Add stylish and practical touches to your outdoor space with these great ideas for paths, patios, firepits, showers, and more
Space to unwind
Using large pavers and a sleek stone fireplace turns a small lawn between house and garage into a "decompression chamber" perfect for relaxing after work.
Terraced stone steps in a mix-and-match pattern creates a strong focal point, while "character" plants create visual interest on both sides of the path. Rusty-hued Carex testacea softens the front path, while green kniphofia, plum Heuchera ‘Obsidian’, Libertia peregrinans ‘Bronze Sword’, and euphorbia surround the ‘Karl Foerster’ grass. Across the path, drifts of Picea sitchensis ‘Papoose’, variegated iris, and Phormium ‘Dusky Chief’ encircle a ginkgo tree.
Budget-friendly curb appeal
A variety of heat-tolerant plants with low water requirements provide year-round interest. Pavers take up most of the space where thirsty grass might grow instead, creating a striking pattern while also helping save resources and money in the long run.
Replace a boring lawn with golden gravel dotted with an ornamental grass like deer grass (Muhlenbergia rigens), then add a few accent plants like blue-leaved Weber agave--all of which can withstand a low-water climate.
Gravel's earthy texture, its give underfoot, and its crunchy sound are the reasons why this oldest of hardscapes will always be perceived as the softest of paving materials. This 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.
Mediterranean gravel garden
A courtyard in the Mediterranean style is a natural spot for a gravel garden planted with lavender, New Zealand flax, and olive trees.
Irish moss adds classic charm to an informal steppingstone path flanked by river birches. Creeping Jenny, yellow-green Japanese forest grass, campanula, and variegated boxwood mingle in the garden bed.
Transform a driveway
Transform an unused back half of a driveway into a curving path of concrete pavers, making room for a lush garden bed to the side.
Concrete pavers line a driveway
Durable concrete pavers set in a regular pattern are a good match for the architectural style of the house, and their subtly varied colors help mediate the starkness of a black-and-white color scheme.
An artful walkway
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.
Welcoming gravel 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).
A stylish optical illusion
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.
A walk through color
Orange gaillardia brightens the flagstone path and marshlike plantings in this Morro Bay, CA garden.
Anchoring a living wall
The stone walkway and gravel path create a smooth counterpoint to the wild living wall featuring ferns, bromelaids, coral bells, spider plants, and elephant ears.
In this Malibu garden, grass circles appear to float on a river of black pebbles that winds through a grove of bamboo.
Chic cut-stone walkway
Large cut-stone squares create a smooth and polished look.
Connecting 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.
A curved path, high walls, soft greens, and a bubbling fountain make this 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.
Creating a 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.
Fieldstone path with flair
A fieldstone path made of small local stones winds through a shady moss garden decorated with ivy, ferns, and spring-flowering bulbs. Fieldstones have a more rustic look than flagstones, with rougher surfaces and more variation in shape and color.
Making 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.
Fractured shale fills gaps between concrete pavers in this yard; yarrow and grasses soften the path's edges.
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.
Set pebble path
Pebbles are too smooth and round to make a suitable paving if left free to roll around. But when set in concrete with their flattest side up, they create a perfectly navigable path with an interesting texture.
Mimicry with concrete
Flanked by blue star creeper and Japanese spurge, a concrete "stone" path curves through this lush garden in Gig Harbor, WA.
Pathway focal point
A stone fountain adds interest to a gravel path that winds through planting beds. To counter the gray tones, add pops of color: lady's-mantle with chartreuse blooms surrounds the fountain, while cape fuchsia (Phygelius) with orange-pink flowers spills into the path.
Simple flagstone path
This finished path features flagstones set in Salmon Bay gravel. As edging plants (blue fescue and petunias) grow, they'll create a graceful, soft edge.
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.
Lovely terraced staircase
Hefty granite boulders help anchor the hillside, and lined up along the terraced staircase, they form the perfect spot for displaying plants. The weeping orange sedge repeated on the left helps to soften the scene.
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.
Solving drainage problems in style
Mix gravel with rocks of varying sizes to add interest in large areas. 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.
