41 gorgeous garden paths

Get ideas for your own welcoming walkway from some of the West's best garden designs

Thyme-fringed pavers

Photo by D.A. Horchner; written by Kathleen N. Brenzel

Thyme-fringed pavers

Creeping thyme (Thymus praecox arcticus) grows from 2- to 3-inch gaps between sandstone pavers in this garden in Old Snowmass, Colorado; in summer, it’s covered with small pink flowers. The path, whose pavers are set on a 4-inch layer of compacted sand, leads to a kitchen garden. A standing stone and boulder benches—made of Comanche Moss sandstone and flanking the path—echo the shape of the distant Elk Mountains.

Design: Richard Shaw, Design Workshop, Aspen, CO (designworkshop.com)

Rugged path

Photo by Chris Leschinsky; written by Kathleen N. Brenzel

Rugged path

Billowy grasses and dry-climate perennials give this pebbly path in Paso Robles, CA, a rugged look.

Design: Jeffrey Gordon Smith Landscape Architecture, Los Osos, CA (jgsdesigns.com)

Ribbon effect

Photo by Stefan Thuilot; written by Kathleen N. Brenzel

Ribbon effect

Bands of thyme running between 2-foot-square sand-washed concrete pavers stripe a winding path in Alamo, California. The bold look adds structure to the blowsy backyard meadow of tawny Carex testacea grasses, accented with pink ‘Maori Chief’ phormium and yellow kangaroo paw.

Design: Stefan Thuilot, Thuilot Associates, Berkeley (thuilot.com)

Lawn lattice

Photo by D.A. Horchner; written by Kathleen N. Brenzel

Lawn lattice

In Aspen, pavers of Colorado buff sandstone form a trail across this Kentucky bluegrass lawn to a grove of aspens. Set low enough for a mower to pass over them easily, the pavers were placed atop a base of compacted sand. Then the sod was planted around and between them.

Design: Kurt Culbertson, Design Workshop, Aspen (designworkshop.com)

Stairway to heaven

Photo by Stefan Thuilot; written by Kathleen N. Brenzel

Stairway to heaven

Decomposed-granite steps edged with concrete nudge this path upslope in a backyard in Portola Valley, California. Because the steps taper from 8 feet wide at the bottom to 3 feet wide at the top, they appear to cover more ground than they do. (A Cor-Ten steel wall enhances the effect; from a 4 1/2-foot base, it shrinks to 2 feet high at the top.) Dasylirion and dwarf lavender line the path.

Design: Stefan Thuilot, Thuilot Associates, Berkeley (thuilot.com)

Water crossing

Photo by Stefan Thuilot; written by Kathleen N. Brenzel

Water crossing

Bluestone pavers traverse this water feature in Alamo. The designer attached them to concrete pillars built into the bottom; each one is cantilevered 4 inches out from its pillar. The dark Mexican pebbles lining the pool and the dark-hued pillars make the water more reflective. The fountain in the foreground is made from an old millstone, polished smooth on top.

Design: Stefan Thuilot, Thuilot Associates, Berkeley (thuilot.com)

Extra eye candy

Photo by Chris Leschinsky; written by Kathleen N. Brenzel

Extra eye candy

A path is more interesting when there’s something to stop and look at along the way. In this coastal California garden, a native dudleya pops out from between stones in a low wall; Carex flacca fringes the wall’s base. Other eye-catching options: shapely boulders, a piece of garden art, or a cluster of empty olive jugs. Add fragrant plants nearby to sweeten the journey.

Design: Jeffrey Gordon Smith Landscape Architecture, Los Osos, CA (jgsdesigns.com)

Softened edges

Photo by Holly Lepere; written by Kathleen N. Brenzel

Softened edges

Plant low grasses or perennials along your  path. Lavender and golden Mexican feather grass spill onto the gravel walkway at left, while creeping thyme peeks out from beneath them. Other billowy path edgers include Acorus gramineus ‘Ogon’, blue fescue, Carex albula ‘Frosty Curls’, Japanese forest grass, lamb’s ears, and sage.

