Green Man Publishing

Paths

Paths should be efficient, safe, secure, comfortable and attractive. They are one of the most basic building blocks of the garden, in fact you could lay out the whole garden around the paths.

Uses of paths

·    The primary purpose of paths is to link the various parts of the garden efficiently, safely and economically. Good paths make the garden easier to move around and easier to work in.

·   Paths play an important role in shaping the garden by dividing it into separate areas. At the same time they create a network of access routes around the garden that help to unify otherwise unconnected areas.

·   Paths are places where human movement gets etched into the landscape. They direct your movement by making you go in one direction or the other. They take you to where the path builder wants you to go (ideally to places worth seeing and by an interesting route).

·   A well designed path should draw you out into the garden and encourage you to explore. It does this by concealing most of the route, so you keep moving to see where it goes.

·   Paths are important visual elements as they differentiate the human dominated areas from the plant dominated ones. They lead your eyes around the garden and provide a background for more important elements. They also help to maintain order if the garden gets overgrown

·   Paths provide useful edge habitat for plants.

·   Impervious paths (and roads) can be used to intercept and channel runoff water into swales or catchment areas such as marshes and ponds. This may be an important feature in arid areas, where all of the precious rain that falls on your land must be absorbed.

·   Paths of sharp cinders (and perhaps sawdust) may act as a barrier to slow down the movement of snails and slugs.

·   By clearly defining areas to be walked upon, paths help to reduce soil compaction.

·   Stone, brick and concrete can create a warmer microclimate by absorbing heat during the day and releasing it at night.

Locating the paths

Paths generally start or end at existing doors, gates or openings and run parallel to fences, planting beds and other linear components. They don’t need sun or rich soil, so don’t waste good growing land on them if it can be avoided (often it can’t). Use shaded areas, the north side of walls and buildings, the area next to fences or hedges (over the root zone).

The main paths are practical elements of course and must be efficient. They should be fairly direct and take the easiest and most logical route between doors, gates and important destinations (the route you would follow even if the path weren’t there). These paths almost locate themselves because they run between important components (either existing or planned).

People tend to choose the most practical route instinctively, so paths commonly become worn in the most logical places. The simplest way to decide where to put your paths is to walk around the garden and let your feet decide, Of course you may choose to modify their placement for other reasons.

When deciding where to put the paths, you should also look at the bigger picture and think about traffic circulation around the whole garden (how the paths link together and how you get to each area). The house, driveway, street, greenhouse, deck, patio and sitting areas are all part of the traffic pattern.

Don’t divide up the garden with paths too early in the design, as this limits your thought and imagination. Just put arrows on the plan to indicate circulation patterns.

Not all paths are designed for efficiency, some are purely for pleasure. They lead you to other interesting parts of the garden, or to certain viewpoints (ideally you should be able to see something to walk to).

In small gardens there should be no more path than necessary because they take up space that might be used more productively. They also require materials and maintenance.

Beds go naturally alongside paths, so the location of a path will often determine the location of some growing beds. You might also place beds in certain positions to create interest on a path. Beds placed alongside paths are very visible and easily tended, so can be planted with plants that need frequent attention.

Though all intensively cultivated areas should be accessible, paths don’t have to reach every part of the garden. If there is an area of the garden that is very inaccessible you could leave it wild.

Be aware that low-lying paths may act as swales. They collect and channel water and may even turn into ponds in very wet weather. You will have to find ways to deal with this.

Most of the wilder areas don’t need fixed paths, you just walk where you need to. If you walk in the same places often enough they it will become a beaten earth track. If you don’t walk there frequently, there will be no trace you were ever there.

Path Shape

Depending upon the effect you are aiming for, a path might be a straight wide allee set amongst low beds, or it could be a narrow winding track through dense woodland.

Straight paths have a formal effect that isn’t very popular in cottage gardens (except sometimes for front garden paths). They enable you to see a long way ahead, which is useful if you want to emphasize a view, but can make spaces seem smaller (people tend to walk faster on straight paths). In Feng Shui they are frowned upon as too fast and direct.

Very winding paths aren’t very satisfactory either and are irritating when you want to get from A to B quickly. If a path has arbitrary curves people will often take the more logical shortcut.

Gentle sweeping curved paths are generally considered preferable, as they are more relaxed, interesting and natural. Curved paths disappear out of sight and so urge you forward to see what is around the bend (this should be something of interest). A curve in a path shouldn’t be arbitrary however; it should have visual logic, such as when it follows the contour of a slope, or goes around an obstacle such as a pond, a rocky outcrop or a group of trees or shrubs. Sometimes you may even put something there to obscure the way.

Bends in paths should not be too abrupt, a 90° corner should have a turning radius of at least 5 feet.

You might shape your path so rainwater (or a hose) can wash it clean and then the water will flow to where it can soak in to the soil.

Path size

This is determined by relative importance, so the main paths are wider than minor ones. Their size is also related to the size of the garden and how much space you have to spare. In a large garden you can afford more space for paths than you could in a small one where every square inch is precious. In fact a big garden needs wider, more imposing paths as they have to carry more visual weight.

Generally it’s best to err in making the paths too wide rather than too narrow. Paths tend to get narrower with time as plants encroach from both sides. A little-used narrow path may eventually almost disappear, so make them wide initially (walking with wet foliage brushing your legs isn’t pleasant). Making paths wider doesn’t necessarily means wasting growing space. Plants love the open edge habitat along paths and will soon sprawl out into the margins of the path. Of course wide paths also require more paving material, which can be a problem if you are on a tight budget.

Primary paths: These link the most important areas of the garden (door to gate to vegetable garden) and are often relatively straight and direct. They should be at least 36” wide, which is enough for a garden cart. To emphasize its primary importance the path to the front door might be wide enough for 2 people to walk side by side (4 ½ feet).

These paths are made of the most attractive material you have, as they make a bigger visual statement.  These tend to be hard and include stone, cobbles, brick, flagstone, concrete. Loose materials like gravel aren’t a good idea near the house because they can get tracked inside and play havoc with wood floors.

You might also add lights, containers, planting beds, pergolas and ornamentation to further distinguish the primary paths and emphasize their importance. I have never found it necessary to have a camber on a path, but this may be needed on very wide paths or in slow draining soils.

Secondary paths: These paths take you to the less important parts of the garden and tend to be curved or meandering. They are also used to create a sense of discovery and to take you on adventures. These paths branch off from the primary paths and are usually narrower (24 – 36” wide).

The materials for these paths tend to be softer and more informal than the primary paths, though they may include a little of those for continuity. Commonly used materials include gravel, decomposed granite, wood chips, pine needles and stepping stones.

Minor paths: These provide access to the least used parts of the garden and may get smaller and smaller until eventually there aren’t any defined paths at all. Put them in the places where you already walk anyway. They are rarely paved and usually consist

of bare earth. All you are really doing is defining the route you want people to take.

These paths only need to be wide enough for one person to walk on (as little as 12” wide),

Access to densely planted growing areas might simply consist of a few stepping stones. Their purpose is to make you step in the same place every time and so reduce compaction.

