At the heart of it, a garden path is very practical. It provides direction to your guests by showing them the way to go, and it provides a level of safety by giving your guests a stable platform to walk on. But a garden path can be so much more. When designed well, a garden path becomes a key element of your garden, one that not only expresses personality and character, but also tells a story.
Just as a garden can be formal or informal so, too, can the path that runs through it. Create a casual path by curving and winding it, allowing it to flow unhurried and relaxed through the garden. Let it meander around a corner and hide from view and it will invoke a sense of curiosity in your guests, leading them to wonder what lies around the bend. Further emphasize its easygoing personality by allowing plants to spill over its edges and grow between its stones. In contrast, create a formal path by using straight lines and sharp angles. Use its linear nature not only to direct your guests’ attention to focal points that lie at its turns and ends, but also to create symmetry and order which evoke a sense of calm. Reinforce these qualities by keeping your plantings neat and tidy in their places. While it is true that the garden’s character will determine the personality of the path, the degree of formality or informality the path possesses will be determined by its materials and design. Here are some of the most common materials used in garden pathways and some design ideas for using them.
Brick paths, which are easy to repair and very durable, can be formal or informal depending on their layout and pattern. They can complement both colonial homes and small cottages. When placed in an end-to-end pattern, they create understated displays for both formal and informal gardens. For a greater visual impact, employ a herringbone design, or incorporate additional materials like granite or blue stone. Using different materials or varying patterns draws attention not only to the walkway itself, but also to transitions and places of interest where you want your guests to pause. When newly installed, bricks form a permeable surface, but they can also be used to resurface an existing concrete walkway. New bricks do not have the same weathered charm of older bricks, but they also don’t have the same high cost. Expect to pay anywhere from $10 – $25 per square foot.
Flagstones are made by cutting large flat pieces of stone from larger boulders. Since several pieces can be cut from the same larger stone, their variations in color and shape are subtle and pleasing without being overpowering. And because they retain their natural shape and textured surface, they are ideal for making informal paths, especially when dry-laid in a curving arc. You can reinforce this relaxed feel by allowing grass or ground cover to grow between the stones. Lay flagstones in straight lines, however, and you will evoke a formal sense. Further this effect by cutting their edges and mortaring their joints. Flagstone colors are dependent upon the type of stone from which they are cut, but most commonly used flagstones will include blue, brown, orange, pink, red, and white tones. In the Northeast, fieldstone and blue stone are excellent choices due to their density, their non-slip surfaces, and their ability to withstand our severe winter weather. Depending on your choice of materials and size, your costs could range from $23 to $38 per square foot.
Paver stones are engineered concrete stones and are available in a variety of shapes, colors, textures, and sizes. Their versatility allows them to be used for both simple and elaborate paths, and since they are engineered to fit together like a puzzle, you need not worry about cracks and weeds. When selecting pavers, resist the urge to pick multiple elaborately decorative features. So, if you choose a highly decorative shape that you plan on using in an elaborate pattern, keep your colors and textures simple. On the other hand, if you choose a vivid color scheme, make sure your shapes and patterns are uncomplicated. Many people do not like the engineered and man-made nature of paving stones, which is a valid concern for those that admire the subtle variations found in natural stones. This concern can be addressed by employing muted and natural colors which will more closely mimic naturally-occurring stone. Additionally, selecting colors and shapes that coordinate with the colors of your home will create the sense that the path has been there a long time. Expect to pay $8 – $20 per square foot depending on your choices of colors, shapes, textures, and sizes.
Gravel and crushed shells can also all be used for garden paths. Both are comfortable to walk on and are certainly less formal. They also drain quite well so you need not worry about guests slipping when the path is wet. Maintenance for these loose material paths is low, but you will have to rake them periodically to keep their surfaces even. They can be employed in straight or winding lines, and placing flagstones within them can add visual impact or signal points of interest. You will need some kind of edging, however, to keep the materials in place. You’ll pay anywhere from $3 – $5 per square foot for the shell installation, but you’ll pay extra for edging.
With so many choices, you’ll have no problem designing a pathway that meets your needs and your budget. Unfortunately, all these choices also means you’ll have a hard time settling on just one design.