How to Design a Garden Path

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Designing a path through your garden can be as simple as deciding the best places to lay stepping stones or as elaborate as installing a more permanent option such as brick in a complicated chevron pattern. Determine the path's purpose to help you design it. A path that is likely to get heavy foot traffic might require more planning than a path with aesthetics as its main function.

Starting Point

The road to designing a garden path begins with deciding where the path should start and end. Knowing those locations will help you determine whether to make a meandering path that offers surprises around every turn or a straight path to get you from one side of the yard to the other without harming grass. A straight path helps create the illusion of the surrounding space being larger than it is.

Tip

  • When choosing a curvy option for a path, design the curves in areas that make natural sense, such as around trees or features such as fountains.

The best area for a path is relatively level; a flat surface makes installation easier and ensures the path materials won't wash away in heavy rain. Look for an area that can have open space at least 48 inches wide for a main walkway and about 36 inches wide for secondary paths that branch off the main path. If you plan to use lawn equipment such as a mower on the path, then make the walkway wide enough to accommodate the equipment.

Kinds of Materials

The right material will make your path functional as well as beautiful. Because many materials are available to choose from, consider the path's main use, your time frame and your budget when selecting the material that will cover the path.

Paths that get daily foot traffic benefit from being made of a strong material such as stone or brick, but sometimes those materials cost more and are more time-consuming to install than other options. Using mulch or pea gravel is fast and costs less, but edging such as plastic, metal or decorative stone must be added to hold mulch or pea gravel in place. These loose materials degrade or may get pushed out of the pathway over time; eventually, they must be replenished. If you use stepping stones, choose ones large enough for your entire foot to fit on with room to spare. Usually, a stepping stone can be about 18 inches wide.

Tip

  • Loose mulch or pea gravel might get carried into the house on people's shoes if the path starts by a door. Consider mixing materials, with stone covering 2 or 3 feet of the path between the door and the start of a mulch or gravel path.

Essential Drainage

A well-draining path is key to the path's and other structures' longevity. Materials such as gravel drain well, but sloping the path away from your home's foundation helps keep your house safe. About 1/4 inch of slope per 1 foot of path is typically adequate. If the path is not near your house, install it 1/4 to 1/2 inch above the surrounding ground so water drains properly.

Basic Instructions

The exact method of path installation varies with the material used, but most kinds of paths share basic installation techniques.

Things You'll Need

  • Shovel
  • Tape measure
  • Stepping stones or other path material
  • Spray paint (optional)
  • Sand or landscape fabric
  • Landscape staples (optional)
  • Edging material
  • Woodblock or hammer (optional)
  • Carpenter's level (optional)

Step 1: Clear the Area

Remove vegetation, and dig 2 to 3 inches of soil depth out of the path area. If you will use stepping stones, lay the stones in place, outline them with spray paint, remove them and clear only the areas inside the paint.

Step 2: Add Sand or Landscape Fabric

Pour 1 to 2 inches of sand into the cleared path area when using stepping stones or other large items such as bricks. Doing so will enable you to push the stones into the sand and twist them, providing secure bases and making leveling them easier. When using mulch or pea gravel, lay landscape fabric over the path's soil, and secure the edges with landscape staples every 12 to 18 inches.

Step 3: Install Edging Along the Sides

Tap thin edging into place with a woodblock and hammer. Press stone edging into the sand along the sides of the path, twisting slightly as you push them into place.

Step 4: Add the Path Material

Install the material that will cover the path over the sand or landscape fabric. Pour bags of mulch or pea gravel directly over the landscape fabric to the desired depth, ensuring the material stays below the height of the edging. Press stepping stones into the sand, and twist them slightly to secure them, spacing them so their centers are about 20 inches apart. Install bricks or pavers by pressing and twisting them into the sand as well, pouring sand in the joints between them for additional secure placement. Use a carpenter's level and then make adjustments as needed to ensure you install the bricks or pavers at the same height.

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