Permeability and paths

As much as half of the average garden may be impervious to water, and when multiplied by the tens of millions this has significant ecological effects. Impervious paving prevents infiltration and increases storm runoff and so reduces the amount of water entering aquifers. Paved areas also absorb heat, causing urban areas to get hotter (the heat island effect) and disrupt healthy gas exchange between the air and soil.

We should minimize the areas of impermeable paving in our gardens so rainfall can soak in to the ground close to where it lands. We should also find a way to channel runoff from existing impervious surfaces (such as rooftops and driveways) to where it can percolate into the soil. Any water that leaves your property is wasted and in dry areas you just can’t afford to lose it.

The most obvious permeable paving materials are gravel and wood chips, however any material will work if it is composed of small enough units, so water can soak in to the ground between them. This includes brick, broken concrete, and stone pavers.

Making paths more interesting

Paths can be made more interesting with a little imagination. You might have different paving materials on different levels, or you might break up long paths with sections of different materials. If you are going to switch to an entirely different paving material, you should do so at a natural transition point, such as an archway, gate or steps.

The width of the path doesn’t have to be uniform from beginning to end. They often get wider at curves destinations and intersections (these wider areas can

be used as temporary storage areas for materials such as mulch). They may also get narrower as they get further away from the main garden, to give a sense of

depth and importance (obviously this is easier to do with loose paving materials than with hard paving).

Break up long stretches of path with stopping places, such as a pergola, a fruit tree, a seat, an unusual plant, a sculpture or a pond. A junction of two paths could have an interesting tree or other object located near it. A path that ends abruptly should have something of interest there, perhaps a half hidden ornament or a seat.

Arches and arbors can be used to make a special path stand out (and give shade too). They also act as a transition point, giving you a way to separate and define two areas.

Ornamentation

The look of any path can be enhanced with a little ornamentation. You can embed colored tiles, pebbles, broken crockery, glass, or anything else you want to immortalize. A good place for this is at intersections, where the path widens.

Slopes

As the angle of a slope increases walking becomes less comfortable and eventually impossible (steep paths are also prone to erosion). You then have the option of making steps or angling the path up the slope (even switchbacks). Both of these involve a considerable amount of extra work. See Steps for more on this.

Paving materials

Paths are an important unifying element and should be made from materials that are appropriate for your house and garden. Local materials are usually preferable as they help to give a regional feel, are often cheaper and often have less environmental costs.

Frequently used paths around the house are usually paved with hard-wearing materials such as flagstone, cobbles, tile or brick. It’s nice to be able to go out of the house barefoot and walk around the immediate area in comfort. You don’t need hard paving everywhere however, and as you move away from the house the paving materials should become softer and more natural. The paths furthest from the house will be the softest and most natural (they are often simply compacted earth).

The color of the path material may be significant too. In sunny climates light colored paths can cause unpleasant glare, while dark colors can get very hot (this can be beneficial in cold climates because snow and ice will thaw faster). The best colors are generally the earth tones, which is why most common commercial paving materials come in these shades.

Number of materials

Large expanses of the same paving tend to be boring, so its common to mix and match different materials. Two materials generally work best, one dominant and one complementary. The rule of thumb is don’t use more than three.

The right material

The ideal paving material is durable (or easily replaced), porous, attractive and provides a good surface to walk on (non-slip, stable and fairly even). Ideally it would also be inexpensive, but that’s asking a lot. Depending upon your choice of paving, the paths can cost nothing or they can be the most expensive part of the garden.

Hard materials

Wood rounds: These can be free if you have suitable logs on site and a chainsaw. They are partly buried so their top surface is level with the ground. This must be done carefully and evenly if they are to look good and not be a tripping hazard.

Wood rounds should be made of a rot resistant wood such as Black Locust, Chestnut, Oak or Redwood (be aware that the sapwood is much less resistant and will rot before the heartwood). However you can square up wooden rounds for a tighter fit (they then become wooden squares) and in doing so you trim off a lot of the sapwood.

Wood: Sawn lumber is sometimes used as a path material, but is hard to justify unless the wood is salvaged and rot resistant. I have seen an interesting short path made from scrap redwood 2 x 4’s buried on edge. Even then it is not really durable enough for a permanent path, as any time it is in contact with the soil it will eventually rot. Wood is more suited to use as a boardwalk for maintaining a level on very uneven slopes, or over water or marshy areas.

Stone

Stone can be used for paths in a variety of ways, to give many different effects.

Pebbles: These can be used loose like gravel, but they are not the easiest surface to walk on. Sometimes a thin layer is embedded into concrete to provide an ornamental surface. Pebble mosaics are a vernacular art form and can be quite spectacular. They are time consuming to create however.

Cobbles: You might be able to get these larger pebbles from a streambed, or from the soil if very stony. When laid flattest side up they make an attractive path, though some skill is needed to lay them. They are usually set in concrete, packed tightly to minimize the visible concrete (you can pack smaller pebbles between the larger ones). You might also use larger cobbles at the edges of the path and smaller ones in the middle.

Pavers: These were originally blocks of granite or sandstone, but those are now so expensive that they are usually made of imitation stone (aka concrete). They are laid like bricks on a bed of sand or concrete. They look great but there is the drawback that you usually have to buy them.

Stepping stones: These irregular pieces of fieldstone are spaced one pace apart so you step on each in turn (hence stepping stones!) They work well in dense plantings to stop you walking on the established beds and plants and compacting the soil. It is important that they are laid the right walking distance apart; otherwise they won’t be comfortable to walk one.

Flagstone: These are the ultimate natural paving material, very attractive, flat, smooth, durable and quite formal. They are particularly useful for sitting areas, as they provide a smooth, hard level surface.

Unfortunately flagstones are unrealistically expensive where I live (and rarely available used).

Flagstones are so heavy they stay put under their own weight, so only need to be laid on a bed of sand. This is useful if you may have to move them at some time in the future. They can also be laid on five blobs of concrete over a base of compacted soil. Don’t buy flagstones that are less than 2” thick as they crack easily.

Large areas of flagstone sometimes have the occasional stone missing and the space is filled with plants or different paving material.

Very smooth flagstone (such as marble) can get slippery when wet, icy or covered in algae.

In some places you can buy cast concrete flagstones. These work well, but have the disadvantages of being concrete.

Fieldstone

Irregularly shaped fieldstone is cheaper than flagstone, but more complicated to use (laying them is like doing a jigsaw puzzle). If you can’t find a piece that fits you can leave out the odd piece and put in low-growing herbs or other plants. Also leave wide gaps between the pieces so creeping plants can grow between them (scatter flower seed there).

Brick: Salvaged brick is a great paving material. It is flat, smooth, durable, porous, easily laid and has an interesting texture and appearance. It can be laid in different patterns to create different effects. They are also small enough units that they can be used for curving pathways.

It is often said that bricks for outdoor use should be special engineering bricks, as ordinary house bricks can eventually disintegrate if exposed to repeated frost. I don’t see this as a big problem. If you set your bricks in sand, any that start to fall apart can easily be pulled out and replaced.

