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Medieval to 16th century | 17th - 19th century | Garden Restoration | The Nonsuch Restoration Project

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How to Build Garden Paths, or Walks



Instructions From Charles McIntish's The Practical Gardener, 1828

The number and breadth of walks must be regulated by the quantity of allotted ground,always bearing in mind that few and wide walks are preferable to many narrow ones. If the garden is small, then one good walk all about is sufficient. If long and narrow, the cross walks should be kept to a minimum, while six or eight-feet walks are not too wide for the moderate-sized garden.

In the formation of the walks the ground, if good, should be excavated to a depth or two or three feet in order to allow for a layer of stones, brick-bats, rubbish or rough gravel to render the whole perfectly dry in all seasons, as well to prevent the rising up of worms. Good drains should be placed under the walks to carry off superfluous water.

the bottom thus prepared, the whole should be finished off with the best gravel that can be procured, to a depth of six to twelve inches - gravel of a binding nature is best. The colour of the gravel should be of a yellowish hue as dark gravel has not so cheerful an appearance. Lighter coloured gravels are also the more easily tarnished and, unless kept exceedingly well, soon look ill.

The advantage of good gravel walks in the embellishment of a garden is of much importance, but there are many situations where this material is not to be procured unless at enormous expense. Therefore recourse must be made to substitutes which will make equally agreeable and comfortable walks as gravel, but which may fall far short of it in terms of beauty.

Of these substitutes coal ash is the best, and for kitchen garden walks may answer the desired purpose. Ashes can be sifted and laid upon any bottom, whether prepared or not and, if rendered dry, can make excellent walks. They are not much affected by rain, nor are they apt to be disturbed by frosts, nor subject to be overgrown with weeds.

Road sand is also a good substitute for gravel, and that procured from roads formed of flints is the best. The walks may be rendered dry before it is put on, in the same manner as gravel, which will prevent the effects of worm casts, to which walks of sand are very much subject. It should be laid on in a a wet state approaching mortar, and rolled down when partially dry. Walks of this sort are easily kept clear of weeds and are neat and clean during summer. In autumn and winter they become soft and unpleasant, and are apt to become overgrown with various species of mosses.

A stone and gravel path at Nonsuch, laid in the traditional manner and edged with 'objectionable' terracotta tiles.

Sawdust makes a dry walk, if it can be had in abundance. It is dry and clean and few weeds will make their appearance in such walks, but it is a material which needs often to be renewed.

In Holland, where gravel is very scarce, many of the gardens have walks formed of bog-mould, but it is liable to many defects, and is neither dry nor clean.

Small pebbles, embedded in strong clay, when placed closely together like a causeway, make an excellent, dry and clean walk and present a neat appearance. But, if this is to be done well it is expensive.

Whatever material is used for the bed of the path, it is necessary to have an edging of some sort. Box (hedge) is to be preferred, and Thrift (Statice armeria) is often used, but requires to be replanted every couple of years and thus cannot be recommended. Various other sorts of edging, such as bricks placed on edge, slate, deal etc. are used, but all are objectionable. Grass edgings are sometimes laid, but they require often to be mowed and often resent an unseemly appearance.

In gardens of small extent, edgings are sometimes formed of useful kinds of vegetables, such as parsley, strawberries, thyme, hyssop, winter savoury or chamomile. These, while they remain young and ungathered, have an effect not out of character with a kitchen garden. There are some persons who dispense with all kinds of edgings, and merely defend the edges of the walks with a beaten border, which they renew as needed.

Please also visit Old London Maps on the web as many of the maps
and views available there have plans and depictions of gardens from
the medieval period through to the late nineteenth century.

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