Building a Path

Every garden has a path, whether it is planned or not. It keeps your feet safe and allows easy, secure home access. A great one does more. A way that works is more welcoming than a bad one. It can lead you and your guests to an archway made of jasmine or around a bend leading to a reflection pool as it links unrelated parts together to form a cohesive whole, a successful path shapes and defines gardens. Gordon Hayward, the Vermont landscape designer and author, says a path serves two essential purposes.

Hayward’s advice includes determining the size of a path and choosing from various surface materials. These include mulch (which you can get free) to more expensive cut stones.


The way you route a path will determine how well it works. Hayward recommends starting with the most important type, the primary path. This leads to the front or back doors and often connects with the sidewalk or street.

Hayward recommends maintaining a straight path near the house to enhance the architecture. However, this is a flexible rule. Hayward feels that a straightforward way is more formal and easy to follow. After completing a path, you can add interest and soften its formality by planting along its edges.

A secondary path is a branch of a primary way that extends further into the landscape, perhaps to a vegetable garden or secluded benches. A secondary method is less likely to be walked than a primary one, so you can make it more narrow and less intrusive. You can add gentle curves to make it more casual or give it a gentle climb. Hayward advises that angles should look natural and logical. There are three ways to achieve this:

Curve the path around an existing tree.

Set a garden feature such as a rock or shrub inside it.

Follow the dripline of the trees–the area just outside their branch tips.

Also, consider routing a path for fascinating visual illusions.

A path that curves around corners and disappears behind them draws attention to the area beyond. Using a meandering path, you can conceal or reveal unique plantings, a garden statue, or other features.


It should be proportional to the use of the path. The minimum length of an introductory course should be at most 48 inches. Two people can comfortably walk side-by-side if the primary way is 48 inches wide. Hayward suggests that the width be equal to the dimensions of architectural elements in your house, such as the combined widths of the front door trim and the front door. He says this helps ensure the place and the path are related.

The secondary path should be shorter, between 30 and 36 inches. Wide. Hayward refers to tertiary pathways as the most casual and least traveled. An example is a narrow bark-mulch path that leads into a wooded area behind a house. This type of path can be varied in width to add interest to the walk.

Make sure that all paths are large enough to accommodate your equipment. A lawn mower, garden cart, or tractor might require a 3-4 ft distance. If in doubt, go wide to ensure that paths are safe, comfortable, and easy to follow. To ensure people don’t have the hassle of walking up to walls, make sure that paths are at least one arm’s distance from them.


Gravel or crushed stone¬†are low-cost and fast-draining surfaces. These nonslip surfaces come in many colors and sizes and are easy to install. This path is made up of small gray stones that narrow between boulders. It focuses attention on the two urns beyond. Gravel 3/4″ Gravel 3/4 in. or less is best for feet. To prevent stones from moving, edging is necessary. Occasionally, raking will be required to remove leaves and twigs from the surface. The tonne or cubic yard can purchase gravel in bags or bulk. Although bulk stone is cheaper than bagged, delivery can be more expensive. Prices will vary depending on the stone type. A ton of stone, sufficient to cover approximately 100 square feet, will cost you anywhere from $8 to $80. For a height of 1 1/2 in. to 2 in.

This bold path comprises mixed materials such as brick, ceramic tile, and large stones. It has a distinctive look. This path is an individual feature. The repetition of colors in garden ornaments and bed edgings helps to make all elements work together. For traditional paving, you can also use brick with pebbles or stepping stones and gravel. To test the materials, lay them out in your garden.


These same principles apply to solid materials such as brick, concrete pavers, and cut stone. These are the essentials to remember, no matter what material you choose:

All paths, except grass and stepping stones, are 4 to 5 square feet. For a path over four ft. in length, a base of coarse crushed rock is required to keep it level for many years. The depth of the ground depends on the soil type and the climate. Landscape contractors and stone dealers can offer suggestions for your area. A base of 4 inches is a good rule of thumb. You can go deeper in mild winter climates with well-drained soil and 4 to 6 inches deep. Deep if you live in an area where the ground freezes

Place a 4-in.-dia to improve drainage in clay soils. A PVC drainpipe should be placed in the middle of the path. Drain holes should be facing down

Prepare the path to allow water to drain off the surface. There are two options. Install the path so that the final surface measures 1/4 to 1/2 inch. You can either slope the path 1/4 inch away from your driveway or foundation or install it higher than the grade adjacent. Per foot.

Use a leveling course, usually 1 to 2 inches. You can place sand over the base to move stones or bricks around until they are nested correctly. A layer of landscape fabric can be added between the gravel base & sand to prevent sand from leaking through the gravel.

Professional-quality masonry edge holds bricks and concrete pavers in place. Aluminum, steel, and plastic are all common edgings. They cost between $13 and $15 for a seven 1/2-foot-long section.

Even if you are not planning to light the path, you can place the electrical conduit above the base to allow for later additions. This will enable wires to be retrofitted quickly and protects wires in low-voltage lighting systems.

It is easy to build a garden path. It does take some effort and skill. Be bold and ask for professional advice early on in the planning process. Look in the yellow pages for landscape architects, contractors, and designers. These professionals can answer your questions or manage the entire project.