Garden Paths and Patio Designs – A Historical Approach

Garden Paths and Patio Designs – A Historical Approach

Garden Paths and Patio Designs - Historical Approach Paths and patios go back a long way in history. It is fascinating to learn what approaches were popular in the past, and even if you do not want to achieve a traditional effect, you may gain inspiration from previous centuries.

It is known, for instance, that stairways were seldom used as decorative elements in gardens before the 16th century. The Romans certainly built steps, but usually merely to allow access between various levels. In many large Italian. Renaissance gardens, however, when design reverted to an essentially classical form, grand stairways were often introduced as a focal point. These frequently included imposing features, such as impressive balustrades and railings, fountains and statuary. Elsewhere in Europe and Britain, garden steps gained less prominence, but they were still used to good effect. Even after the impact of the great 18th century landscape gardeners (including Capability Brown who replaced many a carefully planted formal garden with vast ‘natural’ landscapes), they continued to have both an aesthetic and a practical function.

Prior to the landscape movement, formal garden styles predominated throughout the Western world. Paths were usually straight, leading directly from one spot to another; the exceptions were perfectly circular routes and some rather unusual serpentine mazes. Then, predictably, there was a reaction to formality, and this reaction resulted in excessively winding pathways.

At the same time, the trends in Eastern gardens were rather different. In early China, gardeners favoured the meandering path, with its curves laid out to resemble an unrolling scroll. Often the route these paths took covered quite a distance as they threaded their way around rocks and large mounds (or mounts), the philosophy being that it is more enjoyable to travel than to arrive. Long, covered, open-sided walkways, known as lang, were also popular among the aristocracy in ancient China. Incorporating balustrades, elaborate latticework and tiled roofs, these followed the contours of the ground, crossing water as bridges where necessary.

In Japan the approach to pathways was generally more natural, with stepping stones taking pride of place.

Traditionally patios were part of the building, created as atriums and courtyards which were usually paved and often featured a pool or pond. This probably had more to do with design and the desire for privacy than with the need to protect oneself from intruders or enemies. The idea persisted for centuries. During the Middle Ages, the peristyles of the earlier Romans reappeared as cloisters and during the Italian Renaissance, as colonnaded courtyards.

In recent times, the patio has become loosely redefined as a place where garden and house meet. Its function and character, however, have continued to grow, and the term is now used to refer to virtually any open or partially open outdoor area with a hard surface which is used for sitting or entertaining.

The materials used for steps, paths and patios are the same in many cases, and these have not changed much over the centuries. The requirement has always been a durable, hard surface which is both easy to maintain and visually attractive.

Concrete-like materials have always been common, as have bricks and tiles, although the technology has obviously advanced considerably over the centuries. In Pompeii, a kind of concrete was made of pounded tile mixed with lime. All over the world, bricks have for centuries been made from clay. Cut and random flagstones were also common for both garden and internal use in areas where stone was found naturally. Pebbles, too, have been a popular surface material for paths, patios and courtyards.  Pebble pavements were created by the ancient Chinese civilisations, and the Greeks used them both indoors and out, creating motifs and both geometric and abstract designs. Traditionally, pebbles were set in wet clay soil, but a similar look can be achieved by pushing the stones into a bed of wet mortar, and you can use pebbles of naturally different hues to create patterns.

Tiles were also used in the earliest known gardens. In Persia, paths and even pools were tiled with mosaic to introduce colour and pattern. In Moorish Spain, decorated tiles were used for steps and edgings, on walls and around pools and fountains.

11. December 2010 by admin
Categories: Construction, Gardening, Paving, Paths and Patios | Tags: , | Comments Off on Garden Paths and Patio Designs – A Historical Approach


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