Set the bricks on a bed of sand or crushed stone and you will be able to reuse them at a later date (if you set them in concrete this becomes much harder). If they become uneven over time just take them up and add more sand.

Concrete: Poured concrete is one of the cheapest paving materials, though you have to use some imagination if you want it to look good. It is also very versatile and can be finished in a variety of different ways. You can wash and brush the surface to expose the aggregate, carve it to look like tiles or put small stones or pebbles on the surface. It can be stamped, colored (with paint stain or acid stain), brushed, sprayed and otherwise disguised.

A large area of concrete (a patio or driveway) should have metal reinforcing, be 3-4” thick and expansion joints every 8 feet.

An easy way to make a nice looking, but inexpensive path or patio, is to lay down a grid of bricks and fill the squares in between with concrete. You can then disguise the concrete surface as you see fit.

Concrete is also available pre-cast into a wide variety of paving materials, from imitation flagstone to imitation sets. Some of these look quite good, others have too much of a commercial appearance for my taste.

Tile: These can be used for special areas near the house (a courtyard or patio. They give a very refined almost interior feeling, but they usually need a solid base of poured concrete. Some types of tile are totally weatherproof; but others may gradually break up when exposed to frost, so get something suitable for your climate. Tile needs to be non-slip, otherwise it may get dangerous when wet.

Some inventive people have dug clay locally and fired their own clay tiles in a fire pit (if I had a hat it would be off to them). This is a great idea and worth further investigation.

Soft materials

Soft paths feel quite different from hard ones and give the garden a softer and more natural ambience. They are also generally cooler as most don’t heat up as much in summer.

Loose materials don’t work very well on slopes. Lightweight materials such as shredded bark or wood chips can get washed downhill in very wet weather. Even heavier materials can slowly move downhill with gravity, if not held in place. Most soft materials require edging (see below).

Loose materials can allow weeds to grow right through them, or even in them. The best way to deal with this is to lay down a layer of cardboard as a weed barrier.

A cubic yard of a loose material such as gravel or mulch will cover 160 square feet to a depth of 2”.

Earth: The simplest path material is bare earth that has been compacted by frequent use. It works great in dry climates (most of my paths are earth), but can present problems in very wet areas, where it can get muddy and grow weeds (especially if not used frequently).

Shredded bark and wood chips

These materials work well for informal paths, but eventually break down into organic matter, so periodically have to be renewed by adding a fresh layer on top. 

These materials can also be used in more formal areas if you use edging to keep them in place.

Straw: This is inexpensive and attractive, but breaks down quickly (perhaps too quickly) and needs renewing annually. It can also be slippery (especially on slippery slopes). In very dry weather it can also become a fire hazard. It’s best to avoid hay as it contains too many weed seeds.

Grass turf: This is sometimes used for paths where the climate is amenable to grass growth. Just mow them with a push mower and use the clippings as mulch on the beds at the sides. Of course they will also need edging occasionally as the grass tries to creep out into the bed (which all means more work).

Sawdust: If you can get this in quantity it can be a pretty good path material. It is very low in nitrogen and so is said to deter weed growth (it may also deter slugs). It eventually breaks down and adds organic matter to the soil.

Sand: This is sometimes used for paths, though it will need a weed barrier underneath it and edging to confine it. In Japanese gardens it is commonly raked into patterns.

Decomposed granite: This fine gravel dust packs down to create a fairly firm surface. In many ways it is like packed earth, but cleaner and neater. Be careful about using it near the house, as it can get tracked inside and scratch wooden floors.

Decomposed granite is usually applied in two separate  1 ½” deep layers. The first layer is put down and tamped firmly, then the process is repeated with the second layer. Portland cement powder is sometimes added to the mix to make it even firmer. An edging material is commonly usually used to keep everything in place.

Gravel (round) and chippings (sharp): These easy to use paving materials drain well and lend themselves to fluid random shapes. They are relatively cheap if you pick them up yourself, or even free if you have a suitable source nearby.

Both of these materials make a noisy crunching sound when walked on. Some people like this sound and the fact that it announces that someone is walking on it.

Gravel doesn’t work well near the house as it can get tracked inside (where it can scratch wooden floors). It can also be a problem on slopes as it tends to want to move downhill.

Gravel needs a firm base and some kind of edging to keep it in place. A weed barrier of landscape fabric is often used to stop weeds growing up through (which they tend to do otherwise). Even then weeds will sometimes grow in the gravel itself.

Carpet:

Old wool carpet has been cut into strips and laid down in paths. Put it upside down and its woven backing blends in quite well. Put it the right way up for that indoors outside effect.

Path construction

Start building your paths by removing any good topsoil and throwing it to either side to make a growing bed (or use it elsewhere). The materials used and the type of soil dictates how much of a foundation you need for a path. You may only have to excavate 2” for a decomposed granite path, but you may have to go down 8” or more for a brick and concrete path (if you want the top of the path to be level with the ground). If it isn’t possible to excavate you could just raise the soil on either side of the path to create raised beds.

Drainage is particularly important with impervious materials, as rain may stand on it, or run off in streams in heavy rain. A base of gravel (or sand over gravel) can be used to improve drainage in wet areas. A camber in the middle will also help. You should also avoid creating low spots where water may accumulate and sit. A downhill path could become a torrent in wet weather if you don’t design it carefully and give that water somewhere to go. Also never have any impervious paving sloping towards your house (for obvious reasons).

Before you put down any paving you may want to lay down a layer of cardboard or thick newspaper to suppress weeds. If you are laying down a hard permanent path you might also want to run a few lengths of 3” pipe under it at strategic places, in case you ever need to run a wire or irrigation pipe underneath it.

Edging materials

These are used to define the edges of  a path and give it a more structured and formal appearance. Their use may also be necessary to keep loose paving materials (mulch, gravel) in place.

A variety of materials have been used for path edging, the main criteria is that it be compatible with the paving. Common materials include brick, wooden boards, stone or concrete pavers and recycled plastic ‘wood’ bender board. No-cost options include sections of tree branches set vertically, recycled bottles or pieces of broken tile (set on edge), twig hoops, poles and short logs.

You could also use no materials at all, Instead you just dig out the path to 3” below the surrounding soil and use the soil edging to keep the loose paving in place.

Strips of galvanized sheet metal 12” deep have been used to contain creeping plants. Smaller pieces could be used as edging (though beware of sharp edges). Deeper pieces could be used as a gopher barrier.

Stepping-stones

These are a good option if you need to access an area for harvesting, without compacting the soil, These need to be flat, secure and have a rough texture so they don’t get slippery when wet.

Bridges

The simplest bridge is a fallen log or wide plank. If it is so long it sags in the middle, put a support under it.

If you have the right site a bridge can be very ornamental, as well as being an archetypal element, giving a psychological effect of transition. Don’t have a bridge purely as an ornamental feature, it only makes sense if there is a need for one to cross water or a ravine. A bridge to nowhere just looks silly (a long pond is no excuse either).

