When thinking of navigating the woodlands, do you envision the path that makes its way through them? Often, a forest has rudimentary paths that seem to flow from place to place. Sometimes animals make these paths, other times weather and wind cut a path through trees. But as a designer yourself, you might want to forge ahead and make your own way.
When cutting back brush in your woodland, you can think about how paths travel through the wooded areas and how to plan for their construction.
In addition to making circulation routes, keeping your feet dry and avoiding wet or thorny vegetation make the paths very functional. Paths also reduce damage to the native plants and delicate forest soils by protecting the rest of the forest from traffic compaction.
Path materials differ, but the most natural are compressed earth, but many like wood chips or compacted gravel to further delineate the path visually. Gravel is great at percolating away water, and is a more substantial surface.
Some paths in sunnier areas are grass, also very soft on the feet. Grass needs mowing on paths used infrequently though.
Some in shady areas are moss. Paths that have poor drainage become pathways for erosion of forest soils.
From paths, the plantings can be planned as well as sitting areas, and features. Organic mulch like wood chips and bark make soft paths that harmonize well with natural settings, but they decompose over time and need to be refreshed. When using them on paths, make sure your drainage is adequate, otherwise you might have a soggy path instead. These organic paths will suppress vegetation growth, and slightly raise the tread elevation in wet areas.
Asphalt paths drain and direct water like vehicular roadways. Even edging and curbing can delineate path edges, yet become a pleasant visual features as well.
The best paths are simple to navigate and lead one back to where one started. Off-shoot paths weave through and connect to main paths. The main path should be generous in width to accommodate more than one traveler. If the main path encourages looking at scenes from different perspectives by having the visitor double back, that is also a plus. Having resting zones to sit also makes the viewer see a different view, even of something they just saw while walking along the path.
Many times paths are designed with how they will be used in mind. This also determines path width and material used.
Paths often have destinations, such as a clearing to stop, pause and take in the view. These openings of light in turn allow sunshine onto the woodland floor, creating a sunny habitat for a greater variety of plants than what you might find in your forest. Siting grasses and blooming plants along the edge of the forest or clearings will attract insects and butterflies. And that attracts birds. Joy is seeing these creatures in habitats that they prefer.
Paths are best created on contour like above, keeping walking easy and leisurely. Plus if you are working the gardens along a path, the wheelbarrow moves efficiently. Paths in residentially designed woodlands are very often dug out as shallow swales then filled with wood chips. Why? To aid in direction of water movement and drainage if pitched to one side or sloped. They can release excess water back into the surrounding soils or existing retaining ponds or ditches like above.
These spur paths help form areas to landscape too, a wild tulip patch, bluets, Mayapple, or trout lilies make lovely carpeted spots in your woods.
The path below is the most rustic and was formed organically by constant pedestrian use of that path traveling between rocks. This path is a leaf mulch path. Paths used this way tell you where to form paths. Often they go somewhere interesting or get there the fastest.
Curving a path around something of interest, like a special planting, rock (like above), or other obstacle makes a journey much more enjoyable too.
Creativity makes the path one of discovery, yet nature has something interesting around every corner.
Like mentioned above, paths are designed by function. If it needs to span water, a bridge is constructed to connect paths on either side. Water is a very powerful design element and if one is lucky enough to have it through the woodland, paths should cross or run adjacent.
Destinations often are ponds and lakes, but these are also shared by the wildlife. Keep the brush areas near the water so wildlife has a safe place to hide when necessary.
This is a beautiful break in the woodland above. Below the path follows, then crosses the stream. A dry stream bed can be a nice addition to a residential wooded design if water is unavailable. Dry stream beds can be used as drainage away from the property in downpours too.
The gravel path below is punctuated with small boulders as a means to slow down the traveler. Punctuations like this usually make the viewer stop and look around. That is a place to have something to discover. Curving a path slows down this movement too.
Usually in well designed landscapes, before entering a woodland, the path goes from bright light into leaf dappled light. This too is a design trick, to control mood change through the experience. Often one will find meadow clearings on these type of pathways.
There is a downside to paths in the woods.
One of three negatives to wooded landscaping is ticks and Lyme disease. As one that got bit twice this season, ticks seem to be a problem this year. But don’t let them discourage you from making those woodland walks. Setting back vegetation on paths avoids brushing against plants and that will reduce your exposure. Make the paths generous in width too.
Since woods are moist, you can also have mosquito problems in areas with standing water. Natural landscapes take advantage of the native plants’ ability to match plant’s water needs of rainfall with absorbent and well draining soils, helping to keep standing water at a minimum. But, forested areas also encourage mosquito predators, like birds.
The third problem is allergens from pollen produced by trees, and there is not a lot that can be done about that I am guessing. But, many perennial native plants do not produce wind-borne, allergenic pollen. Making these native plants the primary component of your woodland just might allow you to enjoy this wonderful habitat.