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Egregious wiggles :-)

Posted by woodyoak 5 (My Page) on
Sat, Apr 14, 12 at 18:01

We were at a local garden/park this afternoon and the first thing that we saw was a path that set off my wiggle aversion! The path split off from the main entrance path; you can see that scale makes a difference - both paths are wiggly but the main path (8' wide) looks better than the side path (4' wide). It's probably just plain impossible to make the broader path so wiggly as the width would force the wiggles to be spread out over a longer length. The paths:
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The wiggly path particularly struck me as ridiculous as it led to this:
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A closer view of the rose garden layout:
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I think a nice smooth curved path would have satisfied both the apparent requirement for curves and not set up such a jarring contrast at the destination. This might not be too clear, but I mean something like this:
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(I would also have smoothed out the wider path too but it is more tolerable than the small path...)

I really don't understand why it seems de regueur these days to make all paths wiggly in all contexts! Can someone explain that to me?


Follow-Up Postings:

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RE: Egregious wiggles :-)

That second from last pic looks like a still from a Harry Potter movie Woody. Could this be the answer: Lord Voldermort declares wiggly biggly?


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RE: Egregious wiggles :-)

LOL! Yep, Voldemort could be the answer....:-)

BTW Ink, I'm almost through the Russell Page book. The most interesting things are his explanations of the thought process he want through for each design/problem. Quite a few of the examples in the photos in the book were formal layouts so the rose bed today sort of 'fit' with the garden mood that has been living in my head recently :-)


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RE: Egregious wiggles :-)

  • Posted by whaas 5a SE WI (My Page) on
    Sat, Apr 14, 12 at 22:18

What I've learned from my wiggles...

Although they look good in close proximity they look foolish from afar. You've provided a prime example.

I've step away from the wiggles but the curves still persist!


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The only reason I can think for the little path wiggles are that there was something there they had to go around. Now that it's gone, it just looks silly. I wonder what it could have been.

Today, I got rid of some more wiggles from my yard.


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whaas - curves are good; wiggles are silly, so IMO you've moved in the right direction :-)

tano - that has always been an open grassy lawn so the wiggles have never made any sense... Mind you, it's only been in the past 5 years or so that wiggles have really moved up on my list of garden 'hot buttons'. It's probably a sign of age that simplicity and clean lines appeal to me much more these days!


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RE: Egregious wiggles :-)

  • Posted by whaas 5a SE WI (My Page) on
    Sun, Apr 15, 12 at 22:54

Here is one snapshot of the "from wiggle to curve"

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RE: Egregious wiggles :-)

I don't know if wiggles are an American phenomenon, but I haven't seen any over here; not on purpose anyway!
This wiggles thing brings out my cod philosopher: I imagine egregious wiggles being a symptom of a culture's overrreaction to becoming so 'untethered' from the natural world. People don't realise it's not natural, but a cartoon-like exaggeration.


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whaas - definitely an improvement. What does it look like if you stand on the top of that hill and look down? Does the bed connect with the woods visible on the side?

pippi - I'm happy to hear that wiggles are just a local fashion issue :-)


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Woody - maybe it's something underground. Do you hear a hum when you walk by?


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@ whaas - soooo much better!


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The psychological approach to road and path making is to put a bend where you want to slow things down either to enjoy the view or just to slow things down. Your reading will have mentioned how comfortable gentle rolling hills (beauty)are compared with rugged craggy terrain (sublime) and I think this applies equally to path trajectory. Straight paths take you from A to B directly but you may miss something in between. Bed edging works the same because there you will find probably the biggest contrast between one colour/texture and another. Gently curving is relaxing but wildly wiggling is jarring, straight works if the contents of the bed are the main player.


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RE: Egregious wiggles :-)

Ink - most of my reading placed curving paths in situations where the contours of the ground made that the logical choice - i.e. the paths followed the easy route through the terrain. That makes sense to me - in large part because that's how the paths worked on my grandfather's farm where I grew up. Of course, the curve-to-follow-contours implicitly assumes that you are talking about a bigger garden with a more varied topography than the average suburban garden! I can see your point re curves slowing you down - mainly when a change of direction is involved - e.g. in the pictures posted above the broad main path would work better I think if the wiggles (broader and less offensive - but still wiggles!) were eliminated in favor of a straighter path through the lawn section but then have it make a broad, sweeping curve to the right, with garden areas on both sides, and then a smaller curve at the end to bring it to where it opens out onto a rock-walled terrace area along the lake. Currently the path sort of wiggles its way straight to the lake and the plantings near the lake end get more or less ignored because as soon as you see the lake that draws all your attention.

