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In landscape as in life, journey can be more important than destination

A garden path can combine different materials for visual interest. (Jacqueline Soule)
A garden path can combine different materials for visual interest. (Jacqueline Soule)

Destination is defined as “a set point for the end of a journey.” But we are also reminded that, “Whereever you go, there you are,” suggesting that sometimes the journey is more important than the destination. One place where both of these sayings can be equally true is in the landscape.

A good landscape design needs an accent, a “destination” for the eyes. Without something to focus on, your eyes will wander restlessly around the landscape, ultimately creating a sense of unease.

Many new homes have tiny yards, so it’s difficult to have a focal point and still have room for patio furniture and a bird feeder or two. The solution to this problem is to add a path. There does not need to be an actual destination. Merely the hint of a place to go can be enough.

Paths invite exploration. Paths curving out of sight around a planting bed or around the side of the house create a sense of mystery. A straight line is viewed quickly. A curving line will slow the eye down, making your path a meandering country lane rather than a freeway.

A wide variety of material can be used to create your path. Paths can be made of flagstones, flat rocks, stepping stones, bricks, pebbles, gravel, masonry, wood, concrete, artificial materials, some or all of the above, or plain soil bounded by rocks or other decorative elements. The cracks between the paving materials can be planted with low groundcovers like germander, thyme, oregano, verbena, phyla, golden dyssodia, or other plants that grow to six inches or less.

Consider the site from all aspects before choosing the material for the path and its placement. Look up. Do the roofs or scuppers drain onto where you want to place your path? Look down. Is there a slope in the site of your future path? Are there any low spots where puddles may occur? Consider use. Will this path be merely decorative or will it also lead to a garden shed, trash containers, or the fuse box? Do you have pets that will use the path?

For a regularly used path, choose more durable and easily traveled materials like flagstone or concrete. A rarely traveled path could be stepping stones or stabilized earth. Pet paths should be made with materials that will not burn tender pads in the summer heat.

While it may sound odd to worry about drainage in the desert, our rain does have an impact. A summer monsoon rain can dump hundreds of gallons on your roof, which could wash away lightweight or unanchored path materials, especially if your potential pathway has a slope to it. If your path does not drain well, puddles and debris can be irksome.

Finally, consider how long you will remain in your home and how often you like to redecorate. If you plan a long stay and you’re not the type who likes to rearrange the furniture, go ahead and put in a more durable path.

Let your landscape include paths and it will become a more enticing place to spend time as you journey through life.

Jacqueline A. Soule, Ph.D., is an award-winning garden writer, the author of nine books about gardening in our unique area. She has also worked as a garden coach in Tucson for over two decades. More at www.gardeningwithsoule.com.