Pondering Paths

It’s winter.  Sigh!  What’s a gardener to do when she can’t garden?  According to my long-range plan (One must make plans, even at my advanced age!) this is the year to upgrade the paths, beginning with a central path at the least.  Previous gardens taught me to be patient with paths, to spend a year or two with a temporary surface before expending the expense and labor of something more permanent.  I’ve used cardboard (too slippery), sand, recycled roofing shingles (fantastic if you can get them), gravel, pea gravel, bricks, and wood chips with varying success.

If I were pushed to recommend any, I’d say sand because it can easily be changed if it becomes apparent a path needs to curve more or be straightened, or even eliminated altogether.  And, it makes a good base for most permanent surfaces, thus saving another step in the future.  It also quickly makes apparent any water issues, because the sand will be shifted from high spots to low spots and form troughs where running water occurs.  That said, it’s also apparent that it only works well on level areas.  My least favorite is pea gravel.  Although it is lovely, it is very, very hard to walk on with a cane or walker or wheelchair because all those little balls move when pressure is applied.  That’s not an issue for me now, but it can be in a blink.  One twisted ankle and it’s a big issue for anyone.  Phone to 11-20-17 093

For my potager, however, I chose wood chips spread over landscape cloth.  I’d already blown the budget on the fencing, raised beds, Lady Cottage & greenhouse.  My energy was depleted from heavy-weight shoveling to fill the raised beds with soil.  Shoveling tons more of sand was just not something I could face, and it needed to be done quickly.  Wood chips are free, or very cheap in our area, and much lighter weight than sand.  I also knew that the soil would settle in the raised beds after the first growing season, and that the slowly decomposing wood chips could be added on top as mulch and organic matter.

For the most part, I’ve been happy with the choice with just a couple of exceptions.  In order to get the look I want and ease of walking, the finer ground chips are required.  The drawback is that they decompose at a faster rate than expected, requiring replacement every year.  The good point is, they do give me an instant layer of mulch as I plant since I simply scoop up the path material and spread it around each row and plant.  However since it takes 4 truckloads minimum, a lot of shoveling and trundling in the wheelbarrow, bending and raking, it is quite time and energy consuming, and needs to be done in spring when everything else needs doing as well!  It wasn’t bad the first year as I was filled with the enthusiasm of making the new potager and it was in fall, when things were less hectic.  The second year seemed more of a chore, and my old body was yet another year older.  This year, it was a job not anticipated with any relish.   I’m already dreading it come next spring.  I’m happy with my potager plan and don’t foresee any changes.  It’s time for a more permanent path solution.  Potager path waves   Another issue is the water flow through the potager.  We had to lower the south end of the potager, using some of the topsoil to slightly raise the north end to achieve “level.”  Then we sloped the south area outside the potager to form the Lavender Slope.  I’m happy with that.  However, I hadn’t quite calculated the amount of water that comes off the neighbor’s field, especially after they removed three fence rows that had fed the water into the west woods, rather than onto our lawn area as it does now.  The result is that water runs down the slopes on both the south and west sides at various places and through the paths, washing the wood chips into little piles here and there that must then be raked back into place periodically.  And along with the water comes soil, so it isn’t long before my wood chip path is actually a mixture of chip and soil which becomes quite muddy.  Weed seeds blown or floated in find it a happy landing place and quickly germinate.  See me frown!

And so the pondering has begun.  What to use as a more permanent path material:  bricks, pavers, concrete “sidewalk,” or poured concrete using a “brick” pattern mold?  Bricks and pavers usually have sand between them, in which weeds can germinate.  Concrete usually cracks eventually.  Nothing seems perfect, and all seem expensive.   I won’t dig out the paths to lower them, so whatever I choose will go on top of the landscape cloth and raise the paths a few inches.  That may help a bit with water running in, or it may just turn out that the walkway gets covered with washed in dirt that is truly annoying.  (Maybe at some point I’ll have to deal with drainage and water routing, too.  UGH!) However, the weeds seeds shouldn’t find it so easy to grow.  Decisions, decisions.  It’s not something I must resolve this moment, but I’d like to complete at least one main path, and hopefully two by autumn’s end.  The main paths are 4′ wide, so require the most chips.  I think I can manage chipping the smaller paths for a few more years, and those would require only 2 loads of chips rather than 4.  Regardless, there won’t be time for paving this spring so there is time for research over the long winter.

What materials do you use for permanent paths, and would you choose them again?  I’d love your input.


