Garden Bloggers’ Design Workshop – Paths and Walkways

– Posted in: Garden Design

Front garden middle borders mid-July 05

It’s finally November, and time for the “official” start of the Garden Bloggers’ Design Workshop. The theme for this month is paths and walkways in the garden. Do you have a path in your garden that you’re particularly pleased with? Let us know how you created it, and why you like it. Are you having trouble deciding where to put a new path or figuring out how you’re going to install it? Describe your quandary, and maybe you can get some helpful suggestions. Or, just show us some of your favorite garden paths or plants-and-walkways combinations, in your own yard or elsewhere. Still not sure what you want to write about? Here are some ideas to get you started:

–Are your garden paths essentially utilitarian—just there to get you from one place to another—or do you prefer meandering routes?

–Did you carefully plan the paths you have now, or are they basically just the spaces left in between the beds and borders you’ve created in your yard?

–Are you pleased with the paths you have now? If so, what do you like best about them? If not, what do you wish you had done differently?

–What material(s) are your current garden paths made out of: grass, stepping stones, wood chips, gravel, pavers, brick, or something else? If you had an unlimited budget, what would your dream paths be made out of? What is your least favorite material for garden paths?

–Which do you like best: narrow paths that let you get up close and personal with your plants, or walkways wide enough to stroll along without worrying about stepping on sprawled stems or being bothered by bees?

–What’s the most memorable experience you’ve ever had with a garden path, either in your own yard or elsewhere?

Curved path in spring May 26 06Post your thoughts and photos in your own blog, then leave a comment here so we can find you, or feel free to write your thoughts or add other discussion questions in the comments section below. At the end of November, I’ll post a summary of the links and comments, so we’ll have them all in one place for easy reference. As a start, check out Gardener in Chacala Mexico, who has already posted some beautiful photos of plant-lined paths and walkways here and here. Also, we’d like to give credit for the idea of this workshop to Carol at May Dreams Gardens, who started both Garden Bloggers’ Bloom Day and the Garden Bloggers Book Club. I’m sure many of you already read Carol’s sites regularly; those of you who haven’t yet should check them out!

One more thing: To celebrate the start of what will hopefully be a fun and inspiring discussion, we have a little surprise this month. If you post your thoughts here or give us a link to what you’ve written about garden paths on your own blog by November 30, you’ll be entered into a drawing for a copy of either Foliage: Astonishing Color and Texture beyond Flowers or Fallscaping: Extending Your Garden Season into Autumnwinner gets to choose. (I’ll even sign whichever book you select, if you’d like.) We’ll announce the winner on December 1, when we post the topic for next month’s discussion.

Nancy J. Ondra
Nan gardens on 4 acres in Bucks County, Pennsylvania. In the firm belief that every garden ought to have a pretentious-sounding (or at least pretentious-looking) name, she refers to her home grounds as "Hayefield." There, she experiments with a wide variety of plants and planting styles, from cottage gardens and color-based borders to managed meadows, naturalistic plantings, and veggies--all under the watchful eyes of her two pet alpacas, Daniel and Duncan.
Nancy J. Ondra

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Layanee November 2, 2007, 7:01 am

I love the thought of paths and the actuality of paths. My paths are modest however. I have a modest home so they must be in tune with that. I have just posted on a small path which leads around the corner of the house to the patio. It is a ‘side’ path. I like paths to be at least four feet wide and preferably five so that two can walk side by side. This little one is just a slight invitation. Not too inventive either, just brick which matches the brick front step. I hope to post more creative paths that I have seen but for now, this is one of my little beckoning paths.

fsorin November 2, 2007, 9:10 am


Thanks to my visits to your garden, I switched my cutting garden this year from a grass pathway to just plain mulch and it has been terrific. But I am having tremendous problems with other grassed pathways that I’d like to get rid of (who knows if I’ll really sell my house next spring). As you know, I want to minimize grass and after seeing what you’ve done with your pathway, it makes me want to make changes in mine ASAP. Maybe I can get you out to my garden to offer me input….PLEASE!!!! Fran

