How to Design Garden Paths

By Andy McIndoe

Design tips for garden paths

I was invited to lecture in Moscow a few years ago to an audience of garden designers from all over Russia. Interest in garden design is growing, but the conditions are challenging and the resource of knowledge and experience is limited. However the enthusiasm and thirst for knowledge is fantastic, so I asked the organisers to suggest topics for my lectures. The first was "the journey through the garden". My initial reaction was "what's that all about". I was expecting nice fluffy planting combinations and arty colour, I hadn't expected to be talking about how to get from A to B.

2 Pathway mown through grass (683x1024)
However when I thought about it I realised how bad we are at using routes and pathways in our gardens and landscape schemes. How often you see those wonderful right angled pathways to a front door which guarantee a trodden route straight across the grass or flowerbed. In public schemes how often designers put planting through a car park, only to have it crushed by pedestrians with shopping trolleys heading for an entrance. In private gardens a straight pathway leading directly to a fence has no aesthetic or practical purpose. A meandering path might seem like a good idea, but why does it meander? Why have a pathway in the first place?

Camiella at the Lakes
I filled a three hour lecture with my thoughts on this topic. Here I'm just giving you my seven top design considerations for pathways in your garden.

1. First and foremost there must be a reason for that pathway; a destination or purpose. If it is for access to your washing line then consider what it will look like when the washing line isn't there. Maybe a focal point beyond the position of the washing line will be the answer? If it is purely for access and maintenance of a bed, border or hedge, hide it in the planting, use stepping stones, or integrate it in a bed edge.

4 Stepping stone path through flower bed
2. A logical, credible route for a pathway is paramount. Curved pathways should follow contours, lines of the lawn, curve around beds or features, or even around islands of grass cut at different lengths. A meandering pathway through a level lawn with straight sides makes no sense at all. This pathway is part of a design disaster: crazy route though the lawn, straight into an unattractive fence line. What’s that all about?

5 Illogical pathway
3. In small spaces try and keep the lawn open and simple. If there is a pathway through the garden keeping it to the edge of the lawn between lawn and border is usually the best solution. The most difficult edges are always those where hard surfaces meet grass. They are tricky to get right and to maintain. In this case the lawn has been divided with stepping stones which makes the space look small and fussy. Try mowing and maintaining that!

6 High maintenance pathway divides lawn
4.  Consider the amount of traffic on the path. This will influence its width and construction. Does it need to be wide enough for two people to walk side by side? Is it wide enough to accommodate a laden wheelbarrow? If you do need to move wheels along it, maybe a barrow or mower, gravel or bark chips may not be the best choice.

7 Bark path
5. Consider the construction materials in relation to the style of the garden. Gravel pathways suit informal gardens, brick and paving pathways suit more formal situations. Bark path ways suit woodland gardens. In large areas of grass or meadow simple mown pathways are often the best solution. You can achieve the effect without a “meadow” with a little creative mowing. Cut the pathways shorter though blocks of slightly longer grass.

8 Mown pathways through meadow,
6. If you are using paviors, brick or gravel for a pathway, always get samples beforehand and try them in situ and in relation to any other hard landscaping materials in the garden. They look quite different in bags in a garden centre, home depot or builder’s merchant than they ever do in daylight in the garden. Joining two hard landscape materials like this looks very odd. Did you run out of your first choice?

9 Reclaimed Yorkstone and Brick paving.

7. Finally I will reinforce once again that issue of maintenance. This design is described as contemporary. There is nothing contemporary about impossible to cut grass along a wall or fence. Unless those stepping stones are sunk in absolutely perfectly this will be impossible to mow and treacherous to walk along. Solidly constructed wide steps suddenly plunge into a row of slabs – looks to me like we ran out of money…

10. Maintenance nightmare

Andy McIndoe

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