Design: Margie Grace Design Associates (gracedesignassociates.com)

Goal-minded path

Photo by Chris Leschinsky; written by Kathleen N. Brenzel

Goal-minded path

Every path needs a destination, whether it’s a garden shed, a tree-shaded seat, or a patio with a vista. Here, a bench is positioned to take in the view of a coastal estuary. If your path ends at a fence, set a colorful solid gate in front to suggest that the journey might continue. If the path leads through an arching grape arbor, put a glazed urn or birdbath at the far end.

Design: Jeffrey Gordon Smith Landscape Architecture, Los Osos, CA (jgsdesigns.com)

Barefoot in the sand

Bruce Botnick

Barefoot in the sand

A 6-inch-deep ribbon of fluffy pink sand meanders through beachy grasses (including Sesleria and Muhlenbergia) in this Malibu garden. ­Arbutus ‘Marina’ trees add shade while pale yellow ‘Graham Thomas’ roses and kangaroo paws fleck the “dunes” with sunny color.

The best part? It's cheap and easy to create: Dig a channel 6 inches deep in the soil, then just pour in the sand. At a building-supply yard, you’ll pay $52 to $62 for a ton—enough to cover about 43 square feet.

 

 

Turn part of a driveway into a path

Photo by Bill Ross

Transform a driveway

Landscape designer Mary Baum transformed the unused back half of this Portland driveway into a curving path, making room for a lush garden bed to the side.

More: Reinvent your driveway

Seattle path

Photo by Norm Plate

Grassy path for sun or shade

Plant mounding grasses for a modern look. Here, they line a path of crushed basalt in a Seattle garden.

Read more about this mod path 

Courtyard garden

Holly Lepere

Stamped concrete path

A curved path, high walls, soft greens, and a bubbling fountain make this Southern California garden a soothing escape.

The broad path connects the gate to the front door. The walkway is built of stamped concrete and has a dusting of multicolored sand for extra texture.

See more of this Southern California courtyard

Lavender-edged gravel path

Steven Gunther

Fragrant journey

Designers know a great path includes an intriguing destination. Here, a yellow-glazed container catches the eye at the end of a lavender-edged gravel path.

Design: Lucinda Lester, Lucinda Lester Design, Santa Barbara (805/565-9252).

How to grow lavender

Grassy path

Photo by William P. Wright

Path of grass

A narrow carpet of grass, all that’s left of a once-expansive (30- by 60-foot) lawn, meanders between curved planting beds. To make room for the beds, the homeowners removed sod around the turf’s edges bit by bit as they discovered new plants they wanted to try.

See more of this Northwest garden

Flagstone path in Pasadena

Steven Gunther

Wooded escape

A flagstone path in Pasadena leads through a garden underplanted with New Zealand flax shrubs and grasses.

Blue-leafed groundcovers create a delicate tracery between pavers.

Path in Alamo CA

Thomas J. Story

Grasses and shale

Fractured shale fills gaps between concrete pavers in Dennis and Susan Hourany’s yard in Alamo, CA. 

Yarrow and grasses soften the path’s edges.

Design: Mathew Henning and Heather Anderson Oakland (510/531-3095)

Southwest getaway

Photo: Jennifer Cheung

Desert garden path

Bold furnishings and dense plantings can help you create a getaway in your own backyard, even where gardening can be a challenge.

Individual concrete pads create the illusion that they're hovering lightly above the desert floor. Their exposed aggregate finish blends in with the native soil's stony texture.

See more of this wild desert backyard

Grass circle path

Steven Gunther

Grass circle path

Grass circles appear to float on a river of black pebbles that winds through a grove of bamboo in Malibu, CA.

Design: Mia Lehrer and Associates, Los Angeles (213/384-3844), for Lee and Carmen Ritenour.

