Planning Your Garden Paths and Driveways

Paths and driveways are vital elements in the design process, as they not only link the house with the outside world, but, in the case of paths, different areas within the garden.

The shape you decide upon for your paths and driveways will have as much an effect on the impression they create as the materials they are surfaced with. A straight front path and driveway will create a feeling of formality and purpose and are usually best suited to small front gardens. Curves and undulating shapes look more natural and create a sense of movement and freedom, tempting visitors to explore, especially if your front garden is large, with the house set well back.

The overall shape of your plot and where the house stands within it will determine whether you choose straight lines or curves. A straight driveway and path may seem a little too ordered, but work extremely well with either a very modem house or, at the opposite end of the scale, an old, grand house. A curved, or even circular driveway, with a curved path to the front entrance, will look at one with most country houses.

While practicality is obviously important, it is also vital to choose surface materials which look good and are in keeping with the style of the house, garden and boundaries. All these considerations apply to paths around and through the back garden. A garden design is like a jigsaw in which no one element can ever be viewed in isolation and each part must slot together to make the whole picture.

Most visitors approach the house via the driveway, so it is vital to give this area thought when planning. After all, first impressions are important and so it is not enough just to choose the most functional shape and surface material.

As the driveway adjoins the house take the colour of the house as a guide to the ideal colour of the drive. A slightly deeper shade of the same colour looks best. If you try to match colour and shade exactly the result may look rather boring.

Paths can serve several functions in a garden. If you have a path leading to your front door instead of a driveway, think about the impression it creates. Paths also exist to link or divide different parts of the garden.

Obviously the quickest route between any two points is a straight line, but a straight path will not necessarily do your garden justice. If a path is allowed to meander, with plenty of curves and little surprises along the way, such as a shady arbour with a bench to sit on, or an interesting focal point to draw the walker on, it will help transform your garden into a place of magic and mystery. Be aware though, that people may be tempted to take shortcuts, which could damage your lawn.

Use planting to create paths with different atmospheres. For example, trees and shrubs can be planted alongside the paths to create a tunnel effect. To make this even more dramatic plan the tunnel so that it emerges into a bright, open area of the garden. The contrast will be delightful.

You can make an entirely different tunnel effect by erecting a pergola or a series of arches, planted with fragrant climbers. Enhance the romantic effect by placing an urn mounted on a plinth, a piece of sculpture, or an attractive container at the end as a focal point.

There are also numerous tricks you can employ which fool the eye into thinking the path or garden is longer than it is or which change the shape of the plot.

A particularly effective illusion is to lay the path so that it gradually gets narrower and narrower. This will make it seem longer than it actually is. Or design a mysterious path which disappears behind a dense shrub or hedge. You may have nothing behind this other than a garden shed, but it will create the impression that there is a whole new area of the garden, just out of sight.

If your garden is noticeably oblong or square, you can make use of a path to alter the visual perception of the shape. Simply lay the path so that it runs in a semicircle around the edge of the garden, creating a circular area of grass or hard surface in the centre. This draws attention away from the hard boundary lines.