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How to lay a garden path

How to lay a garden path

Jenny, construction and gardening writer, Oxford

Guide written by:

Jenny, construction and gardening writer, Oxford

14 guides

A variety of materials can be used to make up a garden pathway or driveway including decorative gravel, interlocking paving stones, stepping stones, concrete slabs, stone, tarmac and decorative concrete. From laying the path to installing lights, read on for our top tips on how to lay a garden pathway or driveway.

Important features

  • Walkway
  • Driveway
  • Materials
  • Installation
  • Maintenance
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Gravel garden paths

Want to lay a garden path on a budget? Go for a gravel path. An economical and attractive option, gravel is easy to lay and you can choose from a wide range of colours and gravel sizes.

Paved paths

A paved garden path can be formed of stone or concrete for an attractive, durable and solid walkway. Laying paving stones is a fairly straightforward process but does require precision, care and the use of an angle grinder to cut the blocks down to size.

Stepping stones

Stepping stones are designed to blend seamlessly into gardens. The stones can be integrated into a lawn for a more decorative effect or you may even want to lay the stones over gravel for a Japanese-inspired design.

Wooden paths

Just like stepping stones, a wooden pathway can provide a decorative touch to your outdoor space and is also really easy to install. Choose between a boardwalk, a roll-out pathway or even decking tiles.

Decorative concrete paths

Decorative concrete comes in a wide range of finishes including exposed aggregate, printed, polished and brushed concrete. With a huge variety of colours and patterns on offer, this option can be very stylish. However, bear in mind that concrete should only be poured by professionals or skilled DIYers.

Tarmac or asphalt paths

Tarmac is a popular option for outdoor walkways. While generally used for driveways, it can also be used to create garden pathways. However, it is more complicated and more expensive to lay than other options.

Resin bound paths

Attractive, non-slip and durable, resin bound pathways are having something of a moment with a range of colours and finishes on offer. Aggregates are mixed with a course of resin to create the pathway. The process does require a bit of skill to pull off and it can also be expensive. However, the results speak for themselves.

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Decking tiles

In addition to being wider than the average pathway, a driveway must not sink under the weight of a car. If you're not sure how your pathway will be used in future, prepare your foundation as though it were a driveway so you have the option to alter it later.

A pathway will generally lead to a vegetable garden, patio, pool, play area or shed while a driveway will usually lead to a front door, garage or courtyard.

Requirements for laying a driveway

Driveways must be able to support the weight of vehicles without altering or getting damaged over time. A driveway differs from a pathway in terms of both the preparation required to create the foundation and the fact that it must be wide enough to accommodate any vehicles likely to drive over it (i.e. at least 2.5 metres in width).

Requirements for laying a walkway

A garden walkway will generally measure 1 to 1.5 metres in width. It won't require the same type of foundation as a driveway since it won't have to support the same types of weights.

Requirements for laying a pathway

Garden paths are narrow walkways that generally measure about 60 cm to 1 metre in width. You can usually choose the same types of materials to create a path as you would a walkway. That said, wood and stone are the most popular choices in this case.

Three main factors for picking a driveway

Before you select the material you'd like to make up your driveway, make sure that you keep the following three criteria in mind and consider how the driveway usage may change in future:

  1. The driveway must be able to withstand the weight of cars and the material mustn't alter over time or get crushed, cracked or damaged in any way.
  2. Rainwater drainage: the material must drain easily and rainwater should be guided towards a suitable drain system on your property.
  3. Safety: the material must be non-slip, flat and the driveway properly lit.

Three common driveway materials

Three materials are commonly used to make driveways:

  1. Gravel: inexpensive and easy to lay, this option is generally the most popular as it is attractive, durable and maintenance-free.
  2. Concrete: durable and good for those with mobility issues but trickier and more expensive to install.
  3. Tarmac: durable and good for those with mobility issues, but just as tricky to pour as concrete and more expensive.

All paths need to drain well and rainwater should always be guided away from buildings.

Gravel is by far the easiest, quickest and least expensive option when it comes to driveways. If you're laying gravel over a hard surface, some honeycomb gravel grids where the car tyres will pass over will do – the rest of the surface can simply be covered with geotextile membrane. If you need to flatten or level out the surface you will have to excavate about 15 cm, lay geotextile membrane and then lay coarse gravel (0.31/5mm).

It is also possible to cover the whole surface with gravel grids, only excavating where the tyres will pass. A 6-8cm layer of decorative gravel will be fine for the rest of the surface in this case.

A concrete driveway will set you back more than a gravel driveway but the bonus is that it comes in a range of different colours and finishes including brushed, exposed aggregate and pattern imprinted concrete. Concrete driveways last a long time, offer maximum strength and are easily accessible for individuals with mobility issues.

