Half the enjoyment of a garden is being able to walk through the landscape and get close to nature. Consider a garden path or walkway as a design element. See some ideas for your yard!
In the late fall, once most of the foliage has died back, it is easier to see what has been going on behind the scenes. Often called the season of simplicity, this is a good time of year to assess the structure of your landscape. Reduced to its fundamentals, new sight lines are open to view, and focal points—or, the lack of them—stand out. Stone walls, fences, hedges, and paths define the space and give boundaries.
Which Path to Take
Trying to figure out where to put a path or what kind of path to create? Here are some fundamental garden path principles...
If you have a path worn into the ground, there is an obvious need for a walkway there. Notice where the kids and dogs have worn paths in the yard. These are referred to as paths of desire and are usually the shortest, most direct route between destinations. Often they are not even close to the paths and walkways we have created artificially.
Yes, this is a messy yard, but the stepping stones mean you're not walking through mud!
Give your guests a clear path to follow. The strong lines of a straight path lead visitors where you want them to go by providing a visual and physical link to different areas in your landscape. Paving as simple as stepping stones set into the lawn will reduce wear and tear on the turf and keep you from creating a muddy track on a frequently traveled route. You can also direct their view toward an interesting focal point and make it a destination. A winding path will invite them to explore and see what awaits them around the bend.
This use of stepping stones here shows a clear path in an attractive way! Credit: Lee Yiu Tung/Shutterstock
Make your paths wide enough. Width will be determined by the kind of traffic they get. Will you be pushing a wheelbarrow? Important keys to a safe walkway are good traction, a smooth and level surface, good drainage, and adequate lighting if used at night.
It is best to avoid steeply sloping paths. If your walkway experiences a change in levels, you may want to build in some gradual steps. Keep them uniform; avoid steep narrow ones mixed with low and wide, and try to keep them in scale with their surroundings.
Materials for Walkways and Paths
Use any combination of materials you think would look good and work well in your situation. Square stone slabs, random paving, brick edging, pavers surrounded with gravel, or wood set in peastone all blend well with informal plantings. Try to pick materials that are similar in color or texture.
Stone has long been the material of choice when we think of natural garden paths. Remember that smooth stones such as flagstones or slate can be slippery when wet and icy in winter.
Using rocks and stone not only provides a pathway but also adds a natural element to the garden.
Image: Stone helps visitors find the way in the dark, too! Credit: Bespaliy/Shutterstock
Another very DIY option is to use pathwaver pavers or decorative tiles From homemade tiles to mosaics tiles, you can make this look your own!
Peastone, crushed stone, or gravel look like a river of rock or a dry streambed flowing through your yard. They will need a permanent edging to keep them in place and stones inevitably end up in your flowerbeds or on the lawn if you shovel the path in winter. Water can drain through a stone path, making it a good choice for wet areas. They can be noisy to walk on, but the crunch-crunch will alert you when company comes.
Image: Peastone or gravel creates a more flowing look and often a feeling of serenity.
Image: Peastone comes in many colors (grey, red, white). Adding pavers is optional. Image: Jams foto/Shutterstock
Using wooden pallets is another DIY solution. Or, you can even purchase a roll-out wooden pathway from a garden supply store. For wooden pathways to truly last, they need to be made of cedar or a naturally rot-resistant type of wood. Avoid chemical treatments, especially near an edible garden.
Credit: Plow and Hearth Portable Roll-Out Cedar walkway.
Brick is easy for the DIY crowd to work with, durable, and attractive. Set your bricks in a stone dust or sand base.
Image: A brick garden path bordered by flowerbeds and shrubs. Credit: Chandanaroy/Shutterstock
Pavers cost more than brick, but there is a much greater variety of styles to choose from.
Bark mulch is easily available, simple to spread, and gentle on the feet. Water can pass through and neighboring plant roots can breathe. It is perfect for a woodland setting or a rustic garden and a mulched path never needs sweeping! As the mulch deteriorates over time, it is easy to add a fresh layer.
Image: This is a larger garden using mulch pathways, but the same concept applies to smaller gardens.
Grass would seem to be the do-nothing approach to paving, but it is really a high maintenance walkway. It is hard to have lush, healthy growth in a heavily trafficked area. Though cool and inviting, it needs to be mowed, fed, and watered.
Getting there is half the fun! Paths can be attractive as well as functional and unify the various living spaces of your landscape. Whether you choose elegant flagstone, traditional brick, or rustic wood, your path should flow as an integral part of the landscape and provide easy access from one part of the yard to another.
No rush! You have all winter to consider these factors and decide what direction your new path will take.