Paths are often given little thought and added in an ad hoc manner – but in fact getting them right is crucial if you want a good-looking garden
9 things to consider when building garden paths
When planning pathways we tend to prioritise practical considerations such as how to link outdoor spaces and create an all-weather surface to access the house – and cost, of course. But paths have a big impact on the look of your garden so getting their design right is also vital. Not sure where you’re heading? Our 9-point checklist will steer you in the right direction.
Some kind of hard surface is essential for access to your property and house, and for linking the various outdoor elements: terrace, lawn, shed, vegetable area, clothesline, swimming pool and so forth. Adding paths to these areas on an ad hoc basis will only result in a disjointed garden and a blown-out budget. Far better to consider them as early as you can in the landscaping process so a cohesive path layout can be planned, although they won’t all need to be built at the same time if the budget is tight. For small sites it’s often possible to link several spaces with just one large paved or gravel area and maybe a few additional stepping stones.
Front paths lead people to the entrance of your home, setting the tone for your entire property. Make your front path wide and use quality, non-slip materials that complement the architecture of the house and the style of the garden. If the front garden is short, run pavers in a longitudinal direction to make it feel longer. Run pavers horizontally with skinny, long front gardens.
As well as budget, your choice of paving materials should be based on how the path will be used – as the primary route into the garden, for instance, or just a secondary path? Traffic will be heavier for main paths so sturdier paving materials will be necessary. Does the path run through a vehicle parking area? If so you’ll need thicker pavers than for pedestrian use, and the base course below should also be deeper. Materials should visually relate to other paved areas and built structures in the garden such as pergolas, and to the architecture of the house.
For most paths, particularly in tiny gardens, the more straightforward their direction the better. There’s no point in creating a curvaceous route to the front door if everyone is just going to cut through the lawn to get to the house. Winding paths also require more paving materials than straight ones. They do, however, work well in large, rural and informal gardens but make sure the curves are gentle and long; too short and they just look awkward.
Groundcovers, such as pratia, ajuga, dwarf mondo grass, blue star creeper and baby’s tears, growing in between segmented pavers will soften the look even more. Consider using edging plants or low hedges along the sides of your paths to accentuate their shape and direction.
Slippery paths are a nightmare in the wet as are frosty paths in the cold, so use one of the many textured and non-slip paving options available. Solid stone, concrete or ceramic paving is easier and safer to walk on than stepping stones or gravel. Lighting is another safety essential, particularly for entrance ways and when paths have a change of level.
The width of paths is determined by use. Main pathways should be wide enough for two people to walk side by side easily, a minimum of 1.2 metres. Side paths that are used less frequently can be narrower, but remember that wide paths are much more inviting and pleasant no matter where they are in the garden. Widening a path at certain points to allow space for a bench seat, a piece of art, or to take in a view can make the journey along the path more interesting.
While too many different paving materials should be avoided, don’t go out of your way to limit yourself to just one material. Using the same material in different formats is a good way to avoid this. For instance, you could alternate sections of poured concrete aggregate with large segmented concrete slabs, or alternate bluestone pavers with sections of bluestone gravel. Varying solid and segmented paving creates a pleasing sense of rhythm in the garden and helps to visually break up the hard surfaces.
Virtually everything you introduce into a garden will affect its mood or style, and paths are right up there when it comes to impact. Therefore you should be ruthless when assessing what kind of paths will suit your garden. Is it formal or informal, for instance? For the former, structured paths with rectangular or square pavers (or a mix of both) are usually the norm. Complement informal gardens with organic paver shapes such as natural stone flagstones or even loose pebble paths.
Words by: Carol Bucknell. Photography by: Derek Swalwell, Brent Wilson, Susan Stubbs, Simon Kenny/bauersyndication.com.au.