pathway design

The Pathway Design Checklist

Your foolproof guide to pathway design and planning.

Pathways are an integral part of any garden, but are often left as a last thought or are not given a thought at all. Pathways are more than just a way to get from A to B – they create structure and movement, and highlight the parts of the garden you want people to see most. This checklist will help you decide on the perfect pathway design for your space.

Choosing the space

Usually this question is already answered when you decide to build a path, but it is an important consideration nonetheless. The number one factor in deciding where your pathway will go should be the natural routes you use to get from one place to another. There is nothing worse than having to follow an obscure pathway when an easier route is obvious, since pathway or not it is likely that the easier route will be taken anyway. While they should still look beautiful, pathways should always be practical. The second factor to consider is traffic. A high-traffic pathway – like one from a garage to the front door – will need to be larger and sturdier than the whimsical steppingstone path in the back corner of the garden. Make sure the amount of space and placement of your pathway fits its intended uses, and take your design further from there.

Choosing the style

Once you have defined your space, you will need to consider the style of your pathway. While there can be a number of options here, the main question you need to answer is whether you want a formal or informal style. Unless you are working with a completely blank canvas, your existing garden will largely dictate which one you should go for. Formal paths fit well in geometric, well-structured gardens with defined, repeated shapes. Informal paths have a more casual feel and are often combined with dense planting that flows over the path for an immersive garden experience. It is best to match your path style to the surrounding garden, but there is nothing stopping you from adding a straight formal path next to your hedge in the front yard, and a curved, winding path through your wild pollinator garden somewhere else. Gardens can benefit from a change in design in different areas rather than sticking to one style throughout – it all depends on the garden.

Materials to choose from:

  • Gravel
  • Stone
  • Pavers
  • Grass
  • Wood
  • Mulch
  • Brick

Choosing the materials

Price: Everyone should have a budget in mind when designing a path, and price will play a huge role in which materials you choose. Gravel is a popular and affordable choice but is simple and some people prefer pricier pavers or stone.

Maintenance: Some gardeners don’t have a lot of time to spend in their gardens and may not want to use that precious time with their plants on path maintenance instead. To avoid high-maintenance paths, make sure you choose the right materials for the area your path is to be in. If it is in shade or low light, avoid smooth surfaces that will attract algae or become slippery after rain. If it is under trees, avoid gravel, as it makes sweeping away leaves nearly impossible. If your path is edged with only grass or soil, this may creep over into the path and require regular clearing.

Traffic: As we said before, traffic is one of the most important concerns in path design and heavily influences your choice of materials. A high-traffic path will require sturdier materials that do not wear away easily. If you don’t take this into consideration you may run the risk of having to replace a path that has worn away or become untidy with high usage.

Top Pathway Tips:

  • Measure your pathway accurately before you lay any materials, to avoid having to start again. Measure the width, especially in curved paths where measuring and maintaining consistency can be difficult, and keep the distance between steps in mind if you are using steppingstones.
  • Consider the foundation of your pathway before you begin laying materials. The ground preparation and reinforcement are just as important as the laying of the path for longevity and to avoid more maintenance in the future.
  • Use the surrounding plants to complement the path, and vice versa. When using steppingstones, use plants between them to add some interest, or plant tall plants beside your pathway to allow for some interaction.
  • Use pathways to create perspective – long, thin paths will make a narrow garden look longer while wider paths create width.
  • Add lighting along pathways for ambience, with the added bonus of increased safety.
  • Use a landscaping fabric under pathways, especially when using gravel, to stop the stone being trodden into the ground and to prevent weed seeds from germinating.
The Gardener