Ramps

You can’t run a wheelbarrow up or down steps, so may have to provide some other way to get it around. The simplest option is to have an alternate route that avoids the steps, but this can be a pain if it goes too far out of the way. You could also have a strategically placed ramp (maximum slope is 1:20 for ease of use), or you might just have a temporary plank to turn the steps into a ramp.

Steps

Steeply sloping gardens require steps to make them easily accessible. These must be practical: wide, strong, easy to walk on and non-slip. They should also be attractive and constructed of materials that match the house and paths. You can often use the same path material for the treads and use bricks or landscape ties for the risers. Split logs (¼ of a whole log) can be used for rustic steps with mulch paths (I have used split pieces of Oak firewood).

Calculating steps   The formula for outdoor steps is twice the riser height plus the tread should equal 26”. The path treads should be 11 – 18” deep and the risers should be 4 – 7”. Your actual sizes will vary according to the slope, but a 6” riser and 14” tread is the norm. Whatever measurement you use they should be consistent in height and depth. Don’t have too many steps in one flight. If this is happening put in a landing (at least 36” long). This can also be used to change the run calculations).   You can change the depth of your treads according to your design, but the height of the risers should be pretty close to this (because it is the dimension that most human legs find most comfortable, most of the time).  

Steps don’t just enable you to get from one level to another, they are a transition space that gives you a place to pause before moving on to another area of the garden. They are also a focal point and an opportunity to make the garden more interesting. Steps can be curved rather than straight. Wide steps help to unify the areas they connect, whereas narrow ones tend to separate them. Deep steps can be used as informal seats and as shelves for container plants.

Any even remotely hazardous steps need a secure handrail to prevent people falling down them. This should be fairly smooth, so it’s comfortable to hold and doesn’t give you splinters.

Planting for paths and steps

Plants can be used to make paths more interesting and productive. You might create a border of compact little edibles, such as Alpine Strawberry, Alyssum, Carrot, Basil Garlic Chives, Parsley, Lettuce, Thyme. You might use aromatic plants as edging, and in crevices in pavement, where they will emit fragrance when walked upon. If the paving isn’t particularly attractive, you can soften it with Corsican Mint, Chamomile, Pennyroyal, Marjoram, Thyme, Viola or Bugle (Ajuga).

For obvious reasons you shouldn’t use spiny or very prickly plants alongside paths. You should also avoid very vigorous or tall plants near the path, as they will encroach and so require regular trimming. Low plants on either side of a path make it feel wider, while tall ones make it feel narrower.

Frequently traveled paths can be planted with plants that require frequent attention, as you will be passing them every day. You often see long planting beds at either side of a path.

Don’t put messy fruit trees near paths, driveways or other paved areas. They can create a mess that needs cleaning up and may even be a slipping hazard.

You can recover the planting area lost to paths (as well as provide shade and create screens) by the use of trellises or tunnels. These can by planted with fruiting vines, or climbing annual vegetables such as Cucurbits and Beans.

Driveways

Cars have come to dominate so much of our lives that I prefer to keep them out of the garden as much as possible. I don’t want a driveway running all over my property, I want it as short and as close to the road as possible. This minimizes the amount of wasted land, paving materials, maintenance and snow removal. This is particularly important in small gardens where space is at a premium.

Many town gardens have the garage behind the house by the back fence, with a driveway running the full depth of the property. This makes no sense at all, especially as relatively few people keep their cars in them anyway (in Santa Cruz they usually have to rent them out as living space to pay the property tax). If you have one of these long paved driveways you may want to think about reducing its length to that of a car or two (city planning laws may insist on you having a number of off road parking spaces though).

Paved driveways have other uses as well as parking cars. They are a good place to work on cars or other projects and make a safe play area for children. They can also be used to collect rainwater, if you make sure there is no oil, antifreeze or other chemicals on them.

If you are building a new driveway and would like to reduce the area of impervious paving surface (and the cost), you could create paved wheel tracks. These consist of 2 parallel paved tracks for the car wheels to run on. The area between the tracks can be filled with gravel, grass or whatever else will grow there. I saw one very steep driveway with steps between the tracks.

The size of a driveway   Traditional landscaping says that a driveway should be a minimum of 8 – 10’ wide on the straight and 10 – 12’ on the curves. Some designers say 12 feet wide is better (they probably drive Ford Expeditions or Hummers), but of course that takes more material. A parking area should have at least an 18’ turning radius. A T-shaped driveway saves space over a turnaround or circular driveway.

In cold climates it’s nice if the driveway gets daytime sun, so ice or snow will melt quickly. You should also think about where the snow can go when clearing the driveway. Incidentally don’t use salt to de-ice paths as it is harmful to plant growth. Use calcium chloride, wood ashes or sand instead.

Coping with rainwater runoff

Runoff from rainstorms quite literally moves mountains and can remove a few tons of poorly designed driveway overnight. A porous driveway must be designed to handle large amounts of water without washing away. I found that a lot of the water coming down my driveway originated from above. If this is the case try to divert it before it reaches the driveway.

An impervious driveway should be designed so all of the runoff water has somewhere to go, other than running off down storm drains.

If your driveway already exists, you should try and channel the runoff water to where it can be used. In an arid climate you might actually value this impervious surface as a rainwater catchment area. If possible you might modify the shape of your driveway to collect rainwater and channel it into a storage pond, tank or retention basin. You could also plant fruit trees and other food plants along the driveway where they can use the runoff directly.

In wet climates you might want a covered walkway from the house to the car.

Materials for driveways

If you are building a new driveway it’s best to use a permeable material, unless you plan to harvest the runoff water. If your driveway is fairly level, gravel is one of the cheapest paving materials. This requires a good solid base and edging (and maybe a sloping sub-grade to move water), The gravel is simply dropped in  a series of piles and raked level (it couldn’t be easier to lay). Decomposed granite can also work well (use a 3” layer for a driveway and compact it with a roller).

Sloping driveways are more difficult, because they have to be able to deal with large amounts of water. If you have the money you could use porous paving blocks. These may be made from recycled plastic or concrete and are filled with gravel or soil. These allow water to percolate through and (if you use soil) plants to grow up between them.

Parking spaces

Traditional gardens didn’t have these, but like it or not they are now essential in most cases (and even legally required by city planners. I favor a distin

Paths should be efficient, safe, secure, comfortable and attractive. They are one of the most basic building blocks of the garden, in fact you could lay out the whole garden around the paths.

Uses of paths

·    The primary purpose of paths is to link the various parts of the garden efficiently, safely and economically. Good paths make the garden easier to move around and easier to work in.

·   Paths play an important role in shaping the garden by dividing it into separate areas. At the same time they create a network of access routes around the garden that help to unify otherwise unconnected areas.

·   Paths are places where human movement gets etched into the landscape. They direct your movement by making you go in one direction or the other. They take you to where the path builder wants you to go (ideally to places worth seeing and by an interesting route).

·   A well designed path should draw you out into the garden and encourage you to explore. It does this by concealing most of the route, so you keep moving to see where it goes.

