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Garden Structures: Paths and Walkways

March 10th, 2011

Paths and walkways are important in our gardens. Most of them emerge naturally as we move about the gardens and help direct us to our destinations. They can be straight or meandering depending on the focus and the garden. At times they’re straight because it’s most efficient, sometimes they curve naturally because we must skirt a steep slope.

Some areas in our garden deserve dedicated pathways others do not. The destination of the walkway or path will also determine it’s width, if it’s a path that you roll down with a wheelbarrow you’ll need it to be wider than path that only gets foot traffic. Think of your garden walkways as the road system or infrastructure of your garden. There are big multi-lane highways, regular two lane roads, small one lane country roads and bike or walking trails. The destination and use of the garden path will determine how wide to make it and what materials it should be paved with.

How can you determine where your paths and walkways should be? I’m sure there are all kinds of thoughts on this. I perfer to let a garden evolve naturally. Your garden is a process not a destination. Live in your garden for a few years and the natural paths and walkways will emerge. You’ll notice areas where the lawn is worn away by foot traffic. When you let your paths evolve organically, they’ll seem natural and established. You won’t regret adding a curve here or not adding on there. You paths will be installed along already established natural traffic patterns in your garden.

Like all other garden structures, paths and walkways can be made of just about any material. From beautiful Kentucky bluestone (one of my personal favorites) to pine needles raked from the nearby forrest floor. Some elements look more natural than others and your overall garden style will determine which ones look best. The destination of the path will also determine what the path is made of. A beautifully bluestone walkways all the way to the compost pile out back would be outrageous and a waste of money, but it would be a beautiful focal point paving the walkway to the front door. Simple natural mulch would be best suited for the path to the compost pile.

The material you choose for paving will also change the feel of the journey. Walking on soft quiet pine needles is completely different than walking on a crunchy gravel walkway. The pathway surface can also decide the speed at which you can travel. Paths paved in large uneven rocks make you walk more slowly than a concrete walkway. Take all of these things into consideration when choosing materials.

I haven’t laid out many specified walkways in my garden, but I’m getting ready to spend some time defining them. Throughout the nine years we’ve lived here, paths and walkways have naturally emerged as we have established the best ways to get to and from specific areas and features of the garden. There’s a clearly defined a path worn in the grass because we always take the same route we go to the compost pile. We have another one that weaves through the side garden as we go from the front yard to the rain barrels. We also one that cuts across the front yard, and one that goes from the side garden to the back of the lot. Even our pets use the pathways in our gardens.

I have established small pathways that weave through the garden beds to spigots and to allow entry to the back of very deep foundation plantings. These paths are simply large flat rocks placed throughout the beds. Some are laid out in a straight path, others are randomly scattered so I can step from one another to avoid stepping on the soil.

As with most garden features, I’m partial to using natural elements. I like a nice stone walkway. As I’ve mentioned before, we have plenty of stone in our gardens, so we make good use of this resource by using it for many projects. I have built a few small paths through the flower beds to the outdoor spigots using flat rocks. Our main pathways will hopefully be paved with stones like this one from the National Gardens in Washington D.C.

Do you have dedicated paths and walkways in your garden that you have paved with something? What’s your favorite walkway material?

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This is a daily journal of my efforts to cultivate a more simple life, through local eating, gardening and so many other things. We used to live in a small suburban neighborhood Ohio but moved to 153 acres in Liberty, Maine in 2012.