The two books on Chinese gardening I read made that point about paths to follow the land contours in those gardens. Mind you, when they were talking about the walled gardens (as opposed to ones in a natural landscape), the whole artificial mountain fashion (+ ponds and streams etc.) made the whole terrain an artificial construct so the pattern of the curving paths would have been an artificial construct too. (The Ji Cheng 'The Craft of Gardens' book that was originally written in 1631 was interesting; much of it dealt with the construction of buildings in the garden. Water and the artificial mountains were the other two main topics. The artificial mountains in the pictures in the book really do not appeal to me at all.)


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wiggles... testing the limits of tolerance.


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whaas- I like your sweeping curves, but am curious what your bed lines looked like before!

There is a wide sidewalk a couple of miles from where I live that has ridiculous wiggles, almost a zig zag really. It is along an undeveloped plot of land near our town center that leads to a neighborhood in the distance. There are no trees or anything to make any sense at all of the wiggles. I don't have any reason to go on that sidewalk, but I pass by it often and always wonder what the city was thinking when they installed it. I might have to take a picture and post it here just to make Woody cringe :)


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Woody, apparently they have some pretty odd mountains in China, according to my daughter who was there a few years ago. So the artificial mountains that did not appeal to you may have looked unnatural but been evoking some like these...
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Karin L


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RE: Egregious wiggles :-)

Hey Yard, which one is you in the ski photos? That looks fantastic after our winter here of no snow.

Mulching today in a free form area and I thought of this thread. There was no rhyme or reason to the edges of the bed, so I kept them nice and curved, but not at all wiggly. I think you would have liked it woody.


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On the moguls, of course! (training in case of another bumpy ride on the forum.)


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Woody: all gardens have a cultural context, the Chinese garden no less than any other, so that the artificial mountains have a meaning that may allude us. Craig Clunas goes into this in his book 'Fruitful Sites'. As you have almost finished the Russell Page maybe you can move onto this?


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Almond - yeah, it sounds like that one would make me cringe :-) In the course materials for the LD1 course I took on-line from the University of Guelph a few years ago there was a picture of a very(!) wiggly path/sidewalk through a low planting. There was no comment on it in the materials and it wasn't mentioned in the course itself - I hoped it was included as a sort of parody but I fear some people might have thought it was something to emulate!

Karin - I've seen pictures like that too of Chinese mountains from friends who have visited there. Those mountains are indeed odd! I wonder how they were made geologically? My guess is that they are limestone something-or-other that formed when the area was under water at some point. Nobody I've asked who have been there seems to know the answer. I would expect a tour guide to provide that information because it must be a common question.... Does your daughter know the answer by any chance? Maybe our Chinese friend on this forum knows - are you reading this desingnonline6...?

In both the Fruitful Sites (I've already read that one Ink...) and the Craft of Gardens books, they mention that the source of the best rocks for artificial mountains was the bottom of some particular lake. So that seems to imply to me that those odd mountains are probably some sort of limestone formation. Definitely the artificial mountains - and the the garden features like ponds, streams and pavillions of various sorts - are part of a very specific cultural context. Western eyes see just the superficial literal scene and are largely oblivious to other meanings that may be there. That's one of the reasons I read to Craft of Gardens book after finishing the Fruitful Sites one. Clunas mentioned several times that it's hard to know whether Western interpretretations of Chinese gardens are biased by Western garden and other cultural values. So I wanted to read something written by a Chinese author. Interestingly, near the back of the Craft of Gardens book there were pages of design patterns for balustrades, open-work wall inserts, and other decorative fretwork (e.g. on roof tops etc.) Many of them looked like something you'd see rendered in stained glass in Arts and Crafts style windows and other glass works of that period. While I liked many of the patterns, I liked them less when shown in photos of actual balustrades etc. The rendering of them in wood made them look too heavy and clumsy to my eyes, but they would have looked great in wrought iron. I suspect there's very much a cultural bias in that opinion - you like what you are familiar with.

Ink - my comment above about the lake taking the attention away from the plantings at the end of the broad path leading to the lake was prompted, in part, I think by something Russell Page said in his book. He commented about the difficulty developing a garden in a dramatically beautiful site because you had to find a way to keep the attention within the garden/manage when and how to provide the opportunity for the view from the site to be seen (I'm probably not describing that well...) I could see that issue in the garden/park we were at - once the lake came into view, everything else just faded into insignificance.

Yard - I was never a skier so those sorts of pictures are not in my cultural context :-) I see the lines of the path of the downhill skiers or the pattern of the moguls as being a functional thing rather than something meant to be ornamental - so wiggly lines are OK in that context since they are required by the function at hand.

drtygrl - sounds good - did the owner want the wiggles back?! You gotta do what the client wants...:-)


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Woody: Russell Page's dilemma regarding "developing a garden in a dramatically beautiful site...." is an interesting link to the Japanese notion of 'borrowed scenery' and Alexander's 'Pattern Language,' 'Zen View' for instance.


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Not all wiggly walks are egregious though...

