Editor’s Note: This column is the second of two discussing garden paths and walkways. Part two deals with selection of materials.
In a previous article, we looked at how to plan garden paths from the aspects of layout and functionality. Now we turn our attention to the selection of materials, ones that the average homeowner can install.
When deciding on materials, consider what will complement your property best, choosing materials that suit the garden style and character of the landscape. Also take into account the architectural style of the home, as well as its materials and color scheme. If the look of the path materials does not suit the garden style, the path may prove to be a distraction rather than an asset.
A wooded, natural site will be most complemented by meandering paths of an informal nature. Bark chips, wood mulch, or pine straw are compatible with such a garden. These natural materials can be allowed to simply blend into the plantings beside the path, or if more definition is desired, an edging can be employed. This can be a subtle and casual arrangement of stones or a living line of plants.
More formal gardens, such as those with symmetrical or geometrically shaped beds, are generally well suited to crisp, clean lines. This effect can be easily obtained with neatly edged paths of crushed stone or gravel or with a walkway of brick or cut stone.
Flagstone, with its irregular shapes and varying color, is an effective and attractive paving material. It offers a traditional look, yet it has a more casual feel than cut stone. Flagstone refers to a variety of stones, including bluestone, granite, limestone, sandstone, and quartzite. These can either be used as individual steppingstones or laid more tightly together.
Concrete pavers come in a multitude of colors, shapes, and sizes. They are widely available and are relatively inexpensive and easy to install. These pavers tend to have a manufactured look, so they do not blend in with a natural setting as well as native stone. However, their regular nature can serve to create a clean, neat path.
A casual and eclectic garden style can incorporate a mix of materials, for instance a brick path punctuated with the occasional ornamental glazed tile. Likewise, gardens composed of different and distinct “rooms” can employ varying path materials to signal a transition from one area to another. A change in material can also signify a change in usage. For instance, the main walkways may be of flagstone, with the secondary paths (such as those for maintenance) of mulch or pea gravel.
Turf grass is another option and makes an effective path that is easy on the feet, though it requires the regular maintenance of mowing and does not stand up to heavy traffic. A swath of turf can be incorporated into either a formal or informal design. A neat edging will help give it definition and prevent the grass from creeping into the flowerbeds.
As you consider material options, think not only of appearance; also consider issues of convenience and safety. Factor in how the path will be used and who will use it. Will children be running on it, or will adults be slowly strolling? Will garden equipment, such as a wheelbarrow or lawnmower, be rolled along the walk, thereby requiring a stable surface? Will wet or humid conditions create a safety hazard, such as slippery moss that can appear on damp wood or brick?
Other factors that will influence your choice of materials include initial cost, durability, and ease of installation. Natural materials, such as pine straw, bark chips, or wood mulch, will need to be replenished over time, though their initial cost is minor. In contrast, the higher expense of brick or stone may give you a path that will last a lifetime. Of course brick or stone patterns that must be carefully fitted together will require more time and preparation to install than will a simple path of mulch.
You may even want to consider the sound or feel of a material underfoot. The crisp crunch of gravel as feet tread on it may be perfectly acceptable in the open garden, though you might find the same effect objectionable in a quiet wooded setting.
A site’s conditions may also influence the choice of materials. For instance, a sloped site requires a material that will not wash away easily. Low lying areas may need to drain quickly. Hot, sunny sites benefit from a material that is light in color and will not hold excessive heat.
Once you have decided on the appropriate material and have laid out your plans, you will need to do some site preparation. The route for the path should be excavated as needed to allow ample depth for your choice of material. For most paths, you will want to install a base of crushed stone or sand on which to place the walkway. This will improve drainage and provide a smooth, stable surface. A layer of weed blocking fabric under the paving material will help deter unwanted seedlings.
Loose material, such as pea gravel or crushed stone, is some of the easiest and quickest to install. However, it may require a framework or edging to contain it. Larger material, such as brick or stone, can be mortared in place or can be dry laid using sand or rock dust in the joints. Individual steppingstones laid in turf should be laid flush with the grass to allow ease of mowing yet prevent water from pooling. Whatever material you choose, you’ll find that a path will enhance the appearance, enjoyment and utility of your garden.