How important is your garden path?

Posted By: Alexandra Campbell On: July 30th, 2017 In: Garden design, Garden trends & design, Town gardens

I visited a beautifully planted garden last year, but it was spoilt by its garden path.

The garden owner clearly didn’t care about her garden paths. She poured all her time and money into creating beautiful borders.

But they were fringed by harsh red brick and modern concrete paths, of the cheapest kind.

Of course, she’s entitled to spend her time and money where she chooses. And she was open for the NGS, so clearly many people think it is a wonderful garden (I shan’t tell you which garden it is).

Garden path tips

But I wasn’t the only one to walk away, murmuring the words ‘disappointing.’  And it took us a bit of discussion to work out what we didn’t like.

Finally, we worked it out. It was, indeed, the garish garden paths and the lack of attention to the other hard landscaping elements. (The walls were in the same cheap, modern brick).

Affordable garden paths

Yet you don’t need to spend a lot of money on your garden path. Mulch, gravel or mown paths are relatively cheap – or even free.

Tips for your garden path

Mulch garden pathways in horticulturalist & TV presenter Steven Ryan’s Australian garden

If you’re handy, you can plant a stepping stone garden path yourself – see instructions on doing it here from Gardeners World

Stone paved garden paths

Our front garden path was laid around two hundred years ago. It’s beginning to look a bit battered but it must have been very well laid to start with.

And if you’re obscenely handy, then you can even lay a stone path yourself. I googled DIY garden paths. There’s an excellent video on how to lay garden paving by Monty Don, involving string and spirit levels. I couldn’t possibly manage it.

DIY brick garden path

Kylie O’Brien lays beautiful old brick pavers in criss-cross paths across some of her beds. She laid them herself, but they’re not main walkways, so there’s less need for them to be absolutely level.

A mown garden path for country chic

Main paths in Kylie’s garden (open by appointment via the NGS) are simply mown. All the paths in this garden are DIY.

A gravel garden path

If you’re getting a path laid professionally, gravel is one of the cheapest. Choose fine gravel as it settles better. Don’t run it too close to the front door, or it will get trodden into the house. And have some kind of edging or border to prevent little stones getting onto the lawn, too. Also, if you have automatic gates, you’ll need to use stone or brick under where they go.

Gravel garden path

A gravel path at Rosemary Alexander’s home Sandhill. it’s bordered by plants, so she doesn’t need to worry about gravel and the lawn-mower. It’s a relaxed, shady planting.

Town garden paths

Gravel looks just as good in a town garden. Here Anna Oates has a smart gravel path almost up to the front door. The lavender edging protects the lawn, and there is stone leading up to the front door.

White gravel garden path

A rather smart white gravel path in an RHS Hampton Court Show garden. Friends who have had very smart white gravel report that you do have to spend alot of time picking leaves off it, and other maintenance issues. Ideal for stylish perfectionists.

A garden path that works with your environment

It’s also worth thinking about the wider environment when choosing a garden path. I don’t think we would have disliked the ugly red brick path so much if we’d seen it in a town context with red brick buildings. It struck a wrong note because it was in an otherwise very country-style garden.

Choose a garden path that works with your environment.

Anna’s front garden, seen from the front door. Although it’s a town garden, it also overlooks the pebbly beach, which makes gravel a very harmonious choice.

Match a brick path to the house

And in a row of terraced yellow London brick Victorian houses, Posy Gentles has used the same kind of brick for her front path (it looks grey because dirt is always being trodden into it. But it essentially matches the house.)

An exotic gravel path

A gravel path in the Rock Garden at Doddington Place Gardens. Gravel and rock go well together.

S shaped paths

The general rule, when creating a garden path, is to follow a straight line between two places. Otherwise you risk bald patches in the lawn, as people take short cuts across your garden.

However, the S shaped path is an important design tool, especially for long, thin town gardens.

S shaped garden paths for long, thin gardens

This gentle S curve in Mel and Emma’s long, thin town garden adds shape and interest to the garden, but isn’t curved enough to encourage short cuts. Read more about Mel and Emma’s delightful garden here.

S shaped path

Posy has a path with a short curve in her back garden. It ends in a small patch of lawn. It means she has one big abundant bed on one side, which makes the garden feel less long and thin.

Garden path edges

I’ve seen some beautifully simple garden path edging. My absolute favourite is at Rosemary Alexander’s Sandhill home.

Stunning garden path edging

This fern edging at Rosemary Alexander’s Sandhill is simple but dramatic. Sandhill is open to visit several days a year.

A lavender path

Lavender is a classic choice for edging a path. My neighbour’s path is much admired.

If you have more than one path…

If you have more than one garden path, think about whether you want them to be different or to match. The garden we disliked (at the beginning of this post) had a number of  different ugly paths – some were cheap concrete pavers and others were harsh red brick.

In contrast, the Salutation in Sandwich is a garden of a similar size. Its garden paths are harmonious. They’re in red brick, which reflects the red brick of the main house.

