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

~ Informative articles on the history of gardening and garden restoration ~

Building Your Garden's Paths


All pictures of paths here are from the restoration project at Nonsuch.

See also Instructions on How to Build Garden Paths from 1828

If you are lucky enough to be able to begin your garden restoration with a garden cleared of most vegetation and previous structures, then one of the first things you will be doing is planning, then building, your garden paths or walks.

Sandstone path at Nonsuch

Paths are used as 'walks' - a means for people to stroll about and enjoy the garden - but they will also be used as access routes for the real work of gardening. Ideally they should be hard surfaced all year round, non-slip, well drained, relatively weed free, wide enough for two people to walk side by side as well to ease the passage gardening equipment, with gentle curved corners that make it easy for walkers as well wheelbarrows, and present a means to get about the garden in at least one direction free of steps. They should also provide a platform for viewing the garden and surrounding landscape, and their layout should invite the visitor deeper into the garden. Straight paths can be efficient (and cheaper), but they are generally soul-deadening.

Nonsuch's garden is on a fairly steep hillside. When planning the garden's hard landscaping we wanted paths that were 'step free' in at least one direction around the garden so that all parts could be accessed easily by a wheelbarrow. There is absolutely nothing worse that having to lift heavy trays or bags of soil or manure or compost up and down stepped sections (we know, we had to do it in our last garden).

The garden at Nonsuch does have steps and stairs along some paths, but the entire garden is serviced by the gently sweeping curve and slope of the central brick and sandstone causeway that means the gardener can get his wheelbarrow to every section of the garden without having to negotiate steps. The gardener may have to take the long way around to access some sections, but at least he can do it without negotiating steps. The paths are also wide, hard surfaced, well drained and non-slip.

If your garden is not a restoration project, then you could always use concrete. Well laid, it is cheap, efficient, and does the job, and it doesn't have to look awful.

If you are restoring a garden, then you will want something to suit the period of your garden, or of the house it surrounds.

Traditionally, garden paths were constructed of:

  • Turf
  • Stone
  • Brick
  • Gravel

Gravel was the most favoured material (cheap, plentiful and easy to lay). Everyone would no doubt love to have beautiful stone paths running through their garden, but cost has always been a major factor in their construction. Local materials can, however, often be obtained fairly cheaply, and always look good. At Nonsuch we went for a mixture of brick, gravel and sandstone (which matches the sandstone used to construct the house). Sandstone everywhere would have been wonderful, but we just could not afford it. The main causeway of the garden is of recycled brick, and some 30% of that brick we found in the garden. In the formal areas of the garden we used solid sandstone, while transitional paths were of sandstone stepping stones amid gravel. For us this meant we kept to very traditional paths that were hard surfaced, well drained, and easy on the eye (if not always on the purse!).

Recycled brick is often easy and cheap to come by, makes beautiful paths that can be easily maintained. Gravel is also be easy on the eye, hard wearing so long as it is well laid on a good grit base, but it can become infested with weeds.

Turf can be easy on the eye, but it can be a nightmare in wet weather, difficult to get gardening equipment around, and generally takes a fair bit of effort to maintain.

There are also products on the market today that simulate stone or brick. The problem is with these that they simply look fake. We're not sure that, in restoring a garden, it is a a good idea to put concrete fake sandstone stepping stones down when the house is built of the real thing. The house will always show up the paths. Cost is a factor, but if you can possibly afford it, then it is always best to go for the genuine article rather than the reproduction.

Building a stone and gravel path.
Built on a firm and well drained footings and edged with terracotta tiles to keep the gravel from spilling, this is a cost effective means of building a 'stone' path that would look good in any heritage garden.

Sandstone slabs laid on a firm base and concreted in place. Salvaged terracotta tiles put in as edging The finished path.



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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