Monica Brandies is an experienced gardener and author of 12 gardening books. She has a degree in horticulture and is an alumni fellow from Temple University. She can be reached at Her website is

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Make Your Garden Paths Practical, Safe, and Exciting
by Monica Brandies       #Design   #Hardscaping

Paved paths are neater and more permanent. Plants on the side should be low and far enough back so they don’t need constant pruning or make the path feel crowded.

Not so long ago a gentleman wandered through my garden and then came back to tell me that the paths were his favorite part of the garden. Paths are important because they lead the visitor to see all the best places and give the gardener open access to get to and care for the plants.

But there are mistakes to avoid so you won’t find yourself constantly pruning lest they close up. They are important for access. You may even want to keep a wide enough path for a truck to get through to bring in mulch or soil.

If you have a fence, it will save many steps if there are gates on each side of the house so people won’t have to backtrack and can access or retreat from either side.

Grass serves as a nice walkway as long as it is a practical size and attached to the rest of the lawn. Note the low plants are well spaced to avoid crowding.

Paths lead people around your yard with comfort and safety so they should be solid and definite. The best ones are those that flow with the natural route of traffic, curving by special plantings or leading to hidden nooks.

One gardener said he has a secret garden because as you follow his path, you can look back and won’t be able to see far, and looking forward you wonder what more you will see around the next curve. Each section you approach is a joy. This type of path is quite delightful.

You may want to take a few months to a year to see just where want a path before you pave or put down stepping stones. If you have children, they will take the most direct way from the door to the school bus no matter what other path you have. Also do not plant anything fragile behind their home plate or first base or other play areas.

Plants along the path should be low. Otherwise you have to cut away blooms along with the foliage, but at least they can be used for bouquets or cuttings.

And even as an adult, have you gone to some place where you had to make extra steps for no good reason? It might not matter if you only go around an area like that a few times, but it you have to go around it daily or weekly, you tend to despise it.

If possible, in your own garden, connect the paths so that you can go around the garden entirely without stepping over the same path to get the next one.

Paths should be at least three feet wide, broad enough to take a wheelbarrow through, and wider at curves and ends. Plants and structures at their sides should be low and planted far enough from the edge of the walk that you won’t have to prune constantly to keep the path open and not have it feel crowded. Even so, it is a good idea to always have garden scissors or shears in your pocket so you can snip off anything that gets in the way.

Sometimes you need to prune limbs or leaves from above. Remember that some of your visitors may be taller than you are.

In many gardens the lawn can be considered as a pathway. In that case, be sure that the area is just the right width for easy mowing and connected to the next part of the lawn. Paths can be covered with mulch, even leaves, pine needles, or grass clippings. You don’t need to buy mulch, but if you do, we discourage the use of cypress mulch because most of it is not a by-product of tree farming or the timber industries. Cypress mulch most often comes from healthy native trees being cut. You will have to add additional mulch as it disintegrates. In the meantime, it cools the soil and encourages the earthworms.

So now I use my wheelbarrow regularly and whatever it runs over gets taken out. I find the flat clippers are best for taking off the pointed leaves of the pineapples and bromeliads that extend into the path.

You also need to prune above the paths so branches or large leaves won’t touch taller visitors. The best time to do that is when you go out after a rain and the leaves are hanging the lowest.


A version of this article appeared in Florida Gardening Volume 22 Number 3.
Photography courtesy of Monica Brandies.


Posted: 06/19/17   RSS | Print


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