Northwest vegetable garden

Photo: John Granen

Paths connect raised beds

Generous gravel paths between raised vegetable beds give this Washington garden its casual farmer's market style.

Wide enough to accommodate wheelbarrows, the gravel paths ― laid atop landscape fabric ― the paths stay mostly clean and weed-free.

See more of this Northwest vegetable garden

Garden art

Jennifer Cheung

Garden art

In Newport, CA, geometric steppingstones crossing a small pool give the illusion of walking on water.

A piece of art tucked amid greenery at the end of the path treats visitors to a visual surprise.

 

Concrete path

Jim McCausland

Curving through green

Flanked by blue star creeper and Japanese spurge, a concrete "stone" path curves through Dan and Pat Nelson's garden in Gig Harbor, WA.

Design: Scott Junge, Rosedale Gardens, Gig Harbor (253/851-7333)

Meditation walk

Steven A. Gunther

Meditation walk

A meandering path encircles a central planting island. Crunchy pea gravel gives the path texture, and Boral bricks in Savannah Brown are designed to slow the journey. 

Ocotillo

Steven Gunther

Ocotillo

(Fouquieria splendens)

Native to: Southwest

A decomposed granite path passes through a fence and gate made from ocotillo. The winding walkway invites exploration of more of this casual low-water landscape.

More: All about ocotillo

Permeable paving

William Wright

Rain-smart path

Both the multicolored flagstones set in sand and the ¾-inch granite gravel allow rainfall to pass through to plant roots. River rock edges the planting beds.

More ideas from this rain-savvy garden

Flagstone path

Chris Leschinsky

A walk through color

Morro Bay, CA

Orange gaillardia brightens the flagstone path and marshlike plantings in this winner from Sunset's Garden Design Awards.

Southwestern bridge path

Photo: Steven A. Gunther

Desert rose path

The desert rose color of the fine gravel makes this Southwest garden's path stand out from the coarser gray gravel mulch around it, inviting you to follow its lazy course.

Small wooden bridges span the path. In summer, the dry creekbed is a river of gold, thanks to the generous daisylike blooms of Perky Sue (Hymenoxys scaposa).

See more of this New Mexico garden escape

Gravel and stone

Norm Plate

A bridge for seasonal runoff

Mix gravel with rocks of varying sizes to add interest in large areas. In the landscaping pictured here, this technique also solved a drainage problem.

The gravel path, edged on the right with 'Libelle' hydrangea and a bank of maidenhair ferns, straddles a cluster of large, flat stones that creates a bridge over a seasonal runoff channel.

Water runs through a pipe hidden beneath the channel's river rocks to a catchment pond at the far end.

Pale flagstone path

Steven Gunther

Inviting entrance

A half-inch of decomposed granite over a compacted base forms a firm clean surface that drains well when summer rains drench this garden in Rancho Mirage, CA.
The path's irregular shape, edged with pale flagstone, encourages visitors to slow down and enjoy the yellow-flowering palo verde agaves and opuntia and barrel cactus along the way.

Design: Michael Buccino Associates, Palm Desert CA (760/772-7166) for Paul and Carrie Stone. Installation by Randy Buccino.

Arizona garden path

Photography by Jennifer Cheung

Make a park out of a path

This entry path feel more like a nature trail than a garden walk. Thyme grows between steps; boulders, cactus, and rosemary fringe the path’s edges.

Even before guests get to the house, wide steps (made of concrete aggregate) encourage them to slow down and enjoy the garden.

If your yard doesn’t have enough sun for thyme, tuck Corsican mint or Japanese sweet flag between your steps or pavers; both have scented foliage. Stagger your pavers to slow the “journey.”

See more of this Arizona garden

Rock border

Norm Plate

Rock border

When a gravel path and adjacent planting beds are new, the transition from bare soil to gravel can give the garden an unfinished look.

One solution: Define the path edges with larger stones. As plants grow, they'll tumble over and hide the rocks.

