Unsanctioned shortcuts are called desire paths, and they are primarily considered paths of least resistance. Desire paths are easily recognized in large commercial and public landscapes, where architects and urban planners call them desire lines. Landscape designers do their best to identify where and how to direct the flow of movement from one place to another before people, animals, or water make a desire path. But I think desire paths can also be defined as the best path to take at the moment, depending on where you are, and what you are doing. Sometimes a desire path is not meant to get you somewhere efficiently but is meant to be an opportunity to stop and smell the roses.
People make desire paths
Because residential landscapes have paths that connect us to our destinations, whether it’s getting from the sidewalk to the house, from the patio to the garage, or from the street to the garbage storage, landscape designers try to hit that sweet spot between utility and beauty. For example, corner houses often have paths where the grass pathway has worn away from pedestrians cutting across the corner of the front yard. There is something instinctual about taking a route that is direct, even if it’s not official. A fence, a hedge, or even a visual barrier can eliminate this unwanted desire path, so pedestrians stay on the sidewalk.
Animals make desire paths
The Dutch call desire paths elephant paths (oliphantenpaadjes), the Germans trample paths (die trampelpfade), and Norwegians call them cow paths (festig). Dogs will often wear a path in the lawn where they run to bark at dogs, the mailman, and other passersby. Landscape designers will always try to accommodate the family dog, understanding their desire to protect their domain and family. For example, that hole they dug beneath the rhododendron where they hang out is probably the best vantage point for their territory and the starting point for a desire path. There are ways to work with nature, to prevent mud, and destruction of hedges and lawns, by incorporating their desire paths into landscape designs.
Water is also known to make desire paths
There is no stopping water. Whenever you see erosion, that is a desire path for water. Otherwise known as drainage issues, the best thing to do is direct the water to where it can be managed. Desire paths demonstrate where we can work with nature, and how to go with the flow. There are many ways to direct the flow of water: with a dry creek bed, a dry well, a French drain, or a swale. Gravel, boulders, and the proper plants can turn an erosion issue into a naturally beautiful solution.
Desire Paths Emerge Everywhere
From hiking trails, parks, college campuses, and backyards, desire paths or sometimes grass paths are everywhere. There is certainly the practical side of desire paths that we can learn from water, animals, and people. But there’s also something whimsical and fun about desire paths, be it a trail through the woods, 2’x2 ’architectural pavers set perfectly in the lawn, or steps that meander downhill. Paths are important because they lead somewhere. Paths can be all business, but still pleasing to our senses and our heart. They can beckon you to follow them. And why shouldn’t they be beautiful and inspiring? Why shouldn’t there be flowers, sweet scents, or berries for birds planted along the short path to your home office? Why not turn that long, boring driveway into an allée of trees planted on each side?
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Paths are often used as a metaphor for decision-making, for going somewhere, or for discovering something. Whether it’s going with the flow, following your own path, or lighting the way, how we move from place to place can be done with purpose. There is something romantically rebellious about going off the beaten path, skipping the sidewalk, or blazing a trail. But when you intentionally design a landscape with paths that flow, that are practical, attractive, pleasant, and comfortable, there’s nothing left to be desired, but enjoying the journey to your destination.
At Blessing Landscapes, we use best practices in our landscape design and will work to utilize your desire paths. Contact Blessing Landscapes today for all of your landscaping needs!