·   Paths are important visual elements as they differentiate the human dominated areas from the plant dominated ones. They lead your eyes around the garden and provide a background for more important elements. They also help to maintain order if the garden gets overgrown

·   Paths provide useful edge habitat for plants.

·   Impervious paths (and roads) can be used to intercept and channel runoff water into swales or catchment areas such as marshes and ponds. This may be an important feature in arid areas, where all of the precious rain that falls on your land must be absorbed.

·   Paths of sharp cinders (and perhaps sawdust) may act as a barrier to slow down the movement of snails and slugs.

·   By clearly defining areas to be walked upon, paths help to reduce soil compaction.

·   Stone, brick and concrete can create a warmer microclimate by absorbing heat during the day and releasing it at night.

Locating the paths

Paths generally start or end at existing doors, gates or openings and run parallel to fences, planting beds and other linear components. They don’t need sun or rich soil, so don’t waste good growing land on them if it can be avoided (often it can’t). Use shaded areas, the north side of walls and buildings, the area next to fences or hedges (over the root zone).

The main paths are practical elements of course and must be efficient. They should be fairly direct and take the easiest and most logical route between doors, gates and important destinations (the route you would follow even if the path weren’t there). These paths almost locate themselves because they run between important components (either existing or planned).

People tend to choose the most practical route instinctively, so paths commonly become worn in the most logical places. The simplest way to decide where to put your paths is to walk around the garden and let your feet decide, Of course you may choose to modify their placement for other reasons.

When deciding where to put the paths, you should also look at the bigger picture and think about traffic circulation around the whole garden (how the paths link together and how you get to each area). The house, driveway, street, greenhouse, deck, patio and sitting areas are all part of the traffic pattern.

Don’t divide up the garden with paths too early in the design, as this limits your thought and imagination. Just put arrows on the plan to indicate circulation patterns.

Not all paths are designed for efficiency, some are purely for pleasure. They lead you to other interesting parts of the garden, or to certain viewpoints (ideally you should be able to see something to walk to).

In small gardens there should be no more path than necessary because they take up space that might be used more productively. They also require materials and maintenance.

Beds go naturally alongside paths, so the location of a path will often determine the location of some growing beds. You might also place beds in certain positions to create interest on a path. Beds placed alongside paths are very visible and easily tended, so can be planted with plants that need frequent attention.

Though all intensively cultivated areas should be accessible, paths don’t have to reach every part of the garden. If there is an area of the garden that is very inaccessible you could leave it wild.

Be aware that low-lying paths may act as swales. They collect and channel water and may even turn into ponds in very wet weather. You will have to find ways to deal with this.

Most of the wilder areas don’t need fixed paths, you just walk where you need to. If you walk in the same places often enough they it will become a beaten earth

track. If you don’t walk there frequently, there will be no trace you were ever there.

Path Shape

Depending upon the effect you are aiming for, a path might be a straight wide allee set amongst low beds, or it could be a narrow winding track through dense woodland.

Straight paths have a formal effect that isn’t very popular in cottage gardens (except sometimes for front garden paths). They enable you to see a long way ahead, which is useful if you want to emphasize a view, but can make spaces seem smaller (people tend to walk faster on straight paths). In Feng Shui they are frowned upon as too fast and direct.

Very winding paths aren’t very satisfactory either and are irritating when you want to get from A to B quickly. If a path has arbitrary curves people will often take the more logical shortcut.

Gentle sweeping curved paths are generally considered preferable, as they are more relaxed, interesting and natural. Curved paths disappear out of sight and so urge you forward to see what is around the bend (this should be something of interest). A curve in a path shouldn’t be arbitrary however; it should have visual logic, such as when it follows the contour of a slope, or goes around an obstacle such as a pond, a rocky outcrop or a group of trees or shrubs. Sometimes you may even put something there to obscure the way.

Bends in paths should not be too abrupt, a 90° corner should have a turning radius of at least 5 feet.

You might shape your path so rainwater (or a hose) can wash it clean and then the water will flow to where it can soak in to the soil.

Path size

This is determined by relative importance, so the main paths are wider than minor ones. Their size is also related to the size of the garden and how much space you have to spare. In a large garden you can afford more space for paths than you could in a small one where every square inch is precious. In fact a big garden needs wider, more imposing paths as they have to carry more visual weight.

Generally it’s best to err in making the paths too wide rather than too narrow. Paths tend to get narrower with time as plants encroach from both sides. A little-used narrow path may eventually almost disappear, so make them wide initially (walking with wet foliage brushing your legs isn’t pleasant). Making paths wider doesn’t necessarily means wasting growing space. Plants love the open edge habitat along paths and will soon sprawl out into the margins of the path. Of course wide paths also require more paving material, which can be a problem if you are on a tight budget.

Primary paths: These link the most important areas of the garden (door to gate to vegetable garden) and are often relatively straight and direct. They should be at least 36” wide, which is enough for a garden cart. To emphasize its primary importance the path to the front door might be wide enough for 2 people to walk side by side (4 ½ feet).

These paths are made of the most attractive material you have, as they make a bigger visual statement.  These tend to be hard and include stone, cobbles, brick, flagstone, concrete. Loose materials like gravel aren’t a good idea near the house because they can get tracked inside and play havoc with wood floors.

You might also add lights, containers, planting beds, pergolas and ornamentation to further distinguish the primary paths and emphasize their importance. I have never found it necessary to have a camber on a path, but this may be needed on very wide paths or in slow draining soils.

Secondary paths: These paths take you to the less important parts of the garden and tend to be curved or meandering. They are also used to create a sense of discovery and to take you on adventures. These paths branch off from the primary paths and are usually narrower (24 – 36” wide).

The materials for these paths tend to be softer and more informal than the primary paths, though they may include a little of those for continuity. Commonly used materials include gravel, decomposed granite, wood chips, pine needles and stepping stones.

Minor paths: These provide access to the least used parts of the garden and may get smaller and smaller until eventually there aren’t any defined paths at all. Put them in the places where you already walk anyway. They are rarely paved and usually consist

of bare earth. All you are really doing is defining the route you want people to take.

These paths only need to be wide enough for one person to walk on (as little as 12” wide),

Access to densely planted growing areas might simply consist of a few stepping stones. Their purpose is to make you step in the same place every time and so reduce compaction.

Permeability and paths

As much as half of the average garden may be impervious to water, and when multiplied by the tens of millions this has significant ecological effects. Impervious paving prevents infiltration and increases storm runoff and so reduces the amount of water entering aquifers. Paved areas also absorb heat, causing urban areas to get hotter (the heat island effect) and disrupt healthy gas exchange between the air and soil.

We should minimize the areas of impermeable paving in our gardens so rainfall can soak in to the ground close to where it lands. We should also find a way to channel runoff from existing impervious surfaces (such as rooftops and driveways) to where it can percolate into the soil. Any water that leaves your property is wasted and in dry areas you just can’t afford to lose it.

