The Garden Path

  • Difficulty Rating: Beginner
Garden Path main image

One of my favorite photographs “The Walk to Paradise Garden” by W. Eugene Smith, taken by the photographer in 1946, depicts his children with their backs to the camera walking on a wooded path into what looks to be a lush forest.

A few years ago I took a photo of my daughter with her best friend and the friend’s younger sister walking on a garden path at the Atlanta Botanical Garden. While the two photographs are very different, they both make me think about what lies ahead, what’s around the corner? The best garden paths pique our curiosity, and at the same time welcome us to explore and discover. They direct our view and guide our feet through the landscape. And sometimes, a path is the most direct route for getting us from point A to B.

The design of a path, whether it’s curved, straight, wide or narrow, formal or informal depends on its function as well as the design of the garden. The choice and colors of the materials you use depend on your budget, the style of your house and your personal preferences. 

View from front door


The best garden paths are comfortable to walk on. When using different types of stone such as pea gravel or slate chips for a walkway, smaller sizes are typically more comfortable. While solid walkways made of concrete or aggregates may work well for institutional gardens, permeable surfaces are environmentally friendly and easy to install.  Pea gravel, slate chips and other types of rocks are sold by the ton. When laying a path you should plan for the material you use to be at least two inches thick, which will cover 100 square feet.

Path in woodland garden

If you are using flagstone, large stones make a strong statement.  If cost is a consideration, a path made of stepping stones with gravel between and surrounding the stones will be less expensive than using just flagstone.  

Stepping stones and gravel path


A mulch path for woodland is an inexpensive option and can be replenished as needed. Plants as a green edge for paths helps to tie the garden to the path.   

Recently I visited with a neighbor, whose front yard is made up of garden beds that are surrounded and defined by a series of paths, using slate chips as the surface.  (three to four inches thick).   The owner Deb says “ she likes the  easy access the paths provide to work in all of the beds.”  With the design of her garden, straight paths work well and connect to a central path that leads to her front door.  The structure of the garden is formal but the lush plantings soften the edges and give it a relaxed feel.   


Garden path with slate

In the original garden the front path was constructed out of solid pavers which were functional but not very interesting. This same path was transformed when her designer lifted the pavers and reset them in a different design, using slate chips between the pavers.  

Garden path with pavers


The extra pavers were used to edge the beds in the front garden. I especially like the slate, both for how it looks and how comfortable it is to walk on.