The Art of the Edge: 10 Perfect Ways to Soften a Path

Above: The bearded iris may not be a natural contender as an edging plant, but in early spring they will create a spectacular moment. Here at Temple Guiting Manor, designer Jinny Blom has created an entire border of exquisite pale blue Irises underneath pleached trees. Once they’ve flowered the stems can be cut back leaving the strappy foliage behind. Between clumps of iris, add lavender which will flower later in the season and also bring a contrasting structure.

Above: Nepeta—or catmint—is a classic path edging plant and will flower early and reflower if it’s cut back during the season. Here, Nepeta ‘Six Hills Giant’ is used to stunning effect on the path at Wollerton Old Hall in Shropshire, England, where it draws the eye down to a cool and shady summerhouse.

Above: Low growing ornamental grasses can have a softening effect in more contemporary landscapes. Here, at the Butterfly House in Carmel, they provide a textural contrast to graphic, modern pavers.

Above: Key to the success of path planting is the repetition of plants that draw the eye forward. Here, the succulent Senecio brings a sculptural focus, blurring path edges and contrasting beautifully with Leucadendron x ‘Golden Tip’ and Pennisetum messiacum ‘Fairy Tails’.

Above: Ramp up the atmosphere by making an immersive path where plants are encouraged to encroach fully over paving, narrowing down walkways and forcing visitors to stop and stare. At Gravetye Manor in Sussex a jewel-toned smorgasbord of salvias, dahlias, and red hot pokers make for a stunning late summer vista.

Above: In shady areas, mixed greens can create a cool and sombre mood. Here in Beth Chatto’s woodland garden, a classic combination of hostas and ferns spills over onto a timber walkway.

Above: There are few more effective path-softeners than Alchemilla mollis, which has velvety palmate leaves and acidic green flowers. Here, it is perfectly combined with nepeta and the equally zingy euphorbia.

Above: Path edges can look wild, too. At South Wood Farm in Devon, designer Arne Maynard has used wildflowers at the entrance to this medieval thatched farmhouse, before moving to more formal mounds of lavender as visitors enter the inner sanctum.

Above: If texture is key for your paths then consider Stipa tenuissima, which has unparalleled movement and atmosphere, contrasting beautifully with upright spires of verbascum or verbena.

Above: Serpentine paths can be enlivened by using different forms and a smattering of self seeders. Back in Beth Chatto’s garden, drought-tolerant planting areas combine mounds of thyme and oregano with domes of Euphorbia seauieriana.

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