We tend to overlook paths, some quite large gardens don’t have them at all, leaving people to wonder aimlessly from one area to the next. Paths give a garden direction, guiding walkers to the most attractive parts, the best views and so on.
Materials for path surfaces should be chosen carefully, if only because there are so many available: brick, gravel, stone or concrete slabs, tanbark or grass itself. The appearance of a garden can be spoilt if the path looks out of place, or worse still if a variety of materials have been used without any regard to continuity.
Brick, especially old weathered brick, is an increasingly popular choice. Used near a house that has brick as part of its construction, in a patio or in paths leading deeper into the garden, it aids the transition from indoor to outdoor and seems to fit in whether the garden is traditional or contemporary in style.
Patterns in paving have a powerful effect, and should be used sparingly and with caution. For instance, bricks laid in a path all pointing the same way promotes action and momentum, encouraging people to march smartly along. A path laid with random stone slabs suggests a more leisurely pace, inviting the walker to stop every so often and look around.
All paths need solid foundations if the surface is not to become uneven and possibly dangerous as time goes by. Compressed hard core under a thin layer of sand and cement will be an effective ‘bed’ for most paving materials.
Tanbark should be used carefully. It will probably look out of place in a small inner-city garden, but could be just the thing in the country or on the city fringe. It has a tendency to spread itself beyond strict boundaries, aided by wind, birds and animals, so its best use is in the least formal parts, among trees or other plantings that are more or less haphazard.
If you are uncertain as to just what can be achieved in the space you have available, consult an HIA landscape architect or garden designer.