We all have paths leading to our front doors from the sidewalk (if we have a sidewalk), and we usually have one or two in the backyard and along the side yards. So let’s tackle why they are used and what we can use to build them.
With our drought, many of us removed the lawns from the front and sometimes backyard too. It left us with places to grow lower water use plants, but it also left us with no grass to walk over to get from one place in the garden to another. Other than the main path leading to our front door, the need for more paths became more important: they help organize our spaces and guide us from one area to another so we don’t step on our newly planted plants or trees.
I had one client who kept planting fruit trees in his front yard: I had just finished designing the front garden and he would call me and say he found another fruit tree and was planting it. Yikes! The garden was looking kind of chaotic until we were able to build paths through the trees: after that the spaces felt coherent and the paths provided an interesting way to wander through his urban orchard.
We can use paths to guide our visitors (and ourselves) from one space in a garden to another. In the front yard—from the sidewalk to the front door, from the driveway to the front path or front porch, and perhaps through the front garden to the side of the house. In the backyard—from the back door to a patio, from a deck to raised vegetable beds, from the garage to the habitat garden, really anywhere you want to link one space to another.
Just as important as the function of the paths, I think, is what they look like. The choices of style and materials are vast—I try to match the style of the house to the front paths—with a cottage/bungalow style home random cut flagstones, set on concrete in the front, and perhaps set on sand in the backyard would be interesting. If the flagstones are set in concrete, there is less chance of tracking into the home small stones and sand. Also the concrete interlocking pavers can be used for a similar ‘informal’ effect. The paths can be curved or straight, but each of the above would lend themselves to curves, and even, for the backyard, growing thyme or other groundcover in-between the stones and at the edges of the paths would give a more informal look feel.
If the home is modern, straight paths and angular turns would fit that aesthetic better. Smoother stones, squares, rectangles, (at least 1 1/2” thick if set on sand), would work well.
‘DG’ or decomposed granite could also be used for both styles of homes, and using a stabilizer will keep the granite in place (but don’t do what I did once: use it on a slope—it slid down the slope!). Pebbles or gravel can also be used: make sure the stones are angular, rather than rounded, so they stay in place—and when I broke my leg I was surprised to find that walking on a gravel path with crutches was actually easy!
Two last considerations: width—a path for one person is usually between 2-3’ (a wheelbarrow needs 2’ width) and a path meant for two people walking side by side needs to be 5’ in width. And for safety, make sure the stones are placed flush with the ground so they don’t become a tripping hazard (yep, that’s how I broke my leg!). After all, you want your paths to take you and your guests comfortably from one place to another in your garden.