The most obvious permeable paving materials are gravel and wood chips, however any material will work if it is composed of small enough units, so water can soak in to the ground between them. This includes brick, broken concrete, and stone pavers.

Making paths more interesting

Paths can be made more interesting with a little imagination. You might have different paving materials on different levels, or you might break up long paths with sections of different materials. If you are going to switch to an entirely different paving material, you should do so at a natural transition point, such as an archway, gate or steps.

The width of the path doesn’t have to be uniform from beginning to end. They often get wider at curves destinations and intersections (these wider areas can

be used as temporary storage areas for materials such as mulch). They may also get narrower as they get further away from the main garden, to give a sense of

depth and importance (obviously this is easier to do with loose paving materials than with hard paving).

Break up long stretches of path with stopping places, such as a pergola, a fruit tree, a seat, an unusual plant, a sculpture or a pond. A junction of two paths could have an interesting tree or other object located near it. A path that ends abruptly should have something of interest there, perhaps a half hidden ornament or a seat.

Arches and arbors can be used to make a special path stand out (and give shade too). They also act as a transition point, giving you a way to separate and define two areas.

Ornamentation

The look of any path can be enhanced with a little ornamentation. You can embed colored tiles, pebbles, broken crockery, glass, or anything else you want to immortalize. A good place for this is at intersections, where the path widens.

Slopes

As the angle of a slope increases walking becomes less comfortable and eventually impossible (steep paths are also prone to erosion). You then have the option of making steps or angling the path up the slope (even switchbacks). Both of these involve a considerable amount of extra work. See Steps for more on this.

Paving materials

Paths are an important unifying element and should be made from materials that are appropriate for your house and garden. Local materials are usually preferable as they help to give a regional feel, are often cheaper and often have less environmental costs.

Frequently used paths around the house are usually paved with hard-wearing materials such as flagstone, cobbles, tile or brick. It’s nice to be able to go out of the house barefoot and walk around the immediate area in comfort. You don’t need hard paving everywhere however, and as you move away from the house the paving materials should become softer and more natural. The paths furthest from the house will be the softest and most natural (they are often simply compacted earth).

The color of the path material may be significant too. In sunny climates light colored paths can cause unpleasant glare, while dark colors can get very hot (this can be beneficial in cold climates because snow and ice will thaw faster). The best colors are generally the earth tones, which is why most common commercial paving materials come in these shades.

Number of materials

Large expanses of the same paving tend to be boring, so its common to mix and match different materials. Two materials generally work best, one dominant and one complementary. The rule of thumb is don’t use more than three.

The right material

The ideal paving material is durable (or easily replaced), porous, attractive and provides a good surface to walk on (non-slip, stable and fairly even). Ideally it would also be inexpensive, but that’s asking a lot. Depending upon your choice of paving, the paths can cost nothing or they can be the most expensive part of the garden.

Hard materials

Wood rounds: These can be free if you have suitable logs on site and a chainsaw. They are partly buried so their top surface is level with the ground. This must be done carefully and evenly if they are to look good and not be a tripping hazard.

Wood rounds should be made of a rot resistant wood such as Black Locust, Chestnut, Oak or Redwood (be aware that the sapwood is much less resistant and will rot before the heartwood). However you can square up wooden rounds for a tighter fit (they then become wooden squares) and in doing so you trim off a lot of the sapwood.

Wood: Sawn lumber is sometimes used as a path material, but is hard to justify unless the wood is salvaged and rot resistant. I have seen an interesting short path made from scrap redwood 2 x 4’s buried on edge. Even then it is not really durable enough for a permanent path, as any time it is in contact with the soil it will eventually rot. Wood is more suited to use as a boardwalk for maintaining a level on very uneven slopes, or over water or marshy areas.

Stone

Stone can be used for paths in a variety of ways, to give many different effects.

Pebbles: These can be used loose like gravel, but they are not the easiest surface to walk on. Sometimes a thin layer is embedded into concrete to provide an ornamental surface. Pebble mosaics are a vernacular art form and can be quite spectacular. They are time consuming to create however.

Cobbles: You might be able to get these larger pebbles from a streambed, or from the soil if very stony. When laid flattest side up they make an attractive path, though some skill is needed to lay them. They are usually set in concrete, packed tightly to minimize the visible concrete (you can pack smaller pebbles between the larger ones). You might also use larger cobbles at the edges of the path and smaller ones in the middle.

Pavers: These were originally blocks of granite or sandstone, but those are now so expensive that they are usually made of imitation stone (aka concrete). They are laid like bricks on a bed of sand or concrete. They look great but there is the drawback that you usually have to buy them.

Stepping stones: These irregular pieces of fieldstone are spaced one pace apart so you step on each in turn (hence stepping stones!) They work well in dense plantings to stop you walking on the established beds and plants and compacting the soil. It is important that they are laid the right walking distance apart; otherwise they won’t be comfortable to walk one.

Flagstone: These are the ultimate natural paving material, very attractive, flat, smooth, durable and quite formal. They are particularly useful for sitting areas, as they provide a smooth, hard level surface.

Unfortunately flagstones are unrealistically expensive where I live (and rarely available used).

Flagstones are so heavy they stay put under their own weight, so only need to be laid on a bed of sand. This is useful if you may have to move them at some time in the future. They can also be laid on five blobs of concrete over a base of compacted soil. Don’t buy flagstones that are less than 2” thick as they crack easily.

Large areas of flagstone sometimes have the occasional stone missing and the space is filled with plants or different paving material.

Very smooth flagstone (such as marble) can get slippery when wet, icy or covered in algae.

In some places you can buy cast concrete flagstones. These work well, but have the disadvantages of being concrete.

Fieldstone

Irregularly shaped fieldstone is cheaper than flagstone, but more complicated to use (laying them is like doing a jigsaw puzzle). If you can’t find a piece that fits you can leave out the odd piece and put in low-growing herbs or other plants. Also leave wide gaps between the pieces so creeping plants can grow between them (scatter flower seed there).

Brick: Salvaged brick is a great paving material. It is flat, smooth, durable, porous, easily laid and has an interesting texture and appearance. It can be laid in different patterns to create different effects. They are also small enough units that they can be used for curving pathways.

It is often said that bricks for outdoor use should be special engineering bricks, as ordinary house bricks can eventually disintegrate if exposed to repeated frost. I don’t see this as a big problem. If you set your bricks in sand, any that start to fall apart can easily be pulled out and replaced.

Set the bricks on a bed of sand or crushed stone and you will be able to reuse them at a later date (if you set them in concrete this becomes much harder). If they become uneven over time just take them up and add more sand.

Concrete: Poured concrete is one of the cheapest paving materials, though you have to use some imagination if you want it to look good. It is also very versatile and can be finished in a variety of different ways. You can wash and brush the surface to expose the aggregate, carve it to look like tiles or put small stones or pebbles on the surface. It can be stamped, colored (with paint stain or acid stain), brushed, sprayed and otherwise disguised.

A large area of concrete (a patio or driveway) should have metal reinforcing, be 3-4” thick and expansion joints every 8 feet.

