In Part I of our Definitive Guide to Paths and Walkways series, we discussed the various functions of paths and walkways, their design, slope and drainage. In Part II we will take a look at the various kinds of paths and walkways, the materials that make them up and the process of building them. So let’s get right to it.
A stepping-stone path is one of the easiest stone landscape projects to construct. Stepping-stones are typically set in lawn, ground cover, bark mulch or gravel. They are also used in ponds for access to views, to feed fish or as part of the path network in the landscape. Stepping-stone paths are a good choice in general for informal landscapes, but they can also work as low use or maintenance paths through more formal gardens.
You can use almost any type of stone to make a path. Although stone paths are commonly made with individual stones spaced for comfortable strolling, you can use pavers laid in a pattern instead of a large single stone. Avoid using polished stone because the surface becomes extremely slippery when wet. Using stone dressed to a uniform thickness makes the work go much quicker.
Laying Out The Walk
Stepping-stones can be laid singly in a line or deliberately staggered. You can also make a path that is more than one stone wide.
Before you excavate, you need to calculate how far apart to set the stones. Fifteen inches on center is a good distance that will accommodate a leisurely stride for most people. If you want to test the path for walking comfort, walk the area where you want to put the stones and mark each spot where the center o your foot lands. Use this as a guide to set your stones. Stepping-stones used in part of a path – for example, to keep you out of a wet spot – can be set further apart, because you will instinctively change your pace when you get to the stones.
Excavate. The depth of the excavation for each stone depends on the thickness of the stone and where you want the top surface of the stone in relation to the surrounding grade. For stones set in lawn, consider placing the stone low enough to mow over. In mulch or ground cover, elevate the stone slightly above the grade.
In heavy soils, excavate an additional 2 to 4 inches and backfill with gravel before setting the stones. Save or compost sod by cutting and removing it separately from the soil.
If your stones are not a uniform thickness, excavate to accommodate the thickest part of the stone. Backfill with sand to support the thinner parts of the stone.
Stones Set In Mulch. Depending on your overall design goals, you may want to excavate the entire path area, as you would for a walkway, instead of making individual holes. You would excavate the whole area if you wanted to set the stones in gravel, mulch or a ground cover. Regardless of your method, check the bottom of the excavated areas for level before you start placing stones.
Set The Stones
After you set a stone in a hole, stand on it and check it for stability by trying to rock it. Stones that are not uniform in thickness are more likely to need fill or sand added to make them stable. Next, use a level or straightedge to see whether the top surface of the stone is at the correct elevation in relation to the surrounding grade. Repeat these steps for each stone.
Backfill. For stones set in lawn, partially backfill with the site soil and replant strips of sod, or completely backfill with soil and sown seed to allow the grass to re-establish itself. If you are planting a ground cover, you may want to use a different grade or type of soil for backfill. If you are mulching the area with gravel or mulch, you may not need or want to use any soil for backfilling.
Gravel Paths and Walkways
A gravel walkway, sometimes called a soft walk, is easy and comparatively inexpensive to install. Because a gravel path can conform to any shape, they are a good choice for meandering garden paths. With a gravel walk, you won’t have the heaving and displacement problems that you might have with large stones or pavers. Because gravel drains well and dries quickly, it is a good choice for garden paths. An occasional light spray with a garden hose is usually enough to wash away surface dirt.
Gravel walks do have limitations you’ll want to consider before deciding to construct one. In heavy traffic areas, gravel gets pushed around and will require raking now and then to level out the surface. When compared with a hard walk surface, pushing a wheelbarrow, maneuvering a wheelchair or walking with a walker on loose gravel will require more effort and walking on it barefoot can be painful.
Types of Stone
Stone used for walks is usually classified by texture, either smooth or rough. Rough stones make a more compact walk surface than do smooth stones. Both are available in many colors and sizes. Although commercially available loose aggregate ranges from 1/4 to 3-inch stones, the best sizes for paths are between 3/4 and 1 1/2 inches. These medium-size stones stay in place better than small pebbles. They compact better and are more comfortable to walk on than larger stones.
Gravel and crushed stone are typically sold either screened to a uniform size or unscreened. You can also purchase small quantities by the bag at garden centers. For large quantities, you’ll want to go to a gravel yard.
Smooth Stone. Smooth stone, sometimes called river stone, may or may not be available at a gravel yard. It is usually found at garden centers in a range of sizes and colors.
If you’re unsure about the best color and size stone to use, bring home a few samples to experiment with and study examples in public parks and gardens.