Designing Paths for Your Landscaping

Create walkways that direct traffic and connect the different areas of your outdoor space.
Criss Cross Walkway

Criss Cross Walkway

By: Laura Fisher Kaiser

Whether you have a large property organized into a series of outdoor rooms or an intimate postage-stamp-size space, you need a way-finding system that tells you where to enter, where to stop or pause, and where to go next. The circulation pattern should follow a central axis, with arteries branching off to various points of interest.

Paths provide separation and definition of public and private areas, while also connecting and unifying them. Focal points guide and orient your eye as you move through the landscape.

"I always start with the hardscapes, which are the bones of a landscape," says Pete Marsh, a landscape designer with Buck & Sons in Columbus, Ohio. "Patios and pathways help you define spaces and connect them. The plants then follow to soften or enhance the hardscape elements."

Entrance. The entrance transitions people between outdoors and indoors, so a front walk should leave no doubt where to go and be positioned to provide easy access from the sidewalk or driveway. As visitors move toward the house, they should gain a favorable impression and feel an increasing sense of protection.

Main Walk. Although a width of 2 to 3 feet is typically recommended for main paths for front entrances or leading to an entertainment area, it depends on the scale of the house. Robert Schucker of R&S Landscaping in Midland Park, N.J, usually recommends making main paths 4 feet wide to accommodate two people walking side by side (or a double stroller), flaring to 5 or 6 feet across where the path meets a driveway or stoop. For large-scale facades, he advocates going even wider—5 or 6 feet—with a generous landing at the front door or steps.

Landscape Pathways

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Contemporary Path

A home's front walkway should make a good first impression and create a clear path to the door. This contemporary home's unique cement path — made up of a series of circular steps — provides easy access to both the front door and the garage.

Classic Brick

A brick walkway adds timeless appeal to a landscape. This path disappears around a curve, creating a bit of mystery and adding sense of destination to the garden.

Colorful Concrete

Frequently used paths should be made of a strong material that can stand up to heavy foot traffic. In this unique garden designed by Pamela Berstler, curved concrete pathways provide a durable and attractive trail to a quiet seating area.

Casual Garden Path

Paths that receive light traffic can be made of less heavy-duty materials, such as an informal series of field stones. This beautiful stone path, interspersed with Irish moss, rambles between large boulders and soft perennials.

Winding Walkway

A herringbone pathway leads to multiple destinations in this landscape, including a dining area, a garden table and lush plantings. The wide paths can accommodate two people walking side by side. Design by Jamie Durie

Photo By: Jamie Rector

Tranquil Path

In this contemporary outdoor space, designer Chad Robert created a serene yet visually stimulating pathway by pairing the strong lines of the pavers with soft vegetation and small, round stones.

From: Chad Robert

Stacked Stone Steps

A beautiful path of stacked stone steps leads into this garden, inviting guests to enjoy the many plant combinations along the way. Design by Heather Hardcastle

Photo By: ImageBrowser

Dynamic Pavers

In this yard, designer Brian Bulman laid the pavers end-to-end in a running pattern, which creates movement, draws the eye through the space and helps connect all of the elements of the landscape.

Natural Flagstone

A flagstone walkway through a Mediterranean garden highlights tidy plants and provides a pleasant passage across the property. Design by Barbara Paul

Photo By: Picasa

Peaceful Pathway

By carving a mulch-covered path into the side of a hill, designer Patricia Thernell transformed a formerly unusable area into a quiet spot for enjoying the sounds of nature.

Functional Paths. The more a path is used, the more robust the hardscape needs to be. Functional paths that are used constantly for foot traffic should have an all-weather surface paved with cement, pavers or field stone set in cement.

"All paths should have a slight slope or camber to prevent puddles forming in wet weather," advises Jonathan Edwards in his book "How to Garden."

Occasional. A side path around the house or to a corner of the garden can be an informal series of field stones interspersed with moss, gravel, white stone or a "walkable" herb such as creeping thyme. Using pavers from a main walkway unifies the landscape design and ties the overall hardscape theme together. A narrower path also signals the transition from public to private space.

Activity Hub. An outdoor living or entertaining area might be an extension of a family or living room in the house, and it should have a clear and gracious transition point to the rest of the yard. A hub or open area should contribute to the overall circulation pattern, and orient the eye and guide the visitor from one focal point to another. Noisy play areas for children should be separated from quiet zones, but also be visible from other points of the yard and from within the house.

Service Paths. Although a service area might be "off the beaten path," and does not need to tie into the bigger circulation patter of the landscape, it should not have sharp turns and it needs to be wide and sturdy enough to accommodate play or gardening equipment such as wheelbarrows, rubbish bins, lawnmowers, bikes, etc. Another kind of service path to think about is an inconspicuous footpath within or around a deep border bed. It need only consist of a few stepping stones so you can tip toe in for some surgical maintenance without trampling the flora.

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