An easy way to make a nice looking, but inexpensive path or patio, is to lay down a grid of bricks and fill the squares in between with concrete. You can then disguise the concrete surface as you see fit.

Concrete is also available pre-cast into a wide variety of paving materials, from imitation flagstone to imitation sets. Some of these look quite good, others have too much of a commercial appearance for my taste.

Tile: These can be used for special areas near the house (a courtyard or patio. They give a very refined almost interior feeling, but they usually need a solid base of poured concrete. Some types of tile are totally weatherproof; but others may gradually break up when exposed to frost, so get something suitable for your climate. Tile needs to be non-slip, otherwise it may get dangerous when wet.

Some inventive people have dug clay locally and fired their own clay tiles in a fire pit (if I had a hat it would be off to them). This is a great idea and worth further investigation.

Soft materials

Soft paths feel quite different from hard ones and give the garden a softer and more natural ambience. They are also generally cooler as most don’t heat up as much in summer.

Loose materials don’t work very well on slopes. Lightweight materials such as shredded bark or wood chips can get washed downhill in very wet weather. Even heavier materials can slowly move downhill with gravity, if not held in place. Most soft materials require edging (see below).

Loose materials can allow weeds to grow right through them, or even in them. The best way to deal with this is to lay down a layer of cardboard as a weed barrier.

A cubic yard of a loose material such as gravel or mulch will cover 160 square feet to a depth of 2”.

Earth: The simplest path material is bare earth that has been compacted by frequent use. It works great in dry climates (most of my paths are earth), but can present problems in very wet areas, where it can get muddy and grow weeds (especially if not used frequently).

Shredded bark and wood chips

These materials work well for informal paths, but eventually break down into organic matter, so periodically have to be renewed by adding a fresh layer on top. 

These materials can also be used in more formal areas if you use edging to keep them in place.

Straw: This is inexpensive and attractive, but breaks down quickly (perhaps too quickly) and needs renewing annually. It can also be slippery (especially on slippery slopes). In very dry weather it can also become a fire hazard. It’s best to avoid hay as it contains too many weed seeds.

Grass turf: This is sometimes used for paths where the climate is amenable to grass growth. Just mow them with a push mower and use the clippings as mulch on the beds at the sides. Of course they will also need edging occasionally as the grass tries to creep out into the bed (which all means more work).

Sawdust: If you can get this in quantity it can be a pretty good path material. It is very low in nitrogen and so is said to deter weed growth (it may also deter slugs). It eventually breaks down and adds organic matter to the soil.

Sand: This is sometimes used for paths, though it will need a weed barrier underneath it and edging to confine it. In Japanese gardens it is commonly raked into patterns.

Decomposed granite: This fine gravel dust packs down to create a fairly firm surface. In many ways it is like packed earth, but cleaner and neater. Be careful about using it near the house, as it can get tracked inside and scratch wooden floors.

Decomposed granite is usually applied in two separate  1 ½” deep layers. The first layer is put down and tamped firmly, then the process is repeated with the second layer. Portland cement powder is sometimes added to the mix to make it even firmer. An edging material is commonly usually used to keep everything in place.

Gravel (round) and chippings (sharp): These easy to use paving materials drain well and lend themselves to fluid random shapes. They are relatively cheap if you pick them up yourself, or even free if you have a suitable source nearby.

Both of these materials make a noisy crunching sound when walked on. Some people like this sound and the fact that it announces that someone is walking on it.

Gravel doesn’t work well near the house as it can get tracked inside (where it can scratch wooden floors). It can also be a problem on slopes as it tends to want to move downhill.

Gravel needs a firm base and some kind of edging to keep it in place. A weed barrier of landscape fabric is often used to stop weeds growing up through (which they tend to do otherwise). Even then weeds will sometimes grow in the gravel itself.

Carpet:

Old wool carpet has been cut into strips and laid down in paths. Put it upside down and its woven backing blends in quite well. Put it the right way up for that indoors outside effect.

Path construction

Start building your paths by removing any good topsoil and throwing it to either side to make a growing bed (or use it elsewhere). The materials used and the type of soil dictates how much of a foundation you need for a path. You may only have to excavate 2” for a decomposed granite path, but you may have to go down 8” or more for a brick and concrete path (if you want the top of the path to be level with the ground). If it isn’t possible to excavate you could just raise the soil on either side of the path to create raised beds.

Drainage is particularly important with impervious materials, as rain may stand on it, or run off in streams in heavy rain. A base of gravel (or sand over gravel) can be used to improve drainage in wet areas. A camber in the middle will also help. You should also avoid creating low spots where water may accumulate and sit. A downhill path could become a torrent in wet weather if you don’t design it carefully and give that water somewhere to go. Also never have any impervious paving sloping towards your house (for obvious reasons).

Before you put down any paving you may want to lay down a layer of cardboard or thick newspaper to suppress weeds. If you are laying down a hard permanent path you might also want to run a few lengths of 3” pipe under it at strategic places, in case you ever need to run a wire or irrigation pipe underneath it.

Edging materials

These are used to define the edges of  a path and give it a more structured and formal appearance. Their use may also be necessary to keep loose paving materials (mulch, gravel) in place.

A variety of materials have been used for path edging, the main criteria is that it be compatible with the paving. Common materials include brick, wooden boards, stone or concrete pavers and recycled plastic ‘wood’ bender board. No-cost options include sections of tree branches set vertically, recycled bottles or pieces of broken tile (set on edge), twig hoops, poles and short logs.

You could also use no materials at all, Instead you just dig out the path to 3” below the surrounding soil and use the soil edging to keep the loose paving in place.

Strips of galvanized sheet metal 12” deep have been used to contain creeping plants. Smaller pieces could be used as edging (though beware of sharp edges). Deeper pieces could be used as a gopher barrier.

Stepping-stones

These are a good option if you need to access an area for harvesting, without compacting the soil, These need to be flat, secure and have a rough texture so they don’t get slippery when wet.

Bridges

The simplest bridge is a fallen log or wide plank. If it is so long it sags in the middle, put a support under it.

If you have the right site a bridge can be very ornamental, as well as being an archetypal element, giving a psychological effect of transition. Don’t have a bridge purely as an ornamental feature, it only makes sense if there is a need for one to cross water or a ravine. A bridge to nowhere just looks silly (a long pond is no excuse either).

Ramps

You can’t run a wheelbarrow up or down steps, so may have to provide some other way to get it around. The simplest option is to have an alternate route that avoids the steps, but this can be a pain if it goes too far out of the way. You could also have a strategically placed ramp (maximum slope is 1:20 for ease of use), or you might just have a temporary plank to turn the steps into a ramp.

Steps

Steeply sloping gardens require steps to make them easily accessible. These must be practical: wide, strong, easy to walk on and non-slip. They should also be attractive and constructed of materials that match the house and paths. You can often use the same path material for the treads and use bricks or landscape ties for the risers. Split logs (¼ of a whole log) can be used for rustic steps with mulch paths (I have used split pieces of Oak firewood).

