Garden Designers Roundtable – From Here to There

The topic for this month’s Garden Designers Roundtable is From Here to There, which I’m interpreting as pathways.  This is a most excellent topic as it’s one that seems to overwhelm most of my clients.   While most people have a general idea of the style of garden they want, colors they like, etc. they’re not sure how to go about designing pathways and choosing its material.  Traditional or non-traditional?  Formal or informal? Flagstone? Brick? Decomposed Granite?  Mortared? Loose-set?  Ack!!!

Here in California, with our laidback lifestyles, casual pathways are what most of my clients want throughout their gardens.  Which is a good thing, because casual is what I’m all about and what I do best.

Today I thought I’d share some of my favorites, along with their pros, cons and general design tips in hopes they inspire and help you decide which pathway is right for your own garden.



Decomposed Granite

There’s something inherently calming about the soft crunch of decomposed granite underfoot.  The look is casual elegance at its best.

However, be aware that even though it’s compacted to a cement-like hardness, the finely ground stone can still stick to the bottom of your shoe (or your pet’s feet) and can get tracked into your home, scratching your hardwood floors.  I’ve heard this over and over again from people who love the look but hate the hassle.

It really works best in large properties, placing a different type of material closer to the patios and doors.

Brick: mortared or loose-set?

Brick is another timeless classic, blending with most any garden’s style.  Bricks come in many different forms: new, tumbled, brick made to look old, etc.

One of the main advantages of brick is that it’s a very stable surface and works well in areas where there’s a lot of traffic (such as this heavily used side yard where garbage cans, wheelbarrows, etc. are regularly wheeled).

The pathway in this photo is made with mortared, tumbled brick.

The brick in this photo is loose-set, meaning it’s tightly installed over compacted layers of gravel and sand, using no cement to hold the bricks together.

I love this look as it’s a little more ‘old world’ in my opinion, and looks a little more elegant.

I’ve had this style of brick throughout my garden for many, many years and contrary to what many people might think would happen, there are no loose bricks whatsoever.  When properly installed, this style will last just as long as bricks held together by cement.Stone:  mortared or loose-set?

Ahhh….stones.  Probably my favorite type of pathway of all as there’s so many styles, shapes and colors.

When mortared together they form a very sturdy surface (similar to the bricks above), but keep in mind that stones vary in texture.  Highly textured stones may be a little more difficult to wheel things over versus those with smoother surfaces.

I know this, as one of my new clients has a family member who uses a wheelchair and they don’t want to feel like they’re four-wheeling every time they wheel across the patio.It’s the loose-set stones, however, that really get me excited because that’s where you can begin to inject a lot of personality.  Loose-set pathways also tend to be less expensive and easier to install, making them ideal for DIYers to tackle on their own.  Sometimes the stones are set into the soil a few inches and sometimes they’re installed with a dab of cement under them to give them a little extra staying power.  They’re typically installed with a few inches of soil between each stone, perfect when planted with ground covers such as ‘elfin’ thyme, dymondia, baby tears or even lawn.

Au Natural Pathways – plain ‘ol dirt and grass!

This is the most casual pathway of all, whether it’s a mown strip of lawn or a simple dirt pathway.  But even though the style is casual, that doesn’t always mean it’s not at home in a formal garden (as shown in the last photo).

Tip:  Tart-up your pathway!

The following are ways to inject a little more personality into your pathway.  Whether you’re using flagstone, bricks or pebbles, there’s bound to be a way you can take your pathway up a notch!


Tip:  Have your path lead to a focal point!

When walking down a path, you want to end up somewhere, right?  I so often see pathways that lead directly into a wall or fence, and I wonder what’s the point?  Instead, consider placing a bench or other focal point so there’s an actual destination in mind when wandering through the garden.

Tip:  Soften those edges!

