The practical purpose of paths and driveways is to provide access and direct traffic flow within the design.  You may also instill these elements with aesthetic interest, in fact there is not a lot of point in having them if they don’t look nice!  You may consider taking the pathways in different directions, both to allow access to utilities such as the garden shed and to bring you into contact with you garden elements such as seating or planting areas. 

Try to avoid making curved paths simply for the sake of having them.  Instead look for reasons for changes of direction to occur, such as existing contours, journeys from one area to another and detours to look at details such as a rock features.  This will allow everyone to enjoy the different elements of your garden in a way that looks and feels natural and which is not contrived.

A photograph showing a stepped pathway on a garden slope.

The type of traffic will determine the surfaces that you use on pathways or terraces.  Where volumes of traffic are low and a pathway is used only occasionally you can use material as bark mulch, or locally available gravel can also be employed.  For areas that are used more often, such as terraces, it is worth investing in more robust materials, like stone paving or concrete products.

Pathways can form an integral part of your Garden Design and by employing simple techniques they can add interest to your journey through the space.  For instance changing a pathway surface from hard materials to selected gravel can introduce sound to a particular area.  Changing the texture of the path in this way can also slow people down to enjoy a particular view.  Widening a pathway will create an area where people can stop and chat with each other.

The width of paths is also an important consideration; paths for two people to pass beside each other should not be less than 1.2m/4ft  wide, while paths for use by people walking on their own should be a minimum of 75cm/2.5ft.

Always ensure that steps are comfortable to use.  This means that the steps are not too high that it is uncomfortable to lift your leg, nor are they too low that the step may be missed and cause a trip hazard.  A useful tip here is to find some steps, indoors or outdoors that you find easy to use and measure them before you start work.

Wheelchair ramps are sometimes needed in private gardens.  In general this ramp is installed at a 5% gradient and minimum width of 3m/6 feet.  The approach and departure at each end of the ramp should not be obstructed by anything and it must be level over a dimension of approximately 3m/6 feet.

The traffic flow should be free moving and provide both direct and indirect routes to important areas of the garden.  Circulation refers to the movement of people’s eyes and then their body through a specific pattern in the landscape.  Each unit within the design should be part of the whole and these units should be incorporated into the circulation in order that they are all accessible.

Tip: Your entire circulation pattern should not consist simply of pathways.  For instance you can make it possible for people to cross areas of lawn in order to facilitate access to places that are only occasionally used.  Of course if you find that tracks (desire lines) are becoming established in your lawn, this becomes an excellent place to build a pathway.