by Connie Oswald Stofko
When we think about our gardens, we usually think about plants, plants and more plants.
But if you want a beautiful garden, think about paths. Garden paths can get you from one spot in your yard to another without getting muddy feet, but they can do so much more.
In a large yard, paths can divide the wide-open spaces into smaller, welcoming areas. In any garden, paths can define your landscape and add focal points. They can reflect the style of your landscape, whether it’s elegant or rustic or something in between.
Many Western New York gardeners have created their own paths, but if this is beyond your skill level, don’t worry. There are many local businesses that can help you. Check out our
Gardening Directory for local businesses that can help you plan and install a path or other hardscape feature for you.
Hardscapes are the manmade elements in your landscape such as patios, decks and water features. In one previous article, we gave you ideas for using
walls in your garden, and in another we gave you ideas for trellises, arbors and pergolas.
Today, let’s take a look at paths
Garden paths can go in circles
Many gardeners line up their garden beds along the fence or boundaries of their property, then they create paths along the garden beds with lawn in the middle. Boring! There’s no reason why your path can’t circle around a garden bed. This path is made of stamped concrete. I visited Mary Anne Bach during the West Seneca Tour of Gardens in 2014. Photo by Connie Oswald Stofko
The garden bed in the center of the yard creates a focal point, and the path makes you want to walk up to look at it. I visited the Hagemans’ garden in 2010 on the Lancaster Garden Walk. This path is made of bricks. Photo by Connie Oswald Stofko
In the landscape of John Taylor and Mary Brennan-Taylor in Lockport, the brick paths circle around a garden bed, then unite and widen to form a patio. John builds his brick pathways using a unique method—he lays concrete first. He builds a grade slab using concrete with reinforcing wire and reinforcing bar. Once that is ready, he just puts a thin layer of mortar on top and lays the bricks in place. It takes a fifth of the time to lay the bricks once you have the slab in place, John said, and he insists the walkway will always be flat and level. While there is a cost to laying the concrete first, you save the cost of having to take up the bricks every five years and reset them, he said. The couple has shared their gardens on Lockport in Bloom as well as on Open Gardens. Photo by Connie Oswald Stofko
Paths can intersect
Ken and Shirley Haberman of Hamburg used bricks salvaged from an old chimney to create the paths in their landscape. They have shared their gardens on the Hamburg Garden Walk and on Open Gardens. Photo by Connie Oswald Stofko
I visited the landscape of Lynn and Alan Stout during Garden Walk Buffalo in 2010. She said her husband does the walkways and stonework while she does the plants. Photo by Connie Oswald Stofko
Paths lead to garden entrances
The stone path from the front yard leads you to the front door of the vegetable garden in the landscape of the Bednarczyk Family in Lancaster. The path is wide enough for two people to walk side by side as they stroll along. Photo by Connie Oswald Stofko
We’re exiting the shady backyard in this view of Kathleen Winter’s gravel path in Hamburg. The path passes under a trellis that her sister twined with grape vines. Items collected over years by her father, whose job it was to clear away train wrecks, are hung from the trellis, including rusted chains, screws, nuts and bolts. Photo by Connie Oswald Stofko
Lynn and Alan Stout live on busy West Ferry in Buffalo. Their border garden along the sidewalk is both welcoming and private. While the tall plants, trees and shrubs lining the sidewalk block the view of the busy street, the trellis creates a doorway that invites visitors onto the brick path leading to the front steps. Photo by Connie Oswald Stofko
Barb Sylvester of Boston has many kinds of paths, including this path covered in mulch. You can cover a path with leaves, which will be plentiful soon. You can also use straw. If you don’t want to buy straw, look for straw bales set out to the curb after Halloween. Photo by Connie Oswald Stofko
Garden paths can navigate hills & slopes
A wooden path meets up with a stone stairway, allowing people to easily navigate the uneven elevations in the yard of Paul Sabato. He created the terraces and gardens on the steep hill in the back. I visited his garden during South Buffalo Alive in 2016. Photo by Connie Oswald Stofko
Garden paths can be enclosed
Red railings line the path leading up to a Japanese tea garden in the yard of Rich Groblewski in Lancaster. You don’t see the garden itself yet. “It’s hide and reveal,” Groblewski said. “You can’t stand in one spot and see everything. That’s what a Japanese garden is all about.” Photo by Connie Oswald Stofko
As you proceed along the path, stockade fencing creates a hallway that leads to the doorway of the Japanese tea garden. A window in the door gives a glimpse of the waterfall. Photo by Connie Oswald Stofko
Finally you enter the Japanese tea garden. Here is one of the many views you can enjoy. Photo by Connie Oswald Stofko
Path on lawn
Simple pavers set in the lawn lead from one seating area to another. I visited Pat Bobo on the Samuel P. Capen Garden Walk in 2015. Photo by Connie Oswald Stofko
Use paths where grass can’t grow
Kathleen Winter’s yard so shady that she couldn’t grow grass. Her solution was to eliminate the lawn. She created garden beds, filled with shade plants, and built pathways around the beds. I visited her landscape during the Hamburg Garden Walk in 2012. Photo by Connie Oswald Stofko
Grass can be a path
Paths play an important part in Jerry Powarski’s landscape. There are stone and wooden paths, but the grass forms pathways, too. If you use grass as a path, make sure you make the paths wide enough to accommodate your lawn mower. Powarski shared his landscape on the West Seneca Tour of Gardens. Photo by Connie Oswald Stofko