Not all wiggles are egregious... "I learned to walk as a baby and haven't had a lesson since." (Marilyn Munroe)


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adrienne - cute... but then I don't think an elegant line was MM's ambition :-)

Ink - Pattern Language was one of the first books you recommended that I read. Any good books on Japanese gardening that you'd recommend? Ji Cheng's book talked about 'borrowing scenery' too.


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Woody: there are three that I would recommend: David Slawson's 'Secret Teachings in the art of JG's' Joseph Conder 'Landscape gardening in Japan' and Marc Peter Keane 'The art of setting stone'. Keane and Slawson are connected with the Japanese Garden school/seminar held in Tokyo most years that Michelle and I almost attended. There are a lot more books but these three put less of an emphasis on the so called 'Zen' aspect (only a small part of the tradition)than some.


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Ink - the local library has two books by Keane, one of which is a translation of something Japanese, called Sakuteiki and the other one called Japanese Garden Design. I've put holds on both of those. The problem with books from the library is that you have to give them back....! :-)


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"I really don't understand why it seems de regueur these days to make all paths wiggly in all contexts! Can someone explain that to me?"

A great deal of what is created in landscape is not because it is an understood medium, but because it isn't. It might be a self proving claim that the default caliber of landscape that most people are used to is not just underwhelming, but inferior. Any average yard in any average town is the no frills, low-cost builder's landscape that is not there to be marvelous, flourish or endure. It's only there to meet the minimum requirements to sell a house. Multiply that out a few million times. In other words, people are USED to crap and their knowledge about it is fairly well ingrained. Due to the generally inferior level of appreciation that exists, there's endless copying of the inferior landscaping. This does not mean, however, that there's NO interest in improvement. There are a great many people who get a glimpse of improved landscaping and decide that there's something worthwhile there. Their goal becomes to improve the sorry existing state of affairs and they set off to "be creative."

The will to create does not necessarily mean the ability to create quality. Factor in the condition of backlash... the desire to "be different." If one grows up seeing nothing but the grid system, it's very possible that, at some later point, it will not be hard for them to convince themselves that curves--once they see them--are better. They may decide to experiment with the extreme. If someone sees the results and thinks them "cute", they will copy it. If enough people think it's cute, it will become a fad. As wiggles have become. The same thing happened with berms. Many berms were created that looked as if large animals had been buried above ground. The cure to these fads is more people seeing actually better designed landscaping and less cute landscaping.


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De gustibus non est. . . How does that go?


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Yard - It's true that there are lots of examples of wiggly edges and paths out there so perhaps people just copy that, but the question is also why did 'the low cost builder' choose wiggly - if those builders are the source of the trend? Formal, straight lines haven't been a common thing for a long time I think and while a reaction against straight lines might be to go curves, why not larger, smooth curves rather than wiggles? I think somehow the wiggles may be linked to the desire to appear 'natural' that has overshot the mark and hit parody instead.

whitecap- while the saying may be 'there's no arguing with taste', we all know that's not really the case! Some things clearly fall into 'good taste'; some into 'bad taste'; and some into the wide gray area in between. And taste/fashion does change with time, so where something falls in the good/bad continuum changes with time. I think wiggles are in the gray area for many people but are ripe to be pushed into the 'bad taste' end of the spectrum - I'm doing my best to give them a nudge in that direction! :-)


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I try to be "inclusive" about these things, but do draw the line at such affronts as self-conscious front yard furniture that seems to be silently screaming "Don't sit on me! I'm just for show!" Thing about it, if one finds that one's tastes have altered through immersion in the theory of design, just how "authentic" are these newly discovered preferences? I would imagine that the outbreak of "wiggles" is occasioned by the desire to appear stylishly fashionable. Too much "book learning," as the unsophisticated might say.


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"I think somehow the wiggles may be linked to the desire to appear 'natural' that has overshot the mark..."

Well put. I agree it's likely that the original and ongoing thinking behind wiggles is a misguided attempt to re-create 'Nature' (the backlash to our highly structured physical world.) The relatively low level of sophistication about landscape (a la mini-golf) accepts and keeps them going. I'm not blaming builders per se. They're just doing what they have to do. The most likely culprits for bringing wiggles to us in the first place is landscape professionals and enthusiasts. There are many non-designers doing design. There are many designers that lack good taste. (I'm sure some will think me... but I can't be accused of promoting wiggles!) Some landscape laws (a thrust in recent years) exacerbate the already poor general level of design sophistication.

I agree that wiggles are in the grey area and "ripe to be pushed into the 'bad taste' end of the spectrum..." Though I can't cite a specific instance, I would be willing to bet that during the past 12 months there was at least one landscape professional pushing the idea of wiggles--as a way to 'add interest to a path in your yard'--on one of the TV garden shows. Eventually, the fad will pass and we will move on to better solutions... and some "new" bad ideas.


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