Calculating steps   The formula for outdoor steps is twice the riser height plus the tread should equal 26”. The path treads should be 11 – 18” deep and the risers should be 4 – 7”. Your actual sizes will vary according to the slope, but a 6” riser and 14” tread is the norm. Whatever measurement you use they should be consistent in height and depth. Don’t have too many steps in one flight. If this is happening put in a landing (at least 36” long). This can also be used to change the run calculations).   You can change the depth of your treads according to your design, but the height of the risers should be pretty close to this (because it is the dimension that most human legs find most comfortable, most of the time).  

Steps don’t just enable you to get from one level to another, they are a transition space that gives you a place to pause before moving on to another area of the garden. They are also a focal point and an opportunity to make the garden more interesting. Steps can be curved rather than straight. Wide steps help to unify the areas they connect, whereas narrow ones tend to separate them. Deep steps can be used as informal seats and as shelves for container plants.

Any even remotely hazardous steps need a secure handrail to prevent people falling down them. This should be fairly smooth, so it’s comfortable to hold and doesn’t give you splinters.

Planting for paths and steps

Plants can be used to make paths more interesting and productive. You might create a border of compact little edibles, such as Alpine Strawberry, Alyssum, Carrot, Basil Garlic Chives, Parsley, Lettuce, Thyme. You might use aromatic plants as edging, and in crevices in pavement, where they will emit fragrance when walked upon. If the paving isn’t particularly attractive, you can soften it with Corsican Mint, Chamomile, Pennyroyal, Marjoram, Thyme, Viola or Bugle (Ajuga).

For obvious reasons you shouldn’t use spiny or very prickly plants alongside paths. You should also avoid very vigorous or tall plants near the path, as they will encroach and so require regular trimming. Low plants on either side of a path make it feel wider, while tall ones make it feel narrower.

Frequently traveled paths can be planted with plants that require frequent attention, as you will be passing them every day. You often see long planting beds at either side of a path.

Don’t put messy fruit trees near paths, driveways or other paved areas. They can create a mess that needs cleaning up and may even be a slipping hazard.

You can recover the planting area lost to paths (as well as provide shade and create screens) by the use of trellises or tunnels. These can by planted with fruiting vines, or climbing annual vegetables such as Cucurbits and Beans.

Driveways

Cars have come to dominate so much of our lives that I prefer to keep them out of the garden as much as possible. I don’t want a driveway running all over my property, I want it as short and as close to the road as possible. This minimizes the amount of wasted land, paving materials, maintenance and snow removal. This is particularly important in small gardens where space is at a premium.

Many town gardens have the garage behind the house by the back fence, with a driveway running the full depth of the property. This makes no sense at all, especially as relatively few people keep their cars in them anyway (in Santa Cruz they usually have to rent them out as living space to pay the property tax). If you have one of these long paved driveways you may want to think about reducing its length to that of a car or two (city planning laws may insist on you having a number of off road parking spaces though).

Paved driveways have other uses as well as parking cars. They are a good place to work on cars or other projects and make a safe play area for children. They can also be used to collect rainwater, if you make sure there is no oil, antifreeze or other chemicals on them.

If you are building a new driveway and would like to reduce the area of impervious paving surface (and the cost), you could create paved wheel tracks. These consist of 2 parallel paved tracks for the car wheels to run on. The area between the tracks can be filled with gravel, grass or whatever else will grow there. I saw one very steep driveway with steps between the tracks.

The size of a driveway   Traditional landscaping says that a driveway should be a minimum of 8 – 10’ wide on the straight and 10 – 12’ on the curves. Some designers say 12 feet wide is better (they probably drive Ford Expeditions or Hummers), but of course that takes more material. A parking area should have at least an 18’ turning radius. A T-shaped driveway saves space over a turnaround or circular driveway.

In cold climates it’s nice if the driveway gets daytime sun, so ice or snow will melt quickly. You should also think about where the snow can go when clearing the driveway. Incidentally don’t use salt to de-ice paths as it is harmful to plant growth. Use calcium chloride, wood ashes or sand instead.

Coping with rainwater runoff

Runoff from rainstorms quite literally moves mountains and can remove a few tons of poorly designed driveway overnight. A porous driveway must be designed to handle large amounts of water without washing away. I found that a lot of the water coming down my driveway originated from above. If this is the case try to divert it before it reaches the driveway.

An impervious driveway should be designed so all of the runoff water has somewhere to go, other than running off down storm drains.

If your driveway already exists, you should try and channel the runoff water to where it can be used. In an arid climate you might actually value this impervious surface as a rainwater catchment area. If possible you might modify the shape of your driveway to collect rainwater and channel it into a storage pond, tank or retention basin. You could also plant fruit trees and other food plants along the driveway where they can use the runoff directly.

In wet climates you might want a covered walkway from the house to the car.

Materials for driveways

If you are building a new driveway it’s best to use a permeable material, unless you plan to harvest the runoff water. If your driveway is fairly level, gravel is one of the cheapest paving materials. This requires a good solid base and edging (and maybe a sloping sub-grade to move water), The gravel is simply dropped in  a series of piles and raked level (it couldn’t be easier to lay). Decomposed granite can also work well (use a 3” layer for a driveway and compact it with a roller).

Sloping driveways are more difficult, because they have to be able to deal with large amounts of water. If you have the money you could use porous paving blocks. These may be made from recycled plastic or concrete and are filled with gravel or soil. These allow water to percolate through and (if you use soil) plants to grow up between them.

Parking spaces

Traditional gardens didn’t have these, but like it or not they are now essential in most cases (and even legally required by city planners. I favor a distinct separation between garden and car, with the car on the outside (perhaps an opaque fence or screen and gate). You might have a small parking area near the house for residents and a larger one further away for visitors. You could also park your car on the driveway out close to the street. Maybe create a turnaround at the edge of the road and fence it off. A simple patch of pebbles can give you a cheap and semi-permanent parking space.

A space 9 x 18 is considered the minimum size for a parking space. If space is at a premium you could build a carport or arbor and grow a living roof or vines. This not only disguises it, but also recovers the growing space.

Of course you might totally disagree with me about cars and want to make yours the main focal point of your garden. You might even want to be able to drive your car up onto the patio, so you can sit and enjoy your garden in comfort. You could create the ultimate American garden, a drive-through.

ct separation between garden and car, with the car on the outside (perhaps an opaque fence or screen and gate). You might have a small parking area near the house for residents and a larger one further away for visitors. You could also park your car on the driveway out close to the street. Maybe create a turnaround at the edge of the road and fence it off. A simple patch of pebbles can give you a cheap and semi-permanent parking space.

A space 9 x 18 is considered the minimum size for a parking space. If space is at a premium you could build a carport or arbor and grow a living roof or vines. This not only disguises it, but also recovers the growing space.

Of course you might totally disagree with me about cars and want to make yours the main focal point of your garden. You might even want to be able to drive your car up onto the patio, so you can sit and enjoy your garden in comfort. You could create the ultimate American garden, a drive-through.

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