Garden Paths
Martha Maletta, Home Horticultural Consultant
Dated - July 02, 2004

Walks and paths in the home landscape provide access to somewhere – doorway, utility area, yard, garden, pool. They also help direct foot traffic…if they are placed right. They can be of various sizes and configurations and be “paved” with many different materials. Decisions about where a walk or path should be built, what size and shape it should be and what it will be made of depend on the intended use.

Primary walks – most typically those leading to the main entrance of the home - will be largest and most permanently constructed. They should be a minimum 4 feet wide, 5 feet is better, so two people can walk comfortably side-by-side and the walks will be in scale with the building. Primary walks should run straight from point to point unless there is a good reason for it to curve. A wiggly walk cutting across an open lawn conflicts with our “instinct” to take the most direct route to our destination. Primary walks will usually be constructed for long life and frequent use. Concrete, brick, flagstone, manufactured pavers are common materials. Construction considerations are beyond the scope of this article; professional installation is probably warranted.

Secondary walks – those leading to utility areas, secondary entrances and other locations that are used regularly – should be 2 and 1/2 to 3 feet wide and will usually be constructed of the materials mentioned above. In addition, gravel or stepping-stones may be suitable. Installation of a permanent gravel walk requires some of the same preparation as brick and stone. Stepping-stones can be set in turf (though regular trimming will be needed),or in gravel or wood or bark mulch. Placing them on a 3-inch bed of sand will making leveling easier. The stepping stones should have at least one smooth surface, be about 1 and 1/2 feet diameter or width and be set with centers about 24 inches apart for comfortable stepping.

Paths, typically smaller than walks – about 1 and 1/2 to 2 feet wide, provide access to areas of the landscape used seasonally or infrequently. Paths are used to provide a way to, into and through lawns, gardens, landscapes and wooded areas. They are usually informal in construction and the materials used and may be no more than a worn track. Constructed and “paved” paths facilitate access by providing a comfortable walking surface under most weather conditions.

A path should blend into its setting, so choice of material will depend on location. For a formal herb garden, brick automatically comes to mind. For a woods path, bark or chip mulch is a natural though it will need to be renewed periodically. Stepping-stones might be set into mulch for a more solid footing, especially if drainage is not the best. Gravel (1/2 to 1 inch) may suit some locations, a poolside garden, for example. Grass paths may be a good choice for larger garden beds, but mowing and edging will be an ongoing chore.

A few additional tips, whether for walk or path. To plan curves, use garden hose or heavy rope. Consider need for snow removal, degree of permanence desired and, of course, cost when choosing materials. Secure and even footing may be especially important for older members of the family. Gravel may be a tempting “toy” for younger members. Gravel, brick and stone walks and paths may eventually sprout weeds, depending on how they are installed. Steps are usually a good idea if a walk or path crosses an area with slope greater than 10% (10 foot change in elevation for 100 foot length).