AND GO . . .


August 31, 2006

By Victoria County Master Gardener Alton Meyer and Intern Sara Meyer

Edited by Charla Borchers Leon
“A curved pathway is more interesting than a straight pathway as shown in this front walkway at a residence in a newly-developed community.”
Whether in the wild or in the backyard, a path tells you where to walk and how to get from here to there.  Paths give structure to your garden allowing you to move about more easily.  When building a path in your garden, consider design, structure, and materials.  Then to make it more interesting, add a little mystery along the path into your ‘little bit of heaven on earth’.

‘Get Ready’--PLAN

In planning your garden pathways, check out the normal walking routes through your yard.  When the pathway is a major traffic route, keep it simple.  If it’s too curvy, too circuitous, too difficult to maneuver, people will find a shortcut.  Once you have located the traffic patterns, next decide your style—formal or informal.  The style of the pathway should complement your home.  Does your home have a formal feel?  Do you like things symmetrical?  Are your furnishings classic and timeless?  If so then your garden and pathways should be of a similar design—clarified spaces, vintage garden accessories, balanced and equivalent design, form, and color.

Do you prefer a more casual approach to living?  Do you like a mix-and-match look, asymmetry and fun?  If so, then paths that lead to surprises in the garden would be your preference.  Once you’ve decided your style, you’re now ready to design the pathways.

‘Get Set’--DESIGN

When designing your garden pathways, consider their purposes—utilitarian or not.  If the purpose of the path is utilitarian, straight is usually better in order to move equipment along the path whether the garbage can, wheelbarrow, or edger.  If the purpose of the path is to move people from street to front door or from home into the garden in the back, then a curved path becomes more interesting.  Gently curving paths encourage discovery of what lies ahead and are easier to slope.  The slope of the paths allows for water runoff preventing depressions in the walkway.  And when it snows again in South Texas, the sloped pathway will prevent slippery, accident-prone surfaces!

Determine Width
Next, determine the width of the path(s). Since we live in Texas, bigger is better! According to several design “How-To” books, 2 feet is the absolute minimum width. For two people to walk along the path comfortably, it should be 4½ feet. You may save some money by constructing a narrow pathway, and you may want to for those utilitarian paths, but if the pathway is cramped, no one will enjoy it as you intended.

Lay Out Design; Include Surprises

Next take the pathway design on paper to the actual space and lay out the design with landscaping paint, twine, stakes, or the flexible garden hose. All allow changes to be made.  Using your paper design plan, measure the width of the path and the placement of your curves along the path.  It’s fun to add a surprise such as a water feature, a swing or bench, your favorite garden art piece, or even Mother Nature’s most gorgeous view either at the end of the path or along the way.  Or the surprise can be another type of garden.  Live with your designed pathways for several days or weeks allowing you and your family to try the pathways out and make adjustments if need be.  Remember to check your house plans to make sure the pathways are not directly over sprinkler lines or utility lines.

Choose Construction Materials

Now for the nitty-gritty.  It's time to choose your pathways’ construction materials.  And there are many choices. According to Barbara B. Ashmun in a comparative chart on constructing pathways in The American Gardener (September/ October 2000), you can determine the type of pathway for your garden based on materials and costs to construct it. If you chose a ‘formal’ design for your garden pathways, you may use hand carved stone or poured concrete and then edge with extra brick or stone from your home, complementary brick, or trimmed grass. Consider the advantages and disadvantages of the cost of materials and labor, maintenance and future upkeep. The Texas sun can certainly cause damage to materials after a couple of seasons and you may want to decide on materials which do not require much of your time in maintenance (mowing) and upkeep.
If you chose an ‘informal’ design, your choices of materials may include flagstone, crushed rock/granite, tiles, stepping stones (which come in a variety of materials from plain concrete to brick), pavers, railroad ties, pea gravel, mulch/pine needles/sawdust, and sod.  Once materials have been chosen, it’s time to go shopping at a builders’ supply store or quarry.

Consider Costs of Materials
Be sure to take your paper plan, measurements, and calculator so that you can determine how much of the materials you will need to complete the project and the cost of the materials. In determining the cost of your materials, one suggestion is to add 10% to what you need to make sure that you have enough.  If ordering bricks or stone pavers, be sure that all come from the same lot or batch of production as sometimes colors do vary from one mix to the next.  You may also want to include in your cost estimates lumber for the frames if pouring concrete, landscape cloth (helps to keep weeds out), metal edging, equipment you may need such as a tamping tool, wheelbarrow, and heavy rake, any special ‘surprises’ in the garden, and plants needed to finish the project.


It is critical to build the base of your pathways carefully considering the slope of the natural land, drainage requirements and stability.  On a heavily trafficked path, it is imperative that the foundation is stable and deep to prevent flooding and subsequent problems.  Secondly a deep foundation helps a path remain level as movement in the underlying soil is absorbed in the base materials and the surface has less of a tendency to buckle or slip.

As you finish your new path, you’ll notice that combining function and art is the pleasure of building garden paths.  Your pleasure will also be in getting from here to there in your garden in a most interesting and new way.