses (dwarf maiden, dwarf fountain, sea oats) interspersed with a bit of groundcover for a visual break.

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Get great curves

Who wouldn’t be charmed while making their way to this gate? This pathway’s swervy curves is further emphasized by plants allowed to breach their beds and tumble onto the pavement. Love the look? It’s actually a pretty simple combo of English boxwood, Royal Purple smoke tree, catmint, lavender, roses, and marguerite daisy. Note that these plants get quite expansive as they mature; in just a few years, this pathway will narrow.

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Mix metaphors

Billowy pathway borders do not solely belong to the cottage aesthetic. This modern urn and mounds of echium demonstrate how to add the call of the wild to even the most streamlined designs. The device used here is to focus on a few plants, mass them for impact, and balance it out with the use of contemporary hardscape materials. Adding the softness are yellow-flowers yarrow and Wind Dancer Lovegrass. The bonus here—low-water and low-maintenance!

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Make it the main event

Wild and wonderful isn’t just for the back yard. This is the path to the front door, and it’s lined with a mass of  Morning Light maiden grass, coral bells, lady’s mantle, astilbe, Lacey Blue Russian sage, Rozanne cranesbill geranium, peoniesFoerster’s Feather Reed Grass and panicle hydrangeas. Left to their own devices, these plants sure know how to make an entrance! (See from the reverse angle here.)

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Waterwise and wow

The incredible range of colors and textures paired with their habit to spread and multiply makes drought-tolerant plants a natural for a color-me-wild border. This is a painterly mix of Angelina stonecrop, Voodoo stonecrop, silvery clusters of echeverias, Color Guard yucca, Tropicanna canna, Kangaroo paw, and in the back, purple fringe flower. Let those sedums do their thing and fill in between the pavers for a seamless vignette.

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Embrace Sensuous Disarray

If you have stretches of blank walls along paths and you don’t want to spend hours tending to perennial borders, this idea is for you. Train vines in a single color, such as these three different purple clematis, to start cladding the walls. Once the main stems are in place, let new branches grow where they like to create this kind of frothy fullness. Add other plants for texture (here delphiniums and cranesbill geranium), and then just let it be.

Things to Remember:

  • Put away the clippers. Remember you love this look. Nothing worse than a tidy, pruned pathway that’s meant to spill and sprawl.
  • Unless you’re intending to have ONE BIG MOMENT, layer in a few plants that will look great before and after the main event.
  • When in doubt, a few flats of annuals tucked into blank spots does the trick!

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