It is hardly possible to have a garden without paths which tie the garden to the house. They may lead us to the friendly doors of the dwelling, but they may also guide us through a thousand wonders to a sheltered nook where a bower of sweet-scented honeysuckle or old-fashioned roses awaits our coming. Sometimes the intimacy of well-constructed and appropriate garden walks will stimulate a genuine desire for gardening as well as a personal interest in the individual blooms as they appear in their season.
There are, of course, many types of paths to choose from, and while the individual likes should be satisfied, yet there are a number of factors to consider before deciding on the type of path best suited to your plan and grounds. To a certain degree, in the construction of paths one must be guided by the type of house and the form and type of the garden. For example, the rustic-looking flagstone paths look well near the old Tudor or Elizabethan types of houses. Rough brick paths may also be constructed from the sidewalk to the decorative doorway of the Colonial house, but brick as a rule is not so attractive as other types of walks on account of the bright color.
There are certain surroundings in which the Colonial house should have an old-fashioned garden of perennials along dirt or gravel paths. Leading from a bungalow or cabin, a dirt path or one of natural flat stones fitted tightly in the surface soil is most desirable. The little cottage, if partly brick, might well have brick walks. There are many types of cottages that look well with gravel paths leading from the sidewalk or road and also through the garden. When we go into the rose garden, there is nothing more attractive than little paths of grass between the rose beds.
No matter what type or style of path you select, the subject of proper drainage is most important. This essential feature of a good path and the principles involved remain substantially the same whether the path be constructed of concrete, brick, slabs, gravel, or other material. The shape and slope of the path are the first consideration, especially of a gravel or dirt path. These types should always be "crowned" or rounded up toward the center so that there may be a fall from the center to the sides. The crown may be slight, but at any rate the water should flow freely toward the gutters. Concrete and brick paths may be practically level, with gutters on one side at least to carry off the rain water.
1 Adapted from Garden Making and Keeping (Garden City, N. Y.: Doubleday, Page & Co. [now Doubleday, Doran & Co., Inc.], 1926), pp. 25-30.
If the path is steep, it should be supplied with substantial gutters on both sides. It is no easy matter to construct gutters satisfactorily without making them too stiff. If bricks are used the edge of the gutter may be left uneven by leaving out half a brick here and there and then fitting tiny plants into these spaces. If the surface of the brick is rough it will soon become covered with moss, especially in the shaded places, and this will take away the newness - which is always objectionable. If cobbles or flat stones are used the edges should also be unevenly connected with the path and lawn or road beyond so that the monotony may be eliminated by fitting plants along the edge. This planting along the gutters must never be of such a nature that it interferes with the proper drainage.
The dirt or grass paths may be drained by allowing spaces of from two to four inches wide and from two to three inches deep along the edge. No material of any kind is used to construct these edges, but just the dirt furrow is kept shapely. This of course applies where there is only a slight slope; if the path is steep, one must build a permanent and secure gutter of some rough material.
Cement paths are rarely recommended for the garden. They may be constructed as a wide walk to the entrance of the lawn or garden, but it is pleasant to step from the concrete to a different type of walk to the house.
In constructing grass paths between rose beds, it is not uncommon to lay sod and pack it down firmly so that the roots come into direct contact with the fine, rich loose soil on which it is placed. Scatter over the surface of the sod a sprinkling of fine soil and spread this out with the back of the rake so as to fill in any spaces. Then sprinkle over the soil and sod a mixture of lawn grass seed, and finally roll the sod. All of this should be done in the spring. The first fall scatter over the grass a coating of very well-rotted manure in which the weed seeds have been destroyed. The following spring rake off what remains of the litter and again roll. This treatment will make excellent grass paths.
If a gravel path is to be constructed, first dig out the path to a depth of twelve inches. Place six inches of coarse stone on the bottom and four inches of broken stone on top. Above these layers of stone place two inches of finely chipped stone. After the fine stone is spread evenly over the surface of the walk, saturate it with water and pack it down with a heavy roller. This deep foundation of rock will insure proper drainage and will, to a large degree, prevent the washing off of the fine surface material.
It is seldom that any planting is done close to the edge of gravel paths. If flower borders are to be constructed along the path, there is a strip of sod from twelve to eighteen inches wide laid between the walk and the planting space. It requires attention to keep the weeds out of a gravel path; a sprinkling of coarse salt is a sure death to them, and a spray of solvay calcium chloride will not only keep down the dust but will prevent weeds.
Brick paths need good drainage of from six to eight inches of stone or of cinders and about two inches of coarse sand. The foundation material should be packed down thoroughly with a heavy tamper or roller before the bricks are laid. If at uneven intervals part or all of a brick is left out near the edge or side of the path, this space may be used for planting. Take out all the rough foundation material below this space and then fill in with a rich soil made up of leaf mold, decayed sod, and a little very well-rotted cow manure mixed with the garden loam.
On setting out the rock plants do not ball or crowd the roots, but place them on a downward slant and firm the soil tightly about them. Care should be taken not to bury the heart of the plant too deeply. The soil in these pockets will settle, and a top dressing of compact soil should be applied in the fall or during the growing season.
If after the lawn is well established you wish to construct a stepping-stone path, place the slabs of stone in position on the surface of the lawn. After you are fully decided as to the width and position of the path, cut out the sod along the margin of the slab and remove the sod. Fit the slab into this space. This practice is most satisfactory because the stone slabs fit snugly to the grass. The slabs of stone should be a little below the surface of the sod so as not to interfere with the mowing machine. If the soil is at all marshy, from five to six inches of cinders should be fitted beneath the stone slabs.
Where a series of slabs of sand or limestone is used in making a walk, do not dress the broken corners. When possible secure stones that show the sign of age and fit them unevenly rather than formally along the walk, leaving a space of about two inches between stones. Proper drainage should be emphasized and may be had by following the suggestions given for the construction of a foundation for brick paths. After the stones are placed, clay, sand, or ashes should be packed tightly along the edges of each stone. If the path is well drained and packed there is little danger of the stone heaving as the frost comes out of the ground in the spring. Between the slabs of stone where rock plants are to be placed, build pockets filled with rich soil to a depth of from six to twelve inches.
Fig.66. - The home of an architect, Mr. Walter Erkes. Garden walks are made from various materials; flagstones are appropriate here. (Photograph by Padilla Studios. Courtesy of Palos Verdes Homes Association, Calif.)
Keep in mind that these slabs get very hot during the summer and absorb a large amount of water. If watering is necessary, spray the plants slowly and gently with a fine spray during the early part of the evening and see to it that the soil is moist down to the bottom of the pocket. Never water during the heat of the day.
A slight stirring of the soil to a depth of about one inch, now and then, for a week or two after the plants are set out, or just before watering, is highly recommended. By letting the air into the soil the growth of moss is prevented and the development of acid checked. This air drainage through cultivation not only liberates plant food and allows the moisture to work into the soil, but it liberates also the carbon dioxide which is so much needed by the plant. This gas comes from the breaking down of organic matter in the soil each time the soil is cultivated.
While we want our paths artistic we must never lose sight of the fact that, after all, they are utilitarian. They should be dry and conveniently arranged. Our planting must not interfere with the usefulness of the path. They should open up a way to serve a real purpose rather than merely look beautiful.