3 elements of a great path

See our favorite new ideas for creating a little journey in your own backyard

Concrete path
Photo: Jim McCausland


Start by mapping your garden on graph paper. Put an X at every key location: the hammock, the honeysuckle arbor, the garden's best view, a bench that gets morning sun. Mark the garden's access points (gates, doors, patio) and its infrastructure (compost pile, hose bibs, heat pump, toolshed). A path system should connect all these points.

Make paths wider than you think necessary - you'll appreciate the extra space when you're brushing past thorny or rain-soaked shrubs. Wide paths also allow room for groundcovers to soften their edges without crowding you. Make major paths 6 feet wide so two people can walk abreast, and never less than 4 feet wide. Spur paths can be 2 feet wide if you'll never need to access them with rolling garden equipment.

Main pathways need a hard or hard-packed surface that can easily support wheelbarrows, garden carts, and lawn mowers. If you're using gravel, get the sharp-edged kind; round-edged pea gravel doesn't pack well, so wheels sink in. In cold climates, avoid smooth surfaces like glazed tiles and finished wood; such surfaces can be damaged by sand used to cover ice buildup.

Crown hard-surfaced paths (¼-in. drop per foot) so water runs off.


  • Flagstone path in Pasadena

    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

    Fractured shale fills gaps between concrete pavers in Dennis and Susan Hourany’s Alamo CA yard; yarrow and grasses soften path’s edges.
    Design: Mathew Henning and Heather Anderson [XLINK "http://www.henning-anderson.com" "Henning-Anderson" "" "_new"] Oakland (510/531-3095)

  • 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 Los Angeles (213/384-3844) for Lee and Carmen Ritenour.

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