Planting a conventional turfgrass lawn is not a water-wise solution in the arid West. Nor is paving a big area always practical, since that much hardscape creates a lot of heat and glare, says Nate Downey of Santa Fe Permaculture. But if you lace paving stones with ribbons of native buffalo grass (Buchloe dactyloides), you'll achieve an eye-calming "soft patio" effect, as Downey calls it, that needs much less water than a traditional bluegrass or fescue lawn.
Flagstone skirting a simple columnar fountain gives the impression of a path winding through a canyon. Yellow- and blue-flowering plants, such as agastache, butterfly bush, and Spanish broom, provide plenty of color near the entry and along the driveway and attract desired winged guests. The fountain in the center provides butterflies with a necessary supply of water.
Charming cobblestone look
Rectangular chunks of tumbled Connecticut bluestone, set on a bed of decomposed granite and sand, form a 12-foot-diameter dining patio in a wooded Berkeley backyard.
Connecting with your surroundings
A circular patio of tinted concrete aggregate is edged with rose flagstone. The naturalistic spa backing, tough plantings, and the paving’s rosy tones visually connect the patio to the surrounding desert.
Easy 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.
Old-World kitchen garden
Dining and gardening combine in this elegant potager where herbs and vegetables grow near the table. Herbs and edible plants grown in pot are cordoned off from the gravel path with a charming circular stone border.
Shady gravel patio
An elegant semicircular wall separates the gravel patio beneath a shady sycamore from the wilder garden beyond.
Squares and rounds
Colored stones, surrounded by pavers of stained concrete, create the illusion of a stream bubbling through the center of this 12-foot patio in Berkeley, CA.
Using recycled materials
Large and small aluminum letters, set between irregular chunks of black slate, gives this 8-foot-wide patio in Alameda, CA, contemporary flavor.
Dry-laid flagstones, tightly spaced, cover the upper patio as well as the main walkway leading to it, while an arc-shaped path of natural steppingstones connects the upper patio to a smaller one that is nearer the house and overlooks a pond.
This custom-built dining table is right at home in this Southwestern courtyard. The table is made from the same flagstone as the slender serving counter tucked against the wall, creating a soft and seamless aesthetic for an outdoor entertaining space.
Stylish concrete firepit
Even the simplest open fire is likely to draw people outdoors. This gas-fed fire pit was fashioned from a concrete planter and lightweight stones that conceal the hardware and break up the flames for a natural look.
An entertaining-friendly outdoor fireplace
This friendly-looking fireplace sits on a gravel patio, accompanied by a traditional arrangement of furniture. The structure was built from concrete blocks and covered with manmade, though convincing, river-rock veneer.
Seamless patio and pool
Creamy Connecticut bluestone picks up on the hues of the blue-tiled pool and spa for a seamlessly blended patio and pool.
Gravel borders a modern fountain
Versatile gravel works beautifully surrounding a modern fountain and echoing the colors of the cityscape beyond. High edging keeps gravel in bounds while giving the impression of a pond within a pond.
With two waterfalls—one tumbling down a rocky bank and the other streaming from an urn—this pond fills the backyard with the sound of water. Broad flagstones near the water’s edge invite closer inspection. If young children will be visiting your garden, be sure to restrict access to any pond or pool area with fencing and a locking gate.
A go-native stream
Plant natives, and birds will follow. Install a meandering stream bordered by boulders to create a framework for integrating native plants. In this home's case, fragrant 'Bee's Bliss' salvia, wild lilacs, and an existing non-native purple tree mallow were chosen to create a soft aesthetic and for their low-water requirements.
Pebble shower wall
Interlocking 4- by 12-inch tiles faced with pebbles create an eye-catching texture for the back-splash of this outdoor shower in Los Angeles.
Sleek outdoor shower
This outdoor shower is tucked into an alcove next to the rear stairs; the slate backsplash and side wall of rounded faux river stone add up to a natural-looking backdrop.
Boulders for accents
Even a few small boulders placed next to a path can make a striking design statement. These three—chosen to match the fountain basin nearby—were stood on end like three sentinels in a bed of baby’s tears and white impatiens.