Sandra Flood November 2, 2007, 12:54 pm

I garden in the BC mountains.
My garden is small approx 15 x 20 feet with a huge fir tree in the southeast corner so my paths follow two of the largest roots, one of which runs parallel with the east fence and one angles out towards the house. These paths are made of bark, are very narrow, and run from a bench under the tree between 3 raised beds.
On the north side is the house with a smaller entrance garden to the west. A path runs between two beds along the length of the house . It starts as pebbles, reaches a small (5x5ft) patio of concrete squares and beyond are flatstones culled locally – rocks come free in the mountains – leading to a gate in the east fence. When the pebble path reaches the garden proper it turns straight south, making a fourth bed against the west perimeter fence and then east along another ‘fence bed’ to join the bark paths under the fir tree.
Most of the garden is on an old stream bed, so I dug trenches for the beds which were filled with imported soil. The trenches yielded sand, grit and small pebbles so those went to make the pebble paths, and larger rocks went to border the raised beds.
Because my garden is so small I make use of every growing area. The flagstone paths have thymes and other creeping plants, and species iris and scillas planted among the flags. The pebble paths have various species of thrift, edilweiss, various sedums, and other creepers planted into the path at the base of the rock wall supporting the centre bed.
What do I ask of paths: that they are pleasing to the eye, that the materials fit with the garden, and I like plants to blur the edges of them. Small as my garden is, I consider it a stroll garden, so there are always plants that can only be seen if you follow the paths.
The design, as always, is a compromise between my ideas and desires and the nature of the site. I haven’t mentioned that the snow and ice shed from the whole south roof of this house lands with devastating force onto my garden, and that to the west there is a huge maple casting shade, seeds, and drought over the entrance garden.

Kim November 3, 2007, 12:41 am

Well I DID want to show a path or two… until I saw the gorgeous path and walk-through borders above. (Now I’m a little intimididated! Wow!)

blueblue November 3, 2007, 9:51 am

I would love to turn my garden into meandering pathways, but instead it’s very boxey and full of geometrical beds. Oneday I hope to blur things and have garden beds that spill over and finally get rid of the lawn.

Nancy J. Ondra November 3, 2007, 11:48 am

Many thanks to all of you for your responses! And a double welcome to Sandra and blueblue–thanks for joining us.

Layanee–My last garden was tiny, and I begrudged every inch of space that had to be used for paths. In my opinion, as long as you can get where you need to go, plants trump paths every time.

Fran–I know I owe you a visit, and I promise to get there!

Sandra–I love the fact that you’ve created your paths out of natural materials you found locally. That way, they can’t help but look “right,” I imagine. And isn’t it neat how so many plants seem to grow even better in the paths than they do in the adjoining beds? Gravel, in particular, seems to be an excellent propagation medium.

Kim–No excuses from you! Well, maybe this time; you must be exhausted from all of your fall projects. (Your new front garden is fabulous, by the way!) I appreciate your comment about the photo. I never thought of them as “walk-through borders”: They’re basically just square beds in what passes for my front yard.

blueblue–I understand completely! I too love curving paths, but except for one that someone else designed, mine are primarily straight lines and sharp angles. I do let the plants sprawl, though, so the geometry isn’t quite so obvious for most of the growing season.

Michelle Derviss November 3, 2007, 10:17 pm

If you want your pathway be one with the garden and the surrounding architecture you have to look to these elements for clues on how to get that seamless integration.
After considering the surrounding genus loci and the architecture one should consider the technical and structural challenges of the path site so that once the path is properly designed and built that it stands up to the test of time .
As a builder of gardens I always take into consideration the slope of the grade, the soils stability and its ability to drain as well as the personal and aesthetic requirements of the property owner and how they plan on using a path .
The above noted considerations are appropriately called ” The Site Analysis “ , and are essential in determining the size, width, pattern, scale and functionality of a path.
For a few examples I have posted a slide show of some paths on my blog :
under the heading : Paths.

Nancy J. Ondra November 4, 2007, 11:18 am

Thank you, Michelle–your comments have helped me to clarify some thoughts I’ve had about why some paths enhance the entire garden while others are just “there.” Despite my best intentions, I almost always create the planting areas first, then use the spaces in between for the paths, rather than the other way around. Your slide show is filled with some great images. My favorite is the “poured in place exposed aggregate” rectangles set in turf: It looks so clean and geometric. As a gardener, though, I wonder how long it takes to keep the edges around each rectangle so sharply trimmed. I’d say the effect is worth every second it would take; I just know I wouldn’t be able to keep up with it if I tried a path like that for myself.

Sandra Flood November 7, 2007, 9:13 pm

Hi Nancy,
Is there any way of getting photo.s to you other than having having a blog site?

Nancy J. Ondra November 7, 2007, 9:38 pm

I’ll contact you directly via e-mail, Sandra.