In this garden, lady's-mantle with chartreuse blooms surrounds the stone fountain in foreground, while cape fuchsia (Phygelius) with orange-pink flowers spills into the path.

Classic brick potager paths

Photo: Steven Gunther

Classic kitchen garden paths

Brick paths help define this kitchen garden designed in the style of a classic potager. Crops grow in small rectangular, square, and circular beds separated by walkways.

The little plots and generous paths make weeding, watering, harvesting, and other chores accessible. And the geometric patterns add order.

See this old-world-style kitchen garden

Gravel entry

Norm Plate

Mediterranean style

A crunchy gravel entry is a clean casual foil for plant textures and colors.

Japanese silver grass billows over the basalt wall at right beside climbing hydrangea.

'Maori Sunrise' New Zealand flax in a container punctuates the small pond in the middle while 'Palace Purple' heuchera mugho pine and gunnera fill a bed near the house. Cotoneaster spills onto gravel.

More about landscaping with gravel

 

Great path

E. Spencer Toy

Two-day path project

You can install this pretty path in about a weekend. (The plantings take a little longer to mature; they'll look like this in about nine months.)

The gently curving path invites you to stroll among the plants, and leads to a small circular patio.

Instructions and planting plan

Easy path

Thomas J. Story

Patio entry

Decorative and functional, a dry-laid flagstone and mulch path leads the way to a patio retreat.

A border of ferns and red-flowered Cuphea ignea creates a leafy entry.

In the back planter, a tall mallow hedge screens a vegetable garden.

Hidden

Claire Curran

Ingenious hidden path

How do you access a side-yard utility area with a hedge in the way? A secret path through a hidden opening.

Designer Brenda Gousha planted two 6-foot-long overlapping hedges of Carolina laurel cherries (Prunus caroliniana) and ran a 2-foot-wide path between them.

Gousha says walls of foliage also make the perfect outdoor room. "When my husband and I sit out here, we're just a few feet from the street. But we have complete privacy." 

Full story

Design: Brenda Gousha, Sisters' Specialty Gardens, Rancho Santa Fe (760/473-0234)

Front

Norm Plate

Storybook setting

Irish moss adds classic charm to an informal path flanked by river birches.

Creeping Jenny, yellow-green Japanese forest grass, campanula, and variegated boxwood mingle in the garden bed.

Lawn-free makeover

Thomas J. Story

Easy-care front yard

Flagstone paths curve through a low-water front yard. A low berm of soil on either side of the walk adds interest, and weed cloth topped with permeable pea gravel allows excess water to soak into the earth rather than run off into the street.

More lessons from this front yard

A magical space

Norm Plate

A magical space

Curving flagstones lead to a dining terrace tucked into a sloped garden.

The lush plantings include fullmoon maple (Acer japonicum), deciduous magnolias, native ferns (Adiantum aleuticum, Blechnum spicant, and Polystichum munitum), hellebores, rhododendrons, Siberian irises, smoke tree, and yew.

More about this garden

Keyhole vegetable garden

Norman A. Plate

Keyhole vegetable garden

A central pathway wraps around this veggie patch, making working the beds a snap.

It's positioned so the opening faces south; the larger plants in back (beans, tomatoes, and sunflowers) won't shade smaller plants.

The gardener tilled the planting areas 8 to 12 inches deep, but didn't till the keyhole (path). As long as the ground there is packed, weeds will have a hard time sprouting.

Get the planting plan

Thyme travel

Steven Gunther

Thyme travel

Creeping thyme isn't strong enough for rough activities like soccer, but it handles ordinary foot traffic with ease. That's why Lynne Blackman chose it to line the paths of a classical labyrinth at her Del Mar, CA, home.

Like a giant rug laid out on the grass, blue-gray thyme is soft underfoot. River cobbles mark off the path's edges.

Lynne and her husband, Vernon, walk the labyrinth regularly. Children, who don't yet appreciate the rewards of a meditative pace, race through it. 

More about this path

 

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