Thinking of making a new, or moving an old, garden path? There is a huge amount of potential when it comes to garden paths – something that is often overlooked. In our ultimate guide to choosing a garden path, we give you a clear idea of how to make the best of yours…

Garden paths link, lead and lure, not only do they serve a practical purpose, but they also offer great scope for imaginative designs and planting. Carefully thought-out paths strike a balance between necessity and style, seamlessly linking house and outbuildings with the garden and its features – all whilst also blending with the existing architecture and materials.

All too often, though, paths are born out of everyday needs, their potential as garden features in their own right, is overlooked. So whether you opt for loose, natural turns made of chippings or straight lines of stone, it’s important to ensure that you put real time and thought into how your garden path is going to work. Read on for all the tips and advice you need…

Garden path pictures

Practical considerations

– It’s not only a path’s materials that are important, so too is the way it is laid and its proportions. The width of a path has a subconscious effect, with narrow paths suggesting a quick passageway, and broader paths encouraging a slow route. Curved paths can give a completely different feel, to say a large rectangular paving area that gives a feeling of space.

– A functional path that takes a lot of wear needs to be level, safe, durable and easily maintained.

– Paths should be built to a minimum width of 80cm (2ft 7in) to allow easy access.

– A path from a street to a front door is busiest and must be short and take the quickest route.

– Other functional paths should follow the most convenient route from the doors to the various essential areas that are visited regularly (dustbin, washing line, bike shed etc).

Ideas to consider when planning a design

– In small gardens, a lovely effect is created by a path which, leaving the back of the house at a 45 degree angle, curves into an ‘S’ shape before disappearing from view, its edges softened by clumps of alchemilla, hardy geranium or bugle. This trick is useful for making a long narrow garden seem wider.

– A path which gradually becomes narrower will give the illusion that the garden is longer than it really is.

– Enticing paths are those which lead the eye towards an, as yet, unseen view, or to a secret area within a garden.

– In a formal layout, paths tend to be straight, well-directed and potentially boring, but this is avoidable by either staggering the path with miniature courtyards linking each section, or by having inspiring planting along the way.

– A row of posts with ropes and climbers, a pergola or arch over the path or series of rose clad obelisks can help create a three dimensional effect.

Consider the edging to your path

Garden path edging

Edging acts as a frame to any material and is essential where gravel meets a lawn. It’s an important element to consider as getting your edging right can completely transform the look of your path. Here are a few tips to think about:

Linear paths benefit from the definition of a hard edging in engineering or stock bricks, wattle fencing, tiles, pavers or granite setts.

– Informal, winding gravel or bark paths can be left to naturally merge into planting or edged with birch poles or other branches laid either side. (Large stones or rocks strategically placed offer the same effect but not near grass as cutting would be tricky).

– If you’re considering edging your path with timber, then treat it with a plant safe preservative and fix with wooden pegs inserted every 1.2m (4ft).

Types of paths to choose from…

 

Stones versus imitation

Garden paths: stone versus imitation

York stone, reclaimed or new, blends beautifully into the garden setting and it will last for decades – but it does come at a price. However, the best of imitation stone paving, which is reconstituted stone with concrete added, once weathered, can be hard to differentiate from the real thing – the best news being that it’ll save about 60% on material costs. If you’re trying to work on a budget then this is a real point to take into consideration. Granted, imitation stone initially looks glaringly new, but lichen growth can be encouraged with a quick coating of live yoghurt and a couple of damp winters.

What’s the best price?

Natural stone such as York flagstone is definitely the most expensive path you could go for, but imported stone can be less than half the price. If money is tight, gravel or bark chippings are a good option as it goes quite a long way – a one tonne bag, spread at a depth of 5cm (2in), covers 15sq m (160sq ft). Alternatively, concrete slabs, reconstituted stone, decking, brick, cobblestones, granite setts and pavers come somewhere in the middle price-range.

Concrete slabs, although cost-effective, can be the least inspiring. Don’t rule them out completely though, as they can be easily transformed with a little creativity.

Gravel and pebbles

Gravel or shingle paths, provided they are laid on a properly prepared base, last well, and are inexpensive.

Stone chippings come in colours ranging from speckled grey or pink flecked to golden flint. The hues can be strong, so before making a final choice, soak samples in water because colours vary between wet and dry. You will find the larger the stone is, the harder it is to walk on.

Rounded Scottish pebbles are good for creating mosaics by simply pushing each pebble into a finger’s depth of cement, laid over a concrete base.

– Long swirling motifs suit paths, whilst more formal designs such as geometric shapes add originality to larger areas. All loose materials are best laid on a weed-proof membrane, secured in place with fixing pegs, and kept within retaining kerbs, slanted bricks, setts, terracotta ‘rope’ edging or treated timber to prevent the stones spilling out onto lawns.

Traditional brick paving

There’s no doubt about it, bricks are hardwearing and attractive, and they can be used in all sorts of ways. A traditional herringbone is attractive but requires many bricks to be cut, so, instead try stretcher bond patterns or basketweave.

Stock bricks come in a range of colours and have a rough surface so are not slippery.

Traditional pavers — brick-size but half the thickness — are handmade in clay and come in reds and browns that mellow beautifully. Relatively easy to lay, pavers are very forgiving and can be finished by simply brushing sand into the joints.

Concrete pavers cost about half their clay equivalents and can form part of imaginative, low cost schemes created by laying a rectangular or circular outer edge to sections of path which are then infilled with gravel.

Wooden decking

Garden path decking

If you’re thinking of going down the decking route then take a read of these points to make sure you get it right…

Decking laid with unbroken joints between planks receding away evokes a sense of movement, whereas planks laid diagonally convey a static feeling.

– Laid with crisp geometrical lines and regulated grooves, decking looks contemporary, whereas random lengths of smooth planking appear informal.

– Good quality hardwood decking planks cost about double their softwood equivalents but, either way, the additional materials for the base and sub-frame adds at least another third in cost.

Modern timber comes pre-treated against rot and can be left to turn a pleasing silver finish.

– Decking will last longer on a sunny site that is kept free of leaves and moisture.

And, don’t forget to read our all our practical hints and tips when it comes to laying your path…