The first time I drove by the house—my house—I later purchased, I noticed a certain yin-yang situation going on. Next to a paved, black-top driveway in disrepair, a charming brick walkway led to the front door and gracefully curved around a large bed of perennials anchored by a mature tree.
Eventually, I will replace the driveway with a surface more in keeping with the historical-looking house, but more fun to focus on now—and kinder to my budget—are my additional walkway ideas: creating a path that leads to my outdoor shower, for example; and another that skirts the edge of my backyard garden.
Depending on the material you choose and whether or not you’re a DIY enthusiast, installing a walkway or garden path ranges from fairly simple to call-in-the-big-guns difficult.
If, like me, “handy” is not your M.O., then consider hiring a professional. Ed Sullivan, division manager of site work and landscape at high-end, eastern Massachusetts-based S + H Construction, says, “What makes a walkway, patio, or any type of hardscape exterior look great is actually the work that you don’t see. The base preparation and the substrate work have to be perfect to ensure the stability and longevity of the finished product.”
Yes, and especially so, if you live in the northern half of the country, where a foundation is helpful to keep a path level and to resist heaving in winter. It is slightly less important if the soil is well drained.
Why you should consider a walkway for your yard
Whether your yard covers a quarter of an acre or 50 acres, regard your walkways as outdoor hallways linking outdoor rooms.
The materials you choose for your paths deserve to be much more than an afterthought. Ditto, the layout, if you’re building a home from scratch.
Sullivan says, “Pre-planning is very valuable, and it frequently gets overlooked. I like to incorporate everything into the flow and the plan of the house early.”
Walkway materials you can use
In short, a walkway is so much more than meets the eye. If you don’t want to pour concrete you’ve got lots of different options. Here are some of the more popular materials to consider using.
Remember, the climate where you live plays a role in what you choose, as does your aesthetic preference, from rustic to clean-lined to somewhere in between.
Mulch or wood chips
An attractive walkway idea needn’t be expensive, and that’s the case here, especially if a casual look is what you’re after. Excavating the soil to about one inch deep is recommended to keep the organic material, i.e. mulch or wood chips, from shifting, which is also helped by lining the path with stones.
Among the experts who tout gravel as easy and inexpensive, those at Stonewood Products in Harwich, Massachusetts, claim, “All you need to do is identify where you’d like your walkway, lay down some landscape fabric (to avoid weeds) and pile on the gravel.” To prevent the gravel walkway from spreading into your lawn, install some kind of edging; plastic is the least expensive option, but you could also use paving stones, bricks or even larger rocks.
“I love pea stone paths,” says landscape designer Andrew Grossman. In addition to the homespun way it looks, “pea stone is more forgiving of sloping than other materials, so it can be used for surfaces that are not completely level.” But, when it comes to pea stone, Grossman has two caveats: Weeds grow up easily among the stones, and they’re hard to navigate in heels.
“Concrete pavers used to be really tacky,” says Grossman, echoing the opinion of other landscape professionals. “But in the last 10 years, they have substantially improved.”
Available in a wide variety of colors and in shapes including rectangles, squares, octagons, and triangles, concrete pavers can achieve many different layout patterns and walkway ideas. They are precisely uniform and easier to cut.
Less expensive than clay brick, concrete pavers are more likely to fade over time and have a shorter lifespan.
When it comes to appearances, there’s nothing more classic than a brick walkway. Clay bricks are very durable, resist staining and easy to repair.
“Brick is one of the least difficult paving surfaces for the amateur to install,” says Michael Weishan, a former host of PBS’s “Victory Garden” and head of his own eponymous landscape design firm.
That said, laying brick requires extensive site prep and an expert eye if the look you’re after is basketweave, herringbone, or another pattern more complex than simply positioning the bricks in rows end to end.
Natural paving stones
You can divide paving stone into two main types: flagstone and cut stone. Flagstone of random shape and thickness makes very attractive paths when the flat stones are laid down single file or in a patchwork-style arrangement where they fit together like a jigsaw puzzle.
Flagstone is popular because it’s fairly durable and withstands temperature extremes, from freezing to very hot.
Conversely, cut stone refers to pieces of stone that have been sawn into regular geometric shapes. “Though bluestone is most often used for cut stone,” says Weishan, “you’ll occasionally see sandstone, limestone, slate, or granite, depending on the part of the country in which you live.”
Prices were accurate at the time this article was published but may change over time.