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.
Mow right through it
Perhaps the simplest (but so romantic) way to create a path that feels wild but not like a meadow, 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. If you have a side yard and want something easy but drop dead, this might be it! (Also works with daisies and ornamental grasses.)
Plant in wide swaths
Grasses are a natural foil to create the juxtaposition between man and nature. They sway and swirl with wanton abandon while instinctively nestling up to hardscape such as this plank boardwalk. Rather than clutter up a border with a bit of this and that, try massing great stands of various grasses (tamed only by this stand of pink-flowering sedum ‘Autumn Joy’) to add a beachy, seaside vibe to the landscape. This border uses only three grasses (dwarf maiden, dwarf fountain, sea oats) interspersed with a bit of groundcover for a visual break.
Get great curves
Who wouldn’t be charmed while making their way to this gate? This pathway is already built on a curve, but its swervy shape is further emphasized by allowing these English garden inspired plants to breach their beds and tumble onto the pavement. Love the look? It’s actually a pretty simple combo of easy, fuss-free shrubs and perennials including 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.
Billowy borders along pathways do not solely belong to the cottage-y aesthetic. This modern urn and cloud-pruned 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!
Make it the main event
Wild and wonderfully isn’t just for the back yard. This is the path to the front door, and it’s lined with a undulating mass of Morning Light maiden grass, coral bells, lady’s mantle, astilbe, Lacey Blue Russian sage, Rozanne cranesbill geranium, peonies, Foerster’s Feather Reed Grass and panicle hydrangeas. Left to their own devices, these plants sure know how to make an entrance! (See this border from the reverse angle here.)
Waterwise and wow
The incredible range of colors and textures paired with their habit to spread and multiply makes drought-tolerant plants such as these 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, brilliant vignette.
Embrace Sensuous Disarray
If you have stretches of blank walls along paths that navigate around the side of the house, the back of the garage, or adjacent to tall retaining walls, and you don’t want to spend your available gardening hours tending to plantings there, then 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.
- Plant for the seasons. 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!