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I built my first house in 1986 and moved in in January 1987. The house was done, but the exterior porches and landscaping would have to hold off until spring. Little did we know we’d have record snowfall in the next couple of months!

On a clear day after a big storm, my landscape designer friend and neighbor, Sally, came by. We were in the front yard talking about creating a walkway from the house to the river, a distance of about 160’.

Source: houzz.com via nan on Pinterest

 

The yard was an unbroken field of white. I stood at the house and watched Sally walk through two feet of fresh snow towards the river on an imaginary walkway. She curved to the right, to the left, around one of a few large trees and back to the right. It was a perfect fit for the woodsy property!

My house in 1987. Source: Uploaded by user via nan on Pinterest

Walkways in outdoor living spaces

Walkways serve several functions. They lead from the driveway or street to the front door. They lead from the front of the house to the back. They lead from the back to a special place like a garden or a seating area. Wherever they are, they create depth by carrying the eye to the end of it. This is a great illusion if your yard is small.

A walkway should echo the house it surrounds. If a house is formal, the walkways should reflect that with straight lines and simple materials, like concrete. Think rigid, symmetrical and stiff. If plants flank the walk, they need to have simple, sheared shapes or be absent altogether.

Choosing walkway styles

A country home’s walkways should be more casual with natural materials, such as stone, flagstone or crusher fines. Serpentine shapes with organic plantings along the way create mystery and intrigue. Your eye wonders what is beyond the next curve. Curved walkways also make people slow down and enjoy the vegetation.

Source: clippermasonry.com via nan on Pinterest

 

The main walkway to the front door should be at least 4’ wide so two people could walk next to each other. A smooth material and wider beginning makes it inviting. Where the walkway meets the front steps, it will need to widen to match the width of the stairs for a smooth and pleasing transition.

Secondary walkways around the house to the back should be a minimum of 3’ wide, and walkways to various parts of the yard can be as narrow as 2’. All walkways should be in proper proportion to the house. A huge house might demand a main access wider than 4’.

Walkways and common materials

Common materials are:

  • Brick
  • Natural stone (Bluestone, Travertine, Slate)
  • Flagstone
  • Cobblestone
  • Crusher fines
  • Pavers
  • Concrete
  • Fine mulch
  • Pea gravel
  • Low-growing grass

One of my favorite ideas is to plant mother-of-thyme between pieces of flagstone. Vegetation softens the edges of the stone, and it smells good when it is walked on. I have also used Potentilla verna to edge the sides of a stone walkway. It loves the heat and is indestructible.

Mother of thyme between the stones. Source: houzz.com via nan on Pinterest

 

You can pour a concrete walkway or buy a mold to fill in place. This looks like cobblestone. Colored concrete can blend in or contrast with the yard and the home.

Travertine is neutral colors of tan and gray. It is a natural non-skid surface, if you live in a rainy area. That feature also makes it a good tile to use around a swimming pool. Travertine also does not discolor or fade, and does not crack or shirt with the annual freeze/thaw cycle.

Brick is another versatile material. It is dry-laid in sand in one of three patterns – herringbone, basket weave or running bond. I love brick walkways, patios and driveways, but I think it’s easy to overdo it if the house is brick!

Source: wgpaver.com via nan on Pinterest

Walkways as a DIY project for spring

Building a walkway can be a DIY project. In a really brief summary, mark the placement lines with string, remove the sod (or whatever the ground is), level it with a slight angle away from the house for drainage, add sand, place your stones and fill spaces with sand. Google it for details.

I sold my house before I could build a walkway to the river, but I have made imaginary walkway at every house I have lived in since. I find myself following the paths the dogs make or the most common routes I take between the gardens, the walking trail and the parking area. Walkways need to be functional and beautiful all in one.

For more ideas, see my Walkways Pinterest board.

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Nan Fischer

Nan Fischer has been living and building green for over 35 years. Nan’s emphasis on the BuildDirect blog is about how to make your dollar stretch further, while also moving toward a more sustainable lifestyle, as well as upcoming and existing technology to help us live in an ecologically-friendly way. Nan also authors posts on the website of her seed business, sweetly seeds.