Good garden? Make a good path

Jessica Walliser
| Friday, Aug. 15, 2014, 8:57 p.m.

Getting from one place to another in your garden shouldn't be a challenge. The genesis of many garden paths is utilitarian. After all, we need to access the shed, the driveway, the front door and the vegetable garden on a regular basis. However, much like a road trip, good walkway design isn't just about the destination … it's also about the journey.

Building and siting functional paths through the garden needn't be a boring, cookie-cutter operation. An artfully placed and delightfully crafted path can entice you to linger, excite your senses, distract your mind and welcome your guests — all while performing the necessary job of getting you where you need to go.

When siting a path, look first to functional needs. Begin by asking yourself what you'd like to achieve with your walkway. There are a lot of opportunities to draw people toward, or away from, a particular landscape area. The design of a path depends on whether you want to bring people (yourself included) through a space quickly or you want them to linger there.

Paths should always entice visitors to explore and keep them intrigued about the destination. If the path leads to the vegetable garden, for example, rather than making a straight-shot walk, throw in a few soft curves and add perennials, small trees and shrubs around it. Or branch-off and create one or two side paths that head to a sitting area.

If for utility's sake, you prefer your path on the straight and narrow, be sure there is a focal point at the end. This certainly could be the front door itself or the vegetable garden's gate. Linear paths should end in a focal point, even if there is no destination at its end. If a straight or curved path doesn't take you to a destination per se, make one. Put a focal point there that's in scale with the rest of the landscape. The path could end at a large specimen tree or a water feature, a statue, a piece of art or even just a big flowerpot.

With a broad range of walkway materials available these days, it's often difficult to decide what's best for any particular area. Start with utility here first as well. If you're going to be pushing a wheelbarrow down the path, select a harder surface because looser materials can be more difficult to traverse. The more formal the building material (concrete, brick, pavers, etc.), the faster people want to go. Gravel and mulch cause people to go slower and see and experience the place.

Mulch paths are low maintenance and look wonderful in a wooded area. Pea gravel is another less-expensive option, but it needs to have some sort of edging to keep it contained. You'll have to refresh both of these options every few years, but they aren't permanent and are easy to change if it becomes necessary.

Grass paths are a terrific, low-cost option for creating walking spaces between perennial beds, and straw paths are well-suited to the vegetable patch. Do keep in mind, though, that permanent-path installations are best for frequently used walks, like those leading to the front or side door.

Join Trib gardening columnist Jessica Walliser and her KDKA Radio partner Doug Oster for a free, potluck get-together for all area gardeners from 2 to 4 p.m. Aug. 17 under the white tent in Schenley Plaza, Oakland. Bring something to share, serving utensils and a beverage.

Horticulturist Jessica Walliser co-hosts “The Organic Gardeners” at 7 a.m. Sundays on KDKA Radio. She is the author of several gardening books, including “Attracting Beneficial Bugs to Your Garden: A Natural Approach to Pest Control” and “Good Bug, Bad Bug.” Her website is

Send your gardening or landscaping questions to or The Good Earth, 503 Martindale St., 3rd Floor, D.L. Clark Building, Pittsburgh, PA 15212.

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