Garden Paths

by David Murray

[An earlier version of this article was originally published on our old-style web site in January 2008]

Looking out of the window from my desk I can see the gravel paths that I laid three years ago to make it easier to move around the raised beds of the vegetable garden. In recent months we’ve had our share of wild weather, driving sleet and rain, but there is not now a single patch of mud or even slippery grass on the way from the kitchen door to the greenhouse.

Paths also provide a surface on which to transport garden materials and tools. It is much easier to run a wheelbarrow or trolley along a firm walkway. Putting in good pathways around a garden adds greatly to the months during which we are able to enjoy the garden, and makes it so much easier to get around. The investment of effort and cost brings considerable returns in terms of both convenience and appearance.

Quite apart from ease of access paths can also enhance the appearance of a garden by adding a border that will set off the plants. If suitably designed they can also provide drainage channels to redirect water away from areas that could become waterlogged, thereby damaging plants that don’t like their roots to be drowned, and towards areas where you want the increased moisture levels.

Personally I like gravel paths. It is, of course, possible to be very sophisticated in constructing these with base layers to give solidity, but most of mine were simply dug out as channels three to four inches deep (incidentally supplying a store of top soil for use elsewhere in the garden) stamped firmly down and leveled, covered in a water-permeable but weed-proof membrane and then filled with small gravel pebbles.

Paving slabs can be used for paths, but unlike pebble paths which are easily leveled by raking them over and therefore don’t need a lot of careful preparation, the substrate for paved paths must be thoroughly prepared or it won’t be long before you have them rocking in all directions and needing to be taken up and re-laid. However, when well done they are a long-lasting solution, and if extended to cover a larger area they cut down the grass cutting so disliked by many people and can provide firm base for garden furniture.

Returning to the subject of drainage, remember that large paved areas need somewhere for the rainwater to go in a downpour. Have you sloped it so that it will direct a flood into the foundations of your house? Not a good idea! To lobby again for my gravel paths, another advantage is that they allow more or less natural drainage access to the earth beneath. Anything more solid needs supplementary drainage channels.

My kitchen garden gravel paths Follow Me on Pinterest

My kitchen garden gravel paths

Many people will go to great expense to ensure that the materials are bright and new. For myself, I prefer things to look a little battered and worn, so apart from gravel I like the weathered appearance of second hand bricks which go well with weathered timber structures.

An important issue is garden safety. Paths can increase safety, but they can also give rise to their own set of risks. If you’re using bricks or paving slabs, make sure there’s nowhere to trip. Check and recheck that they’re level, and don’t wobble. Again, I prefer my gravel. It doesn’t have raised edges.

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