A more complicated and labour-intensive option as you'll need to excavate the whole driveway.

A fast-draining tarmac driveway is costly but will last a very long time. Just like when pouring a concrete driveway, you'll need to excavate and prepare a bed for the tarmac.

The key preparatory steps include laying geotextile membrane at a depth of 25cm before laying a sub base composed of around 25cm of 0/31.5mm gravel followed by a 5cm surface course. It's worth noting that this process can be done in two stages – if you get to the gravel and aren't sure you want to tarmac over, you can always just lay a 5 cm layer of decorative gravel instead.

The material you choose for your garden pathway depends on the result you're after in addition to any installation or budget requirements you may have. Please note that all materials come in various price ranges.

How to choose a garden pathway

Garden pathway

Features

Advantages

Disadvantages

Installation requirements

Gravel

- Natural look (limestone, marble, basalt)

- Different colours available (white, grey, pink)

- Different sizes available

- Evens out minor level differences

- Suitable for driveways

- Not practical for those with mobility issues

- Requires borders

- Has to be laid over geotextile membrane or gravel grids

Paving slabs

- Different colours, sizes and formats available

- Different materials available (stone, porcelain, slate)

- Wide format

- Suitable for driveways (depending on type and installation)

- Requires stable, flat and level surface

- Can become slippery over time with moss build-up

- Breakable if thin and installed on an uneven surface

- Laid over mortar on a bed of sand (10 - 15 cm)

Stepping stones

- Natural look (granite, marble, basalt, reconstituted stone)

- Different colours (white, grey, black)

- Variety of shapes (round, rectangular)

- Easy to lay

- Follows contours easily

- Can be laid out as you like

- Not practical for those with mobility issues

- Can become slippery over time with moss build-up

- Not suitable for driveways

- Needs to be bound in ground

Paving stones

- Different colours (light to dark grey, pink, etc.)

- Variety of shapes (square, hexagonal, etc.)

- Stone, reconstituted stone or concrete

- Robust and durable

- Suitable for driveways (depending on installation)

- Interlocking

- Takes a long time to lay

- Can be laid over sand or soil for pedestrian use

Wooden walkway

- Natural finish

- Variety of species

- Different formats available

- Easy to lay

- Not practical for those with mobility issues

- Can become slippery over time with moss build-up

- Not suitable for driveways

- Can be partially buried

- Can be rolled over unprepared but flat soil

- Various other (on straw, gravel, sand, etc.)

Decking tiles or boards

- Natural finish

- Variety of species

- Wood and composite

- Warm appearance

- Neat finish

- Certain installation requirements

- Requires regular maintenance

- Decking boards need to be laid on joists or risers

- Decking tiles can be laid on risers or the ground

Choosing the right garden border comes down to picking a material to match your style, durability and installation requirements. If you are adding edging to a driveway, you'll have to ensure the materials you use are compatible.

Paving stone or concrete garden borders

Concrete, stone or reconstituted stone need to be set in mortar or partially buried. There's an option for every budget but the quality and finish of the border will depend on how much you pay. Suitable for driveways.

Steel and wrought iron borders

Metal garden borders can be made of materials like iron or steel and need to be set in mortar or partially buried. The quality of the material dictates durability and price. Not suitable for driveways.

PVC or plastic borders

Plastic or PVC borders are less durable than other options and will need to be partially buried. While they are inexpensive, the finish and design of these borders can vary. Not suitable for driveways.

Wooden walkways

Wooden walkways come in a range of formats including woven, log rolls or even mini picket fencing. Not suitable for driveways.

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Garden edging and borders

Adding light to a garden path makes the walkway easier and safer to use and also provides decorative interest. To find the right outdoor lights, you'll have to think about your needs as well as the look you want to create. For example, do you want ambient lighting or something more functional?

Among the most common types of outdoor lighting are:

  • post and bollard lights which can be installed in the ground on the ground and can be corded or solar powered;
  • garden lamp posts can also be solar-powered but will need to be set in a concrete base.
  • solar lights provide an economical and eco-friendly solution. They are quick and easy to install and come in all forms including globes, posts and flood lights;
  • spike floodlights are usually powered by solar energy and are easy to install;
  • PIR lights are designed to be mounted on a wall or post. They can be solar-powered and provide a bright light.
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PIR lights

The amount of maintenance required depends on the type of material you have chosen for your garden pathway. With the exception of gravel, moss will almost always build up on a path over time and this can cause the surface to become slippery. It's up to you if you want to weed the pathway or not. Wooden walkways need to be treated with a penetrating or protective wood oil to prevent rotting.

The only type of pathway that doesn't require regular care is gravel.
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Penetrating wood oil
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Guide written by:

Jenny, construction and gardening writer, Oxford, 14 guides

Jenny, construction and gardening writer, Oxford