So you’ve set your goals and have a scale drawing of the land you plan to garden. What’s next? Paths! Paths keep you from compacting soil and lend visual interest to your garden. Some tips:
Establish a path hierarchy
Create wide paths with smaller branching paths. Think of the human circulatory system:
Or fractal patterns found in nature, like tree branches:
Now our property is so small that, when I’m done re-doing the backyard it will only have two main paths and one or two branching paths, but the path hierarchy concept is scalable to any piece of land large or small.
Put paths where people walk
Avoid what’s called in the landscape architecture biz “vanity paths,” i.e. paths that look good but aren’t actually used. If people are taking a shortcut, make that a path!
A comfortable path is probably no smaller than 18 inches. If you’re designing a public garden where wheelchair accessibility is an issue make the path no smaller than 3 feet. For two people to pass each other you need 5 to 6 feet, though a path that big would be for a larger piece of land than we own. Consider the size of any tools or wheelbarrows you might need to accommodate.
I’m fond of mulch. It’s free, easy to maintain and breaks down into soil. I’ve used gravel in the past–it looks nice but it can be hard to keep clean over time. Stepping stones also work nicely. As for edging, I’ve been using river rock as it’s easy to find in my area.
Create gathering areas
Paths should open up in to larger seating areas. We have a deck area for entertaining visitors and a smaller spot that I use as an outdoor office in the summer months. A school garden might have an outdoor classroom off of a main path.
I can’t emphasize how important paths are, both aesthetically and for preventing soil compaction. Years ago Kelly suggested the path we just put in and it’s a real improvement to the garden. Perhaps listening to your wife is a design lesson for another post!
Special thanks to Darren Butler and Scott Kleinrock for inspiring this post.