To help a pathway blend in with the garden, I always try and have nearby plantings softly blur the edges.  Whether planted in between the stones, or hanging over the edges of the path by a few inches, I make sure to design the pathway wide enough to accommodate these ‘softeners’.

Phew!  Sorry for the long post but I had so much to share with you!

Please make sure to stop by my fellow Roundtablers to read they’re interpretations of From Here to There – and thanks so much for stopping by!

Debra Prinzing & David Perry:  A Fresh Bouquet

Pam Penick : Digging : Austin, TX

Scott Hokunson : Blue Heron Landscapes : Granby, CT

Jenny Peterson : J Peterson Garden Design : Austin TX

Susan Cohan : Miss Rumphius’ Rules : Chatham, NJ

Susan Morrison : Blue Planet Garden Blog : East Bay, CA

Jocelyn Chilvers : The Art Garden : Denver, CO

Lesley Hegarty & Robert Webber : Hegarty Webber Partnership : Bristol, UK

Christina Salwitz : Personal Garden Coach : Renton, WA

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  • What a wonderful post with such helpful pictures. I have struggled with the issue of a focal point. Now my Rose Walk doesn’t exactly lead to the Cottage Ornee but almost. The story of my life. Almost.

    • Thanks for stopping by, Pat. I’m so glad you liked my little post! 🙂

  • Amazing pathways! I love how paths lead to different sections in a landscape design. You are so right that a path should lead to a focal point or a special spot in the garden. Thanks for sharing the wonderful pics. I loved the pathway with the arbors and the stone path with the flower design. Very nice!

  • Great Post Rebecca! I am always interested in pathways and agree that they should always be interesting and on the edges if possible, focal point always a necessity in the garden.


  • Don’t apologize for length of post. Such a great overview and so many good points. Travel in a garden is vital. Your clients are so lucky to have all your ‘getting from here to there’ skills’!

    • Thanks for the kind words, Robert. And I’m glad it wasn’t too wordy for you! Always afraid I tend to go on and on and on….

  • Dear Rebecca,
    so many great points and I love the way you organized this post around materials and how each is used. Plus, I love, love, love the admonition to “tart up” the paths in our lives.
    Thanks! Debra

    • Debra – so many areas of our lives could use a little ‘tarting up’, right? Pathways are an easy way to begin! 😉

  • Rebecca, your posts are always like an inspiring design session — love all your practical tips and spot-on advice. My favorite is to make a path LEAD to something. Like you, I’m always baffled by dead-end paths unless there’s something to see before you turn back.

    • Thanks Pam – great minds think alike, right? Dead-end paths baffle me, too. They remind me of the Winchester Mystery House out here (you probably have no idea what that is, but come on out here sometime and I’ll show you!)

  • Way to go Rebecca as usual! I adore the large pavers with lawn in between- brilliant! I will be taking out my back lawn soon and your advice about the DG is good, I’ll have to think about that one. I also loved “Tartin up the path” – priceless! The softener’s was really an excellent point as well. Well done my friend!

    • Christina -while I love DG paths as much as the next person, I’ve seen the damage they can do to hardwood floors (especially the dark ones). Wouldn’t want your little pug to have to take his shoes off before he comes inside!! 😉

  • Beautiful images and great tips! Speaking as a native of one of the 13 original colonies, I agree with you about “loose-set” brick. Timeless, functional, elegant, for us part of our history. I also took a side trip to see your portfolio while I was here, and I’m afraid I drooled a little. Seriously though your work is amazing!

    • Thanks so much, Scott. I SO appreciate your kind words. Now…when are you guys going to take a side trip out here, hmmmmm?

  • Rebecca, as always, I love your examples–and your common sense uses of materials is spot-on. And now I wish I’d used the phrase “tart up” in reference to getting artsy with pathways! I love the kind of walkways that incorporate mosaics with river rocks and tiles.

    • From one ‘common-sense’ gal to another, thanks Jenny! I knew you’d like that phrase, btw. It’s ‘so’ you!! 😉


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