About carolee

A former professional herb and lavender grower, now just growing for joy in my new potager. When I'm not in the garden, I'm in the kitchen, writing, or traveling to great gardens.
This entry was posted in garden design, garden maintenance, garden planning, paths, Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

14 Responses to Pondering Paths

  1. Mybackyardgarden4b says:

    Good morning Carol! Something for your consideration: shale. I converted a driveway covered in red shale to garden beds and used the shale for the pathways throughout the garden. It’s a bit more robust than sand re: being washed out, but then again I don’t think I have the volume of water that you have to contend with. Something to add to your winter research list. 😄 I’m trying to find solutions for squash trellises myself.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. My paths in the beds are wood chips and they do fine. I have a path on the side of the house that I did about 12 years ago with landscaping concrete squares. Because of heavy water in a couple of areas those parts have sunk and it gets very icy. It’s not a problem in dry weather, but I need to do something. I’m just not sure I’m up to tearing it all out and starting over again. Lots of labor for this old girl. 🙂


  3. Robin Edmundson says:

    I use #11 limestone gravel chips over landscape cloth. There is some settling the first year and I topped it off a couple of years later. Weed seeds get in anyway, but are easy to pull up. Drainage is an issue for us as well, so I dug a few paths a bit deeper in their centers and laid in drainage tile to get the water coming from the upslope on the north side across the garden [under the paths] to the downslope on the south side. It works pretty well. I like this gravel a lot – easy to walk on and push wheel barrow on. Not nearly as soft as pea gravel.


    • carolee says:

      I do suspect putting in some drainage to carry away water before it reaches the potager would be a great help. Wish I’d thought of it when I did all the trenches to bury the chicken wire along the fence. Could have put in slotted plastic drain pipes at the same time! I’ll look at #11 limestone chips as well. Thanks for the suggestion.


  4. Cortney says:

    This is always such a tricky situation to ponder as no option seems perfect. We used limestone driveway base tamped into place for most of our hardscaping. It looks great, but weeds do love it. I think if I were to do another garden, I would go with large-scale pavers- the biggest ones I could find. They would be a bear to put in and probably cost a ton, but there would be less cracks for weeds than smaller pavers and would provide a good, sturdy surface for future mobility needs. And those cracks between pavers could help with water drainage in a way concrete couldn’t. Good luck! I don’t envy your choices, but I’m sure it will look fantastic whatever you decide! Can’t wait to see the changes!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. bcparkison says:

    Bless your heart…I can feel your pain of thought. There is a product that can be added to sand that fills in a walkway and it will keep weeds etc. from growing. I haven used it yet but need to. Do let us know what you decide.


  6. Interesting question indeed. I have some slate chip paths, which I am quite happy with. And most of the garden has lawn paths. I am actually quite happy with those, but you have to mow them from time to time. Hope you come up with a nice solution.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Helen says:

    Some friends of mine use geotextile under their wood chips. That way, the wood chips last longer and there is less weed growth. However, if you are getting silt from your neighbour’s fields this would perhaps not be a suitable option for you.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Emma says:

    Thanks for liking my post 🙂 I just popped over to your blog and read this post of yours. What an incredibly tidy vegetable garden!

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Thanks for following 🌸 I can only agree with the above comment!

    Liked by 1 person

  10. I still do not have set plans for paths yet, hubby and I are still discussing what our tolerance is and what we want from our garden. I’m thinking landscaping cloth will go down, then be pulled up every year, this is an example that I’ve seen used by someone with an expansive cut garden. It’s more for function, not looks, and it makes it easy to till the fields each fall. It’s not going to be a huge garden, but it will be a decent size that I do not want to have to put out any sort of material that needs upkeep of any kind, or get in the way of what the need is for the garden – which is just to produce a cut flower garden and make it easy to go along and cut flowers and move on! As time goes on, it is possible that there will be a want/need for paths as things change at the ranch, so it’s handy to have this page to go back to and read what’s been working or not working! Thanks for your posts!


    • carolee says:

      Look into the biodegradable plastics. When I had my old herb farm and did field production of dried flowers I used it not only to cover and heat up beds for heat lovers like celosia, but as paths with a layer of mulch over it (so you don’t slip when harvesting). When the season ended, I simply tilled up the entire annual area. They are made of cornstarch or soybean meal and decompose into quarter sized bits by autumn, and are usually totally gone by the following spring!

      Liked by 1 person

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