Natural Stone Path
My wife and I have built several different garden paths. One of the paths was built years ago by me. This one actually is a dual purpose walkway. It connects our driveway to a side porch door. The curved path goes right through a shade garden under an immense pin oak tree.
I created this pathway using paving brick that I cemented to precast concrete pads. Each brick pad is about 17 inches square. I made a mistake and prefabricated the pads before I placed them. I underestimated how heavy they would be. Each pad weighs about 125 pounds! It was a nightmare trying to set and level each pad.
A Partial Plan
This experience taught me that you need to plan each aspect of a job. Kathy and I had a great concept and design, but I had failed to thoroughly think out the mechanics of placing the plan into action.
The lesson for you in all of this is be sure you can handle the physical requirements of the job. If you intend to build a garden path using native stone or some other heavy material, think about every movement. For example, rocks go into car trunks much easier than they come out!
My brick pads only have about 6 to 7 inches of spacing between the pad edges. They are so close that there is more brick in the path than soil between them. How do you get accurate spacing for a stepping stone pathway? It's easy! You just need to get your bare feet wet and then walk across a dry piece of concrete or blacktop.
Once you do this, you will have the center points of each of your steps. If you want to avoid taking uncomfortable giant steps in your garden, you need to make sure your stone placement matches your stride.
This method also demonstrates that large path stones may not work. My brick garden path is an excellent example. If my pads had been 19 inches square, there would be practically no space in between the individual pads. Remember, planning is everything!
Solid Garden Paths
A solid garden pathway to me means one with no soil in the pathway. I have been through botanical gardens where the pathway is simply gravel. There is nothing wrong with this as long as the gravel is very small - say 3/8 inch diameter AND angular. Never use rounded gravel for pathways. The stones move when your foot hits them and it is like walking in sand. Always use crushed or angular gravel for every aspect of garden pathway construction.
Another popular garden path design is to lay flat stones so they look something like a crude jigsaw puzzle. Each stone is separated by a one inch irregular space that you fill with crushed rock dust and small stone chips. This pathway takes more time to build but it is very distinctive.
Drainage - Think Roads
Have you ever looked closely at how roads are built? The next time you cross a street pay attention to the shape of the road. If the road is level, note how the center of the road is higher than either side. This is called crowning. Road builders found out years ago that standing water in a road is a big mistake and actually leads to premature failure.
You need to crown your pathway and keep in mind that water draining down either side of the path needs a place to go. If you don't do this, you may need boots when you stroll through your garden after a heavy spring shower.
The crown doesn't have to be severe. I doubt that you could feel a half inch difference in elevation between the center of your path and the edges. You would feel the difference if you walked across the path from edge to edge, but this isn't realistic, is it?
Take your time and select a stone that is affordable, durable and matches your taste. If you take your time, your garden path may well be your legacy!