Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Stone pathways in European botanic gardens...

Granite pathway at Copenhagen botanic gardens' rock garden

Harland Hand, one of America's visionary garden designers, would lecture that gardens really consisted only of  "path, lookout and shelter"-- capturing, as it were, the three essential needs that we as humans sought in landscape for the millions of years of our evolution. So pathways are perhaps more important than most of us (who are obsessed plant lovers) might at first blush concede. 

Hamburg botanic garden pathway
Many things impressed me during the trip that Jan and I took to Scandinavia and Germany last spring, but one thing that induced great envy was the variety and beauty of the stone used in pathways at the many great botanic gardens we visited. The use of small, cubic chunks of granite laid in a somewhat rustic fashion charmed me particularly. These were everywhere!

Stone plaza at Hamburg botanic garden
This wonderful stone mosaic design at Hamburg was especially well designed. I love the three different (natural) colors of granite used here...

Another view of Hamburg botanic gardens
Here is another variation with larger, more rectangular blocks making a more informal look in the wonderful woodland garden at Hamburg.
Wurzburg botanic gardens main pathway
Wurzburg rates near the top of my list of favorite gardens anywhere, any time...I was entranced with everything there. The expanse between this ample walkway and the distant greenhouses comprised a corner of the huge North American garden filled with native treasures from the USA--most of which I'd never seen in any American garden. This place is awesome.

Closeup of granite pavement at Wurzburg

It's hard to believe that anything so common in Europe is pretty much unprecentented in the USA: the smallness of the cobbles is likely why they are less prone to tripping people. Surely someone must sell something comparable Stateside?

Flagstones in the herb garden at Wurzburg

Handicap ramp at Wurzburg botanic garden
Handicap access is an issue in Europe as well--a simple and functional expedient to retrofit an older garden is demonstrated here...but do notice the wonderful lichened stone around the ramp as well--that speaks volumes as to the age and dedication represented by these great gardens that have so much to teach us American whippersnappers!


  1. Great post -- although technically, most of what you show in the photos aren't cobbles. Cobbles are naturally rounded stones, most suitable for roadways as they provide a bumpy surface that is difficult for pedestrians to navigate. What is show in these pictures are "setts"; the larger ones are also known as "Belgian block". I know, I know, this sounds pedantic, but the difference in terminology becomes important when you start sourcing the materials. I've been collecting glacial cobbles, plentiful in New England and in many places to be had for the taking, to pave a court in front of my house. Creates a pleasant rustic look and a firm surface, though it wouldn't be suitable for a public garden.

    1. I appreciate your clarification, Tom! We don't have anything quite like this in the foothills to the Rockies--although we have no end of flagstones and rock in general. I was impressed to see big mounds of these setts several times around Germany and Scandinavia--they must have some way of producing them easily...I wish we could get them here! I have a hunch your work would be more than adequate for a public garden...

  2. Hi Panayoti,

    I was watching "The Victory Garden" episode "Horizontal" today and they promoted an alternative with a similar look to the stone you show in the above photos. In my area this episode will be airing again on Saturday. I would check your local stations if you are interested in viewing this episode. The alternative they promoted is the Canadian Cobble System. I have attached a link below to the manufacturer. I have never tried it personally. It does appear to be a less expensive option for those who want to achieve this European look.


  3. Will check it out, James! Thanks! Don't watch TV (and will be flying Sat.)--so will miss that unfortunately!

  4. In Denmark, and most of Scandinavia I suspect, the granite stones used in streets and for pathways and courtyards are decades, if not centuries old- they do not make them anymore because it is very labor intensive and expensive. They just mine are recycle the ones that their ancestors made. Young apprentices spend weeks and weeks learning how to work with these stones and by the time they are journeymen they can easily lay lots of square meters of them in any number of designs.
    They are so rare now, that thieves regularly seek them out. When I lived in Aarhus in the 80s the city was restoring a Renaissance house. The work took months and they began by digging up the Renaissance courtyard and piled up the granite pavers in one corner. When it came time to relay them the workers noticed that the pile was much smaller than it was when they began. The site was secured when there were no workers there, so they had to do some sleuthing to figure out where the stones were disappearing to. Finally one day on their lunch break they noticed a little old man at the pile with his bicycle that had a basket. He stooped down and grabbed a few stones and threw them in the basket and cycled home. They followed him and found most of the courtyard in a pile in his backyard,...

  5. Aha! Multiple mysteries solved! I trust you know EXACTLY where those pavers went to, Jeff? I promise not to tell...
    I wonder if they haven't come up with a new method of producing these, however? I swear I saw some places where there were mounds that looked freshly minted. But I've been wrong before (a long time ago, of course. And I was under the influence)...

  6. Nice textures to see on your German garden photos, especially from the land of colored concrete (that modern, real-world budgets constrain me to use). The moss is something to see, for these sun-bleached eyes!

  7. All of our streets within the city limits of Pittsburgh used to be large paving bricks or Belgian block, a very hard limestone. The paving is mostly still there underneath the asphalt, and when the streets are ground down to be re-paved, the old paving comes to light for a few days, only to be covered up by a fresh layer of asphalt. These old pavements used to absorb precipitation that now runs directly into our over-taxed hundred year-old sewer system, causing a lot of problems. There's a lot to be said for stone and brick pavements: They are not petroleum by products, they are beautiful, they require skill to lay, but can be taken apart and reassembled, or recycled, and they slow speeding drivers.

  8. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.


Featured Post

A garden near lake Tekapo

The crevice garden of Michael Midgley Just a few years old, this crevice garden was designed and built by Michael Midgley, a delightful ...

Blog Archive