3 Essential Components of an Artful Garden Path

An outdoor route comes in one of two categories: 1) a directional instrument to move visitors to a destination as efficiently as possible, or 2) a device which permits people to engage the senses as they meander toward a destination at a leisurely rate.

I talked with landscape architect Sandy Ayers, co-owner of The Garden Route Company, about the nuances of getting the most out of each type of path.

The Garden Route Company

“The three main things to designing a route are ensuring that it leads somewhere, that it remains in character with its surroundings and it’s comfortable to walk,” Ayers says.

Let’s break down this step by step.

The Garden Route Company

1. Make sure the route leads somewhere. A successful route, regardless of what its type, has to have a destination, otherwise it’s just plain useless and pointless. The phrase “wild goose chase” springs to mind.


But that doesn’t mean that the destination needs to be a front door or garage. It can be a calm fountain with a bench or a stone garden. The idea is to provide people a reward at the end of their trip.

The Garden Route Company

2. Keep the trail. Path materials which don’t make sense will sense jarring and confusing. Pick either materials which match an present motif of your house’s outside or garden, or natural features that will blend harmoniously with what’s already in the area.

More on course materials in a bit.

The Garden Route Company

3. Give the trail a proper sense. That really is a twofold issue. If you’re likely to make a stepping-stone route, the stones have to be placed a comfortable distance from each other.

An average space is 36 inches from the center of one rock to the center of the next rock, Ayers says. The gaps between stones should typically be no more than 4 inches. The true distance may differ based on who the route is for: A tall, athletic individual, for example, will likely have another stride length compared to someone more petite.

The Garden Route Company

The issue of relaxation is stability. You simply can’t ask people to walk onto a stepping-stone route that’s wobbling. It’s disconcerting and potentially harmful.

Lou Penning Landscapes Inc..

Ayers suggests that stepping stones be at least 18 by 24 inches big and 11/2 inches thick. “The generous surface measurements will boost stability because of the stones’ consequent shape and weight, while the thickness will keep the step from splitting,” she states. “Place the stones on a level foundation of sand, mortar or pea gravel for best outcomes.”

The Garden Route Company

If you’re creating a route from decomposed granite, then place the trail at a greater altitude (11/2 inches or so) compared to the surrounding land so water doesn’t puddle.

The Garden Route Company


Paths can be made from wood, concrete, brick, decomposed granite, flagstone or any other substance that feels good to walk, offers a grip when wet and will not wash off.

The Garden Route Company

If you’re going with a stepping-stone route, use the gaps between the steps as another opportunity to add attractiveness. For dwelling joints Ayers likes to use creeping ground covers like elfin thyme, dymondia and infant tears. “Recess the plants under the top of the stone with at least a half inch,” Ayers says. That will keep the stones visible, preventing trips.

Cosmetic Dentistry

Gaps, or joints, can also be filled with granite countertops, concrete, another type of rock than the step, river stones, pebbles, gravel, beach glass or marbles.

The Garden Route Company

Setting the Pace

The type of path you choose will set the pace for how fast or gradually someone will get to the intended destination. If you’re trying to get guests into the front door, then a straight route makes the best sense. “An entry route is at least 5 ft wide in order that two people can walk side by side comfortably,” says Ayers.

Jan Enright Creations

A meandering garden path, however, can be much narrower, as the aim is for guests to follow it to discover what lies ahead. “If you need someone to linger,” says Ayers, “curve the trail about focal points, like a tree, boulder or berm of property. The engaging paths curve around points of curiosity rather than arbitrarily twist and turn.”

Paces Construction Co

Plant Layout

Despite a path’s destination, make the journey a visually appealing one with many different features.

Which features you choose depends on how long you would like to catch someone’s attention. “For a straight, wide path that leads to a front door or doorway,” Ayers says, “I’d provide a single species of flora, like grasses. This way they can appreciate it while walking directly right through. On the other hand, a meandering path might get a large variety of species to maintain somebody’s attention”

Dane Spencer Landscape Architecture

Your turn: We would really like to find a landscape route you have created. Please discuss a photograph from the Remarks below!

More photographs: Read thousands of inspirational path designs

See related