Winding path using irregular-shaped stones
Pathways to Happiness
By Chris Cohan
It’s the journey not the destination that is important. A path through your garden can be much more than just transit from one place to the next. Planned thoughtfully, it will help enhance the experience of the oasis you created. A path also has practical purposes in your garden: keeping people from walking on the soil or lawn and helping with water runoff.
Paths may have different purposes and characteristics, but the steps you take in creating them are much the same. Like most things, it is good to start with a plan. Consider where paths lead and how they will be used. Take time to think about theses seemingly basic questions before you map out your path, because the answers will guide you through the planning process.
For example, a path leading down a side yard or used for maintaining beds and borders need not be as wide as a walkway leading to the front door. A path only used to get to a shed or compost pile can be narrower than one that guests traverse to get to a patio.
Main paths leading to a door or other destination should be at least 4 feet wide. Five is even more comfortable so that two people can easily walk side by side. Make any side path at least two feet wide. Widen it to three feet if you need to allow easy access for a wheelbarrow or lawn mower or garden tractor.
Once you know where the path will lead, think about how you want to get there. This is also related to your garden’s style. A straight path imparts a sense of balance and organization that appears formal. It may also direct attention to a specific focal point or destination. A winding path, along a border on the other hand, encourages anticipation of what lies ahead and around the next curve. It compels you to slow down and explore your surroundings along the way.
Existing traffic patterns often dictate whether a path should be straight or winding. If the natural flow lends to a straight path but you want your garden to feel more relaxed, add gentle curves to the garden beds that border the path instead. Always slightly slope your pathways, especially those made of permanent material, away from foundations and permanent structures.
You can create paths with many different surfaces. Materials are either temporary or permanent. Among the temporary are loose or soft materials like shredded bark mulch, pine needles, wood chips, pea stone, or gravel. These are relatively inexpensive materials and easy to install but need annual refreshing. More permanent surfaces like concrete, flagstone, or brick cost more, are more stable, solid, and require a more involved installation. Going forward, they typically require less maintenance.
Before you decide, consider how each choice works at your home. Paths used year-round need to be safe to walk on in inclement weather. Smooth slate and ceramic tile are not suitable, as they get slippery when wet or icy, while flagstone, brick, or concrete pavers work well.
For a formal path, tightly fitted brick or geometric stone are good choices. Also, irregular shaped stone can be easily shaped with a hammer and chisel to fit very naturally into old-style properties or for wandering through a garden. Bark, mulch and pea-stone paths are the least expensive and most informal.
Wherever your new pathways lead, enjoy the journey