Brick garden paths

The Salutation uses the same attractive brick for several paths throughout the garden. Read more about The Salutation here.

I have to admit that our own garden paths are a mix of gravel, stone, and even concrete pavers. But then you will notice that I am not featuring them in this post! Except the front garden, and (below) the mistake I think I made with the grouting.

Indian sandstone path

This path in my garden is Indian sandstone (cheaper than York stone etc). After nine years, the grouting has finally started to look more natural, and it looks much better than it did.

I’d certainly advise you to think about the grouting if you’re using brick or stone pavers. I thoughtlessly decided on concrete grouting for our stone paving because I thought it would be nice not to weed it. I have since regretted it – a more natural sand grouting would have looked better, I think.

It’s worth spending as much as you can afford to get a better path, even if it means not spending much on plants for a few years. You can change your plants more easily than you can change your garden path.

So am I being very unfair in criticising a fellow gardener for their choice of garden path? What do you think?

19 Comments

  • We have off-white gravel paths edged with Everedge steel that work well in the Spring/Summer. However in wetter months gravel can become attached to any remnants of our heavy clay soil on footwear, also like someone else said collecting leaves is an issue. I think it’s important to note not to go too small in your choice of gravel size or you could be susceptible to cats using it as a litter-tray. We are now considering clay pavers that match our 1930s red brick house as its easier to push a wheelbarrow down that surface and of course sweep leaves.

  • Thank you for finding out about the terracotta pots in your friend’s garden, what a clever idea. I’m glad that mystery is solved, it was an unscrtachable itch!

  • Richard Drew says:

    I don’t mind concrete or brick paths, but they do need a year or two to weather and mellow a bit (unless of course you’re going for an ultra-modern garden). My pet dislike is obviously non-local stone e.g. slate chippings in Kent, but I’m sure I’ll come across a local garden that makes me eat my words.

  • Excellent article. Great to see it focusing on natural materials as opposed to concrete which is in my opinion an awful option for paving.

    We import a stunning new material to the UK called Slatewood, its a highly textured ( deeply grained like an old timber sleeper ) with excellent grip under foot in our damp climate, a lovely slaty colour that gently weathers with time. please do visit our website for photos.

  • In the photograph of Kylie’s grass path I see clay pots suspended from the trees, do you happen to know their purpose? This has been nagging at me since I first read your article last month and I’d love to know the answer.

    • Kylie says that the pots are to weight the branches down slightly so that they arch over the path with a nice, smooth curve. They’ll eventually thicken and grow into the curve, and then she’ll take the pots off.

  • Emily says:

    Alexandra I really enjoyed reading your articles, what beautiful pictures. I think that putting paths to the gardens improves their aesthetics and makes them look more organized allowing us to appreciate each of the plants that we have there. I don’t have a very large garden but step by step I have been installing small routes to follow with brick. I would like to try with wooden boards, do you recommend it?

    • Boards can get mildewed or slippy, but there is a composite wooden board called Millboard that could be worth trying, as it looks natural but doesn’t have the same problems with rot, splintering or algae. Thank you for your compliments on the pictures!

  • Libby says:

    What a wonderful selection you have shown us. I love gravel paths but do wonder just how practical they are…at least for everyday use. Tracking that gravel into the house is not something i would want. But lovely to look at, and walk on certainly. My one path is brick and was here when we moved in. Not terrribly creative looking, but it gets the job done!

    • I think gravel is fine in terms of tracking as long as it doesn’t go straight up to the door. We have a gravel path, but there is a stone terrace between the end of the path and the back door, so none of the gravel does ever get tracked in. I know our neighbours had problems with their automatic gates – the gravel really didn’t work with that at all. But brick sounds nice!

  • Thanks for another interesting post. I have a mix of paths in my garden; brick, gravel and some concrete slabs – these mainly in the working areas. Each has pros and cons however the aged brick looks best and the gravel is fine except in autumn when it’s difficult to clear of fallen leaves.
    I don’t think you are being unfair to the anonymous gardener, you did leave them unnamed and so unembarrassed. We must surely still be allowed an opinion in these politically correct times.

  • Sue says:

    I do like a gravel path. They have the added bonus of being a free ‘seed bed’, I have p!ants grown from seedlings that have self seeded in the path. But also weeds seed very easily so you do need to keep them weed free or they don’t look nice at all. Also you can hear people approaching the house when you are in the garden.

    • ah, yes, you’ve reminded me – gravel is considered ‘good security’ especially for country houses as it’s not possible to approach a house surrounded by gravel quietly.

  • No I don’t think you are being unfair at all. Paths are a big decision and need a lot of thought. It’s a pity to get it wrong. They can be a think of beauty or just very useful and practical but do need a lot of thought. I agree that they need to fit the style of the garden, and they do need some maintenance. I am just popping out now to sweep our front path.

Leave a comment

Just to prove you're a real person, please complete this simple sum * Time limit is exhausted. Please reload CAPTCHA.