PRACTICAL, graphic, surprising and poetic: A good path is a garden godsend. Whether it's softening a compact, angular backyard, or wending through a sprawling rural park, a path (or two) adds a design element that delights the eye and directs the feet.
Be your path made of stone, wood, mulch, crushed shells, brick, gravel or grass, it should be easy to navigate (smooth, stable and cleared of branches) and wide enough for two people to walk side by side—no fewer than 3 feet across. Also key: A path needs a purpose, even if it's given to meandering. A walkway starting, say, at a back porch could end at a vintage iron bench under an old oak. A route from a potting shed might lead past a pretty, color-packed flower bed into an all-green woodland area. A path from a terrace might culminate in a swimming pool.
When planning your path, make sure its style and configurations complement your house. How big of a statement should the walkway make? Straight or curved? If you live in a geometric modern box, a mishmash of squiggly, skinny stone paths will undermine your architecture's austere purity. Conversely, a 6-foot-wide, no-nonsense linear path made of cement slabs will overwhelm a lacy Victorian mansion.
Consider, too, the look of your existing garden. If your backyard is large, precisely designed and manicured, an irregular, loopy path strewed with wood chips or tree-trunk rounds might resemble a Hansel-and-Gretel trail of breadcrumbs. Best to go for a wide, straight path of rigorously pieced-together stone or herringbone-patterned vintage brick. Reserve the serpentine fairy-tale look for a smallish rustic garden.
Cost, of course, is a factor that can't be ignored. Mulch, gravel and mowed grass are the least expensive choices. Vintage brick or large chunks of natural blue stone are more pricey and complicated to install.
Lastly, crucially and most fun, what sort of visual and aromatic surprises will you provide along the route? If there's nothing to engage the senses, a journey down your path will be like a freeway drive: monotonous and annoying. Spice up the walkway with borders of plants that spill out and over along the sides—heather, Russian sage, irises, fragrant phlox and roses. Install a latticework settee, a vintage marble birdbath or large pots overflowing with seasonal color. Any path worth following should encourage you to stop, savor and think.
Beckon guests with a path of woven brick
Carefully set into sand or cement, herringbone-patterned brick looks impressive in both formal or more casual gardens. Bordered with colorful plants and grasses, this brick beauty in a garden in Sussex, England, will wear well over many years. Green Thumbs Up: Solid and won't crack. While old, weathered bricks are more desirable, new bricks will achieve a vintage patina in a couple of years. Green Thumbs Down: If your path runs longer than 100 feet or so, material and installation costs will be substantial.
Go free-form with gravel
A pea-gravel (or crushed-shell) path is comfortable to walk on and lends a certain lightness to any garden. Less stately and formal than brick or stone, gravel blends well with natural, nonmanicured plantings. To limit weed invasion, lay the gravel down on 12 layers of newspaper or a sheet of landscaping fabric. Green Thumbs Up: Inexpensive, easy to install and drains well. Green Thumbs Down: Gravel "travels" with heavy traffic and is a poor choice for cold climates: After a couple of snow-shoveling sessions, little gravel will be left in place by spring.
Like something conceived by Davy Crockett via Hans Christian Andersen, a sliced tree-trunk path can imbue a small house or garden with charm. Each wood roundel should be cut to the same thickness, and must be sunk into the ground on a base of sand or pebbles. Green Thumbs Up: Has a down-home, handcrafted appeal; a good way to recycle those maple and fir trees you took down last summer. Green Thumbs Down: Looks really hokey if not abutting a cottage or tucked into woodlands. Soaks up water and is short-lived—most tree-trunk paths have to be replaced or repaired every five years or so.
If they're level and pieced together without too many gaps, irregular natural stone paths are great for high foot (and wheelbarrow) traffic. Sink the stones in a layer of sand, gravel or cement. Green Thumbs Up: Long-lived—and diverting as a visual puzzle. More pricey than gravel or mowed grass paths, but also more impressive. Green Thumbs Down: If the gaps are too wide, you'll have to clear them of weeds, grass and moss several times during the growing season. In Zone 5 and lower, stone paths might heave and crack in the cold.
There's nothing more naturally beautiful or poetic than a clipped grass path flanked by taller grasses and meadowlike plantings. Green Thumbs Up: Suitable for many types of landscape design; inexpensive to install and maintain. Green Thumbs Down: Can get soggy and muddy; not high heel-friendly; must be mowed regularly.
Original article and pictures take http://online.wsj.com/news/articles/SB10001424127887323309604578433093298758074 site