“No single element in the design of a garden is as important as where you put your paths.” — Hugh Johnson
Spring is a great time to take a fresh look at one very important passageway leading to your front door. Yes, it’s your walkway. While the journey from driveway to front door may not be long, it can certainly be inviting, even welcoming. It is one of those key elements that connects your home to the overall landscape.
Before the season gets into full swing—and it will, despite appearances—take advantage of the bare natural architecture of your home to get a clear vision of the style, shape, material, and plantings perfect for your home and garden!
Here are some things you should consider when designing a walkway:
Style of Your Home
Understanding and appreciating the style of your home is vital to creating a walkway that truly works. An orderly Cape Cod home works well with a curving brick walk edged with lush perennial beds, whereas irregular bluestones laid in sweeping patterns can echo the lines of a contemporary home. A wide curving path with planting beds on both sides softens the long, horizontal lines of a ranch—incorporating a tall, thin tree to breakup the line will add vertical interest.
Patterns, motifs and prominent features of the house—rooflines, arched windows or an ornate entrance—can be clues to how to connect the walkway to the house and surrounding landscape.
If existing significant trees and shrubs are present, use their solidity as a starting point or framework for the pathway. Those existing elements, like a light post or mature planting bed, can be very helpful in determining where the path might begin.
If you are in a new house, you may not have any of these preexisting features. That’s a great opportunity to consider adding a few small trees to provide scale and balance. Of course, you should select trees carefully—consider the eventual size of the tree, and find a location that will allow it to fully mature without overpowering the front of the house.
Start by creating a simple scaled drawing on paper including measurements of the house and significant landscape features. This will allow for a bird’s eye view of the walkway in relation to the overall lay of the land. Visualizing your plan on paper may provide design ideas you may not have considered.
One of the best ways to preview the shape and flow of the front walk is to lay out the path with a garden hose or use a spray can of brightly-colored marking chalk. This makes the design process a bit more fluid as it can be altered and reshaped several times before the actual construction on the walk begins.
Generally, a walkway should be about 4-6 feet wide to accommodate two people walking side by side. Pathways that are generous in size and well-organized are more inviting for visitors. To define the transition from driveway to walk, allow for a larger entrance pad or a generous flair that may be detailed in a different stone pattern from the main walk.
You may want this new layout to be a long linear path with a 90-degree turn at the front of the house, or possibly some grand sweeping curves that encompass more of your front lawn. Be creative in using the space around your home- move beyond the conventional narrow walkway, tightly-clipped evergreen plantings and expansive front lawn. Allow the walkway and plantings to flow into more of your front yard to soften and frame your home. Your property will start to come together once you expand and incorporate all these elements together into a more cohesive whole.
Once you have roughed out the design, live with it for a while. Give yourself time to get an overall sense of how it frames and enhances your home. View it from different vantage points—from the street, driveway, and interior of your home. Walk up and down this path to get a sense for how it feels underfoot.
This temporary layout will help you envision the shape, extent, and overall size of the walkway. It will also provide the context for plantings that will provide a finished and more decorous look to the front entrance.
There are a number of materials to choose from when designing a front walkway. Some popular options include cut bluestone, brick, or pavers that should be laid tightly to prevent weeds and for a clean and well-delineated look. Selecting the right stone for your project will lend a sense of safety, permanence, and long-term durability.
Keep in mind that inexpensive alternatives like crushed stone or randomly placed stone can be difficult to maintain. This type of path often requires a lot weeding and ongoing upkeep, and does not provides much stability and long lasting endurance.
It is best to speak with a professional about the materials you want to use. They will know the pros and cons of each option, and can best guide your selection.
As you layout your walk, allow for wide, gracious planting beds