Pam/Digging November 13, 2007, 1:09 am

Nancy, I’ve put up my post about paths: I look forward to seeing what others contribute to the discussion.

Nancy J. Ondra November 13, 2007, 8:33 am

Your post is fantastic, Pam! Thanks ever so much for participating.

By the way, if anyone else here doesn’t have their own blog but would like to share garden-path pictures, leave me a note here and I’ll get in touch with you by e-mail.

Lee November 15, 2007, 9:42 am

This is fun! I put a post about our walkway here:

Thanks for organizing.

Nancy J. Ondra November 15, 2007, 7:42 pm

Super, Lee–thanks for participating and letting us know. I encourage everyone to check out your post and see for themselves what you’ve done.

Alice J. Nelson November 25, 2007, 8:53 pm

I find the subject of pathways interesting since I am planning a pathway through a shade garden, and am in the process of deciding what materials to use. The shade garden is still being designed. This is a fairly large home with a medium large area around it and a poor water source. Last summer we replaced a sloping lawn with 90 flats of low sedum in a mosaic pattern. The pattern was laid out with white natural stepping stones which can also be used a a pathway for weeding the beds, which the owner likes to do.Four varieties of sedum were used, each with a different foliage color, and flowering at different times. The sedum survived in spite of the extreme drought we had up here this summer.
The sedums also had to be hardy to zone 4. As to paths, I tend to favor natural looking paths without the use of concrete, though patio brick paths would be an exception to that.

Nancy J. Ondra November 25, 2007, 8:57 pm

That sedum slope must look amazing, Alice! If by any chance you have pictures of the path through the sedum posted anywhere, feel free to leave a link here or e-mail it to me (ondra at verizon dot net) and I’ll add it to the wrap-up post on this topic. We’d love to see it!

Mr. McGregor's Daughter November 27, 2007, 1:09 pm

I finally got my path post up: Sorry I can’t figure out how to do a direct link. This theme was a great way to start Garden Blogger’s Design Workshop, as that is how I started my garden, paths first.

Nancy J. Ondra November 27, 2007, 1:34 pm

Great! I edited the link and it seems to work fine.

Kathy November 27, 2007, 4:03 pm

I just published my post: Five Views of One Path. Hope everyone enjoys it.

Nancy J. Ondra November 27, 2007, 4:41 pm

Thanks for joining in, Kathy. We’ll be over to check it out soon!

Nancy J. Ondra November 27, 2007, 9:08 pm

Love the satellite photo of your garden, Carol–that’s got to be the most high-tech garden design tool available.

healingmagichands November 30, 2007, 10:56 pm

Oh, you must come and visit my blog to see the progress on my new stroll garden. I just finished putting in a new flagstone path. You can see a picture of it here:

Thanks for the lead! We’ve added a link to your November 20 and November 28 posts in the November wrap-up.

BILL December 19, 2007, 5:47 pm

Flagstone paths, originally laid in sand and now in concrete) lead from the driveway to the laundry door and the front door. The flagstones are irregular in shape and size. On the north of the house the path first used 12 ” x 5-6″ sections of an oak that had to come down. When, after many years, they rotted concrete was use to replace the round oak blocks. These have been interplanted with Chrysogonum virginianum making a dramatic picure in the spring with some bloom continuing into November. The path leading from the flagstone patio in the back of the house is rectangular flags interplanted with Fragaria virginiensis, Viola labradorica and Tiarella cordifolia.

On my 3/4 acre lot everything is woods except a small front lawn and the patio in back. Through both front and back woods, the paths are just plain dirt. But not so plain because they are for the most part, moss-covered. In early winter when the plants are white with snow and other times throughout the year, the paths look like green streams flowing through the woods. Seedlings pop up in the path and are fair game for transplanting.

A beautiful description of your garden, Bill–I can just “see” the chrysogonum path, and the mossy trails. Moss is such a great propagation medium, isn’t it?

Jake March 23, 2018, 11:14 am

My garden path is the one thing in my garden that rarely (if ever) gets any tlc, IT’S AN AGE OLD CONCRETE WALKWAY THAT’S HAD IT FAIR SHARE OF HAMMER, BUT i LOVE it! I love the rustic, aged look it has, and the contrast of it against the thriving plant life and modern garden furniture.

Sheena October 20, 2018, 1:38 am

this blog is really informative, but i have big backyard , there are 3 trees and lots of plants, what should i do to take care of these plants this winter.

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