Gravel Paths

by Deak Kirkham

 woman is exploring a formal garden with a small pondI look out at a beautifully landscaped, skillfully crafted garden, manifestly the result of lengthy and careful planning, meticulous attention to detail and strenuous labour both of hand and machine. The product of this endeavour is splendid: broad avenues, winding gravel pathways, never with too uncomfortable an incline, imaginative playgrounds and (above all!) delicate teashops with delectable deliciousness to reward the hungry visitor around all of which grow plants in well ordered beds and trees in sensible groupings. And this array of carefully interlocking – shall we say – infrastructure makes itself available in the magnificence of its floric splendour to the paying public: an accessible place; a family-friendly place; a beautiful day out.

But what does the garden itself say? Did it, I wonder, request this sculpting and crafting? Did it beg some private investor or a council body to fund the work whose outcome is this premeditated slightly off-symmetry and this balanced geometry? The answer is as clear as the purified water which trickles from the upheld vase of the classical stone statue-cum-water fountain to my left: “I was wild and angry before; a savage chaos of unordered growing. Subject to none, I sprouted where I wished. Why did you make me tame, timid and silent?” This anguished cry is easy to hear. But the visitors to the garden trundle on, happy to glance here and there from the safety of their gravel paths.


This piece came to me on a calm, gentle day whilst sitting admiring a particularly well landscaped garden. In fairness, the garden in question is not, as this piece suggests, overly ordered – but there are plenty of gardens which are. Indeed, highly symmetrical gardens are, as we know, a common feature of stately homes and private residences. One wonders if they stretch the limits of the notion of garden, rejecting as they seem to do, any concept of wildness and chaos in their construction.

To return to the garden where I found myself while writing this, perhaps it was the semi-ordered nature of the garden which allowed me to perceive the implicit contrast between the gravel paths of a fee-charging attraction and the angry chaos of an untouched, wild-sprung tumble of nature. The path particular caught my eye and in the inspiration that led to this piece, I wondered why we need a path to wonder through a landscaped garden. Are not the lawns and broad grassways sufficient?

So what is garden? Is it chaos and wildness, symbols of the rawness and unpredictability of nature? Or is it tended, symmetrical, ordered geometry, symbolic now of human technical prowess and our ability – as awesome and worrisome, perhaps, as the wild power of primeval nature? Or is it the mingling of the two? I cannot decide except to say that it is all three at once and that each has a place in the heart of human being. But I hope that I will remember that the wildness long preceded the garden and that the garden is our redaction of that original chaos. From chaos, order, perhaps; but that ordering possesses as much the quality of loss as it does of gain.

open gate to formal garden

Top Photo:  Exploring a formal garden by loganban

Bottom Photo: Hope Park, Keswick by Ron Harton

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