Building Garden Paths

Well-constructed and attractively sited paths can add a great deal of character to a garden. Their main purpose is to link the garden’s principal features and to provide easy access to areas that require attention. It is advisable to choose materials that will blend with the type of garden under construction, but take advantage of the scope that modern materials provide to produce intriguing designs and patterns.

Straight paths are the cheapest to construct as they need less material, but curving paths are more interesting. The number of paths depends on the size of the garden and the number of features in it, but it is a sound rule to keep it to a minimum.

Main paths should be wide enough to allow two people to walk along them comfortably side by side, and to take a wheelbarrow easily, a useful width is 3 to 4 ft. Even subsidiary paths should not be less than 2 ft. wide, and a driveway will need to be at least 12 ft. wide.


Lay paths on firm foundations, as solid support and good drainage will prevent cracking and general subsidence later on. The lighter the soil, the more consolidation of the foundations will be required. Mark the site for a path by line and pegs and excavate the soil to a depth of at least 6 to 9 in. Fill the trench with rubble, clinker or broken bricks, ramming down firmly. The finished level of this material should allow for the thickness of the surfacing material.


Concrete is reasonably priced and fairly easy to use, and so has become one of the most popular materials for paths.

It is stronger if it matures and dries slowly. Cover the surface with sacking, which should be kept damp during dry weather, or use sheets of polythene which create a natural dampness underneath. Never lay concrete during frosty weather as it may crack.


Concrete purchased in this form offers a tremendous saving in time and labour. It is delivered in special lorries that mix it on the way and deliver it as near to the actual work as possible. The usual minimum quantity is l cu. yd. The concrete can be ordered in several mixes and there are supply depots in most areas.


Crazy paving gives a natural effect which is suitable for almost any garden design. Various grades can be purchased; the usual thickness is about l to l-½ in., and thicker grades are from 1-½ to 2-½ in.

Try to buy crazy paving locally as carriage costs are high.


Crazy paving can be laid either in loose material, such as ashes or sand, or in cement, which gives a stronger, more permanent path. As the individual pieces are not always of uniform thickness, take care when bedding them down to make each piece perfectly level and stable. Use a spirit level on a short piece of straight-edged wood to ensure that a constant level is maintained in both the width and the length of the path as the work proceeds.

Lay the largest pieces of paving first and fill in the gaps with smaller pieces, so that the final spaces between the stones are not more than about l in. wide.

Lay larger pieces along the edges of the path; small pieces are not as stable and if laid on loose material may tip up when trodden on.

The concrete in which crazy paving is set should be about 2 to 2-½ in. thick, on a firm foundation. The best mix is one part cement and four parts sand. Tap each piece of stone firmly into the wet cement, and a day or two later, when the concrete has set, fill in the joints with the same mixture. Be sure to keep the cement off the surface of the stones.

A pleasant effect can be gained if suitable creeping plants are established in the path. For this purpose leave gaps between stones, making sure that ample room is allowed for root development. Fill in the holes with good soil, right through to the soil below the foundation.


Prefabricated slabs for path-making are available in several standard sizes, ranging from about 9 in. square to about 2 ft. square. Rectangular slabs can also be obtained. A pleasant and unusual design can be created if a mixture of several colours is used. This type of paving is laid exactly as crazy paving.


Quite intricate patterns can be formed from bricks; they can be laid on edge or flat or in combinations of the two. Use only old or well-weathered bricks with coarse surfaces (new bricks look out of place in the garden and are expensive), and lay them in a thin layer of concrete, in the same way as crazy paving.

Quite a large number of bricks are required to cover a comparatively small area.


Although gravel is often used for path construction it tends to stick to shoes in wet weather; also, it does not keep its level well and frequent raking is necessary. But it is cheap and easy to obtain. Apply a thickness of 2 to 3 in. on top of a secure foundation. It is a good idea to mix very coarse sand with the gravel at the rate of l part to 2 parts gravel, to bind the gravel together. Gravel paths do not suppress weeds, but it is comparatively easy to keep them clean by running the hoe through the gravel or by using a selective weedkiller.


One easy way of laying paths is to use a special tarmacadam material that is sold in sealed paper bags complete with granite chippings which are scattered on the surface to form an attractive and crisp-looking pattern.

The material is tipped out of the bags and simply raked level to an average thickness of ½ in. The chippings are then scattered evenly over the surface and rolled in, and the path is ready for use. It is, of course, essential to have a firm foundation so that the path will not become ‘lumpy’ after hard use.

Another very quick method is to pour a liquid bitumen solution (which is obtainable in tins) over the path area and scatter stone chippings or sand over it. The surface then merely requires rolling.

16. February 2012 by Dave Pinkney
Categories: Featured Articles, Garden Management, Gardening Calendar | Tags: , , , | Comments Off on Building Garden Paths


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