A garden path is for service first…
Foot traffic, while important, is secondary.
Looking for garden path ideas can be fun, but don’t get carried away. If you make it too fancy or graphic, your plants might have a hard time competing. Never forget that it will definitely get dirty in the course of tending your garden – whether you’re the person doing the work, or you have a landscaper taking care of the grubby stuff.
Tips from the voice of experience.
They can meander as much as you like, but you have to keep in mind that garden paths are access routes for tools, hoses, buckets, and wheelbarrows. Any curves and they should be a minimum of 30 inches wide. If the path is too narrow it is difficult to maneuver a wheelbarrow. The last thing you want to do is accidentally dump a load of weeds in your lovely beds or get a wooden handle jab to the gut because you can’t see over the equipment in motion. There will also be plants escaping their boundaries for a number of reasons that are in peril of being run over if your path isn’t wide enough.
The path in garden design should not be an afterthought. Unless you simply have a wide border planting flanking the perimeter of the backyard lawn, garden paths are bed separators. The ultimate distance between service paths should be 6 feet. Why? That gives a person of average height an easy 3 foot reach into the bed from either side for deadheading, weeding, and other garden tasks. You can stretch this to 8 feet, but remember that in a perennial garden plants should fill the space, which makes it hard to walk around in their midst without trampling something.
Good and bad garden path ideas.
You would think that Better Homes & Gardens would prefer serviceable and safe, surprisingly not. The blogger at Home Depot isn’t any smarter, because that’s where I found this garden path idea. While this path looks really cool, walking on it would be treacherous. Imagine trying to move a loaded wheelbarrow down it. Additionally, in a cold climate this would never hold up. The cement will crack the first winter, and black stones pop out of concrete in zone 5 in a regular walk… what do you think will happen when all the rocks in your exposed aggregate path like this are exposed to freezing temperatures? Nice idea, poor engineering. It’s not holding up well in this image either. Look closely, the stones are loose from the cement in the foreground.
Cobblestone is definitely a great garden path idea, but you need twice as many stones as this person used. It’s about the stones, not the concrete. Light stones are better than dark ones unless you live in a frost free environment. Also, your stones have to be level.
Of course, you might take the stone idea a step further and make it a work of art. Pebblestone mosaics are awesome, but you have to be careful that the path doesn’t steal the garden’s thunder. All three of the garden paths below are lovely, but only one of them really fits in a garden. The other two are just way to graphic for your flowers to compete with.
It isn’t the patterns used but the colors that make pebblestone mosaics all wrong as a garden path. It’s a path, not artwork, and while they can be perfectly executed for a subtle accent to your garden, you’ve got to be careful about the stones chosen. Those first two garden path mosaic patterns would work and not defy your garden plants role in the design if the stone colors had less contrast.
Stepping Stones and Flagstone
Stepping stones, both perfectly geometric concrete and natural stone pieces, have long been used to build garden paths. In some climates mortared stonework works well, and certainly gets rid of weed issues, but are best where little to no frost is the winter norm. Mortared stonework will develop cracks in cold climates, so it’s best to lay these types of garden path materials the same way as pavers, or the old-fashioned way with ground soil between them. As you can see, the common rectangular concrete stepping stone need not be boring. It’s all in how you lay them out in your path.
Garden path ideas for those who want a more sophisticated or polished approach than the designs seen above, there is always stone flat-work using large scale pieces. On the left you have upscale casual, and on the right a highly formal application. Both look lovely, whether the stone is installed using paver base with hardened sand between them or mortared.
On a tight budget?
Even when you’re working with concrete stepping stones from the cheapest source possible, building garden paths can get pricey. One thing you should know about cheap stepping stones. The reason they are so much less expensive than other similar products is there is less concrete in the mix. What does that mean in your application? They won’t hold up very well. Either invest in good quality stepping stones, or use mulch.
Mulch garden paths are great for keeping mud out of the walkway and subduing weed growth. It’s best to lay a border to keep it in it’s place. You can use small fieldstone, bricks or paver wall blocks like you see below. You will have to replace the mulch every few years, but it is far more budget friendly. Great for bare feet, and you can always upgrade to something more permanent later.