Weekend DIY: Lay out a garden path

If you’re a gardener, chances are your yard is developing a muddy rut from all that back-and-forth trekking. Garden paths happen whether planned or not. But you can create a rustic walkway–using stone, brick, wood chips; whichever material suits your taste and tootsies–for a touch of practical whimsy.

Just as there are many materials you could use to lay your path, there are many paths to be taken. No, I’m not speaking in metaphor; I’m talking paths that are straight, curved, or meandering around trees, rocks and other landmarks. This is the first step: plotting your path.

Straight or curved

Pathways next to a house tend to look better if they run alongside your home’s exterior, so straight lines look best. But once your path exits the house grid, it can curve and loop, softening the formality to suit your outdoor space. You might link up several paths that extend into garden beds, or create secondary paths that are barely noticeable. Curved paths can create interesting visual illusions, such as when the road curves around a corner and disappears, leaving the viewer wondering where it leads.

Whichever path style you choose, the trick to curving pathways is to make them look natural. Unlike the formal appearance of a straight path, a meandering path only looks good if it looks like it was made over time, so plot a logical direction with gentle curves and climbs, follow the trees and bushes and so forth.

Width and depth

Once you’ve plotted the path’s general direction, your next consideration is width, followed by depth. Like wide highways and cottage roads, your path’s width should correspond with its use. Primary paths should accommodate two people walking along it, or at least a wheelbarrow (48 inches or so). Secondary paths should be slimmer, suggesting a solo jaunt “off the beaten path.”

Depth here simply refers to how deep you need to cut out the ground to lay down your chosen materials (ask the retailer how deep you need to go based on what you’re buying and where it’s going). In general, expect to dig down about eight inches to accommodate winter freezing.


Brick, cut stone, mulch–whichever you choose, you will need to lay down a base of coarse crushed stone to keep the roadway level. If you’re laying down in clay, consider also adding a small PVC drainpipe down the centre of the path, in the gravel base, to improve drainage. Drain holes should face down.

To help water drain off and away from the path, install the path so the finished surface is proud of the ground, about an inch above grade.

Besides crushed stone, you will also need a layer of sand to make the pathway even more level, which allows you to move around your top material (especially bricks and stones) for an even, level fit. As well, it’s a smart idea to put a layer of landscape fabric between the gravel and the sand to prevent erosion.

The path surface

By now you’ve likely chosen your surface. If not, consider what sort of look you’re trying to create. Would crushed stone contrast well with the garden and yard? What about interlocking brick? Stone? Grass? Mulch? A mix? It’s really up to you.

If you’ve gone with brick, stone or concrete pavers, use masonry edging to hold the pieces in place. Masonry edging comes in aluminum, steel or plastic. Finally, you might consider installing an electrical conduit just above the base so you can easily add wires later, when installing a low-voltage lighting system.

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