“I cannot help hoping that the great ghostly barn-owl will sweep silently across a pale garden, next summer, in the twilight—the pale garden that I am now planting, under the first flakes of snow.” —Vita Sackville-West, describing her plans for the White Garden at Sissinghurst
Some of the most delightful strolling paths are temporal. They change, as it is the nature of landscapes to do, with the hour, the day, the season. Good path design—especially good strolling path design—harnesses these recurring and evolving variations, offering endless invitations to re-engage the same, yet different, route.
Climatic extremes can be tempered while seasonal joys are celebrated. After romping through the blooms of an untended field, a summer path ducks into the cool shade of a dense forest. Trees beside the winter walk at the Cambridge University Botanic Garden protect visitors from January winds while countering bland dormancy with red- and yellow-twig dogwoods, snake-bark maples, a pink-barked birch, heaths in bloom, and winter jasmine.
Daily variations offer similar opportunities. A morning path on a hillside can open to the rising sun and lakes of fog in the valley below. The mid-day path favors shade. The nighttime walk, like Vita Sackville-West’s, seeks out whites—birches, chalk cliffs, a waxing moon, and the momentary transit of a barn owl.
At Manitoga, Russel Wright combined diurnal and seasonal walks. The Morning Walk heading east served as the Winter Walk, where the rising sun sparkled on snow between hemlocks. “My Sunset Path also doubles as the Autumn Path,” he noted, with the fall yellows of witch-hazel, bittersweet, and birch highlighted by slanting sunlight against the dark reds of dogwood and viburnum, some of which he had deliberately planted for those effects.
It’s worth remembering that for strollers rose blooms aren’t the only thing worth stopping for.