Down the garden path

  • Down the garden path
  • Down the garden path
  • Down the garden path
  • Down the garden path
  • Down the garden path
Date:31 December 2006

There’s more to a garden path than a strip of concrete leading from the street to the front door

Don’t be a stick in the mud when it comes to planning your path. With a little imagination and the right choice of material, you could create a functional and attractive feature for your new or existing garden.

If the path is also to serve as a drive, there are some limits as to what materials may be used, but for walking paths and patios, almost anything will do. It depends on the effect you’re trying to create.

Remember, paths don’t have to be straight and narrow, as though making a beeline for the front door. If the front garden is small, much of the area can be paved, and carefully placed plants in pots, tubs or even stoneware jars can be used to lead the way to the door. Paths should be planned so that they can be widened out into an offset patio if desired, or lead through a row of shrubs into another part of the garden, meander from one feature to another, or go full circle so that you return to your starting point. Their purpose is to make access to all areas of the garden both easier and more pleasant. In short, paths should be part of the garden, not just service tracks.

A garden of indigenous plants will look more natural with irregular paths made of section-sawn logs or railway sleepers. If you prefer a grand entrance, you can use concrete paving blocks (circular or square), or bricks. Precast concrete slabs or strips are hard-wearing, but it takes time and patience to lay them evenly. Gravel over hard-packed clay makes a good drive-cum-walking path, but is not good beside lawns: the stones get on the grass and can cause damage or injury if picked up by a mower. Also, if the land slopes too much, river gravel will wash away in heavy rains.

If you are planning a long series of steps up a steep slope or embankment in your garden, you should make provision for flat areas, similar to stair landings, between the series of steps. Place these landings at regular intervals along the route and also establish a flat area at the top of the path. These “rest points”, combined with a careful selection of materials, can turn what might otherwise be a long, uphill slog into an enjoyable, gentle climb. You can add to the scenic beauty of the surroundings by planting indigenous plants alongside the steps.

For the handyman, laying a path can be among the most satisfying of all jobs around the house. There is also the added attraction that, with the exception of concrete variations, you can re-do any part you’re not happy with or re-use the same materials in a different way in a few years’ time.

Concrete slabs
Long paving slabs interspersed with shorter ones (see image) make a wide division between house and garden. The slabs are tough and easy to clean, but must be laid evenly.

Stone slabs with bricks
Irregular slabs of stone laid in random groups are given form but not formality by the regular patterns of brickwork, perfectly complementing an informal garden.

Coping slabs
In a formally laid-out garden, concrete coping slabs have been set in a bed of gravel to form a curving path. The raised circular bed has been constructed by driving wooden posts into the ground, filling in with soil and planting small shrubs and ground cover.

River-washed stones
Specimen shrubs in a garden bed stand out against a background of river-washed stones edged with a border of granite setts. A piece of driftwood rests on the stones in the foreground. Another striking effect can be achieved by using shredded bark instead of stones.

Timber bridge
Duckboards provide a safe walkway over a pond or stream, or over marshy ground where it is not possible to lay a conventional path. The boards are nailed to pressure-treated piles driven deep into the ground. Gaps between the bo

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