Gardening Tips: Making garden paths
With today’s high cost of labour, the construction of a path by a contractor can be very expensive—for some types even doubling the cost of materials. For this reason, and also because the skills required are easily learned, the construction of paths has become a normal part of the gardener’s craft. Just as in the growing of your own fruit and vegetables, such modest essays in builder’s work can afford a feeling of satisfaction in a job well done as an additional reward to the money saved. Remember however, that, unlike a choice of crop that has turned out not to suit youror your taste, a badly thought-out path cannot be changed in an hour with the fork at the start of the next season: in hard landscape you live with your mistakes unless you are exceptionally energetic— and rich.
Paths may enhance the appearance of a garden—or spoil it— and their presence or absence, their alignment and construction are all, therefore, key factors in garden design. But it is as well to remember that paths are for a purpose and that, in laying out your garden, you would do well to start by thinking about the probable patterns of activity and movement so that you can build your designs around them. We have all seen versions of the garden with a wilfully curving path across the lawn that the children refuse to follow—while worn-out turf and mud indoors tell the tale as to where the path should have been. Perhaps in thinking about it—when building a new garden from scratch — you may find that a path is not immediately essential. Too many paths spoil the(cutting the land into small ‘parcels’ can make it look smaller than it really is) and a policy of wait and see makes very good sense.
The path across a lawn, the easiest of all to make, is also the clearest example of the advantage of getting the garden settled first—and the word ‘settled’ has a very specific meaning in this connection. It is only in the established garden that the turf of the lawn or the worked surface of the beds have settled to their proper level—and the level in relationship to the surrounding surfaces is vitally important for every sort of path.
The simplest possible path—and one of the most attractive—is a line of stepping stones across the lawn. If laid correctly, there is no maintenance required and the lawn mower passes over the stones without risk to its blades. Such a path is perfectly adequate for most garden purposes. It is quite surprising how the grass between the stones seems to survive unworn even with well-used paths of this sort. Such paths can also provide a visual advantage in the design of long narrow gardens: to avoid emphasizing the narrowness it is best in such gardens to design them as a series of ‘rooms’ in succession down the plot, with the lawn ‘room’ stretching -from one side to the other. The stepping stone path allows the maximum feeling of spaciousness in this situation.
Only in special circumstances is there any .reason for making such a path very wide, and standard-sized concrete paving ‘stones’ 60 cm x 45 cm (2’ x 1-1/2’), available at most builder’s merchants, will be found suitable. This is about the maximum size that can be comfortably handled by one person. The thickness should by 5cm (2”). Do not be persuaded to buy thinner ‘stones’, because they may break under the load of a wheelbarrow unless put on a proper foundation— and the lazy man’s joy in this type of path lies in the fact that in needs no foundation.
The technique could not be simpler. Space out the stones on the grass with the widest side as the width. Leave 18-23 cm (7-9”) of turf between each stone— the exact dimension being determined by getting an approximately equal spacing within the overall length of the path. A stretched string on one side is useful for the alignment of a straight path. Then, with an ordinary spade, or a turf cutter if you have one, dig vertically round each stone to cut the turf neatly to size. Temporarily remove the stone and dig the hole to a depth of 2 cm (1”) more than the thickness of the stone below the turf level. Have a barrow handy with a supply of fine sieved granular soil and put 1.5 cm (3/4”) of this into the recess so that you can easily level up the bottom to receive the stone. When the stone is placed and trodden down it should be very slightly below the lawn level. To complete this almost instant path, work a little of the fine soil into the cracks round the edge of each stone after making sure the alignment is correct.
Continuous paths can also be made across lawns and although they have a very different effect visually, they are easier to maintain than paths through beds in that they have no edge problems. The techniques for continuous paths, whether in stone, brick, gravel or in concrete you have made yourself, is basically the same, whether across cultivated soil or across the lawn. The only special point regarding lawns is to make sure that the path surface is below the grass surface— both for the sake of appearance and for the welfare of your mower blades.
If you are forced to lay your path before making your lawn it is more difficult to get this relationship of levels right: the level of the soil for seeding or turfing has to be aligned with the paved surface rather than the other way round. A good tip is to buy enough turves for double even if you are going to save money by seeding most of the lawn. A slight settlement of soil will take place, but the grass should remain that vital little bit above the path.