In praise of garden bridges

Bridges are amazing things. They are the very manifestation of a proposition. What’s a bridge if not the offer to be on the other side? But they don’t have to span a physical thing like a river or a highway. According to Cambridge Dictionary, a bridge can be “something that makes it easier to make a change from one situation to another.” In other words, the means of making a transition. With what’s happening in the world right now, what could be more appealing? But, save building a transporter U.S.S. Enterprise-style that literally connects this world to another one, I’ll make do with garden bridges. Whether actually transversing a pond or acting as a metaphorical leap into the unknown, surprising or comforting, a bridge in a garden is always magical.

But what to cross?

Bridges can and do span many things, from a body of water to a terrifyingly deep and narrow chasm. But the fact that a bridge can be so versatile makes it a very practical garden decor option. No water feature? No problem. A ditch or simply a dip in the lawn will do. Or you can make your own pretend stream using rocks, gravel or even small, tumbled chunks of recycled blue glass.

Bridges, of course, make great entrance makers, too.

A fancy wooden bridge acts like a trumpet fanfare for the vine-covered archway further up the pathway. Does the arch need to be heralded. No. But in a garden, more is so often emphatically more.

You don’t need much space either. Just as a garden path beckons the explorer in a particular direction, a bridge signals that there’s more to discover just beyond that hedge/screen/wall/whatever. The fact that there may not be very much beyond it isn’t the point. It’s all about the siren call of the bridge.

This plank bridge spans a small boggy ditch. The flourishing irises are the only clue that there is any water there at all.

Blending into the landscape

A bridge can be the wonderful exclamation point to a garden. The stately Victorian stone and concrete garden bridge, complete with curvy balustrades and towering urns on pedestals, all painted a blinding white, comes to mind. And the iconic bright red garden bridge seen in many a Japanese-style garden. But sometimes a bridge can almost blend right into a landscape and still make a sizeable impression. Yes, the actual size of the bridge has a lot to do with it.

Stone bridge
This bridge, in the Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens, on the eastern seaboard of the U.S., uses a single stone the size of a large dining table.

When a bridge is not a bridge

Sometimes a gardener wants to add some bridge-ness to their garden design without having to fully embrace the arching-over-something concept. A wooden boardwalk can look a lot like a bridge by the use of a well-placed pond hugging one side of the walk.

A bridge-like path
This surprisingly small garden in Toronto, Ontario, has a wood boardwalk which mimics a bridge thanks to the pond that hugs one side.
Wood and stone bridge
Is this a bridge or a path? Does it matter?

The bridge/path hybrid is another handy garden design tool. The one shown above is at Keppel Croft Gardens, on the east coast of the Bruce Peninsula in Ontario. A personal favourite of mine, this garden has a surprise around every bend of each long, winding pathway. Crossing through evergreen rockery ponds, this plank, concrete, wood chip and earth structure leads you to the sun-flooded xeriscape gardens up ahead. Dense plantings along the sides of the path make it hard to fathom how high you are above water, if at all.

And just for the fun of it

Balance is a good thing to have and garden bridges are no exception. A dash of humour can balance out a design in danger of getting a tad too formal. Take the bridge shown below. In this private garden north of Toronto, the bridge connects the driveway to a small patio and the front door of the home. Although grand in all aspects of style and size, the property isn’t taken too seriously thanks to the owners who clearly enjoy having a little fun.

Gargoyle under bridge
A life-size gargoyle lurks under the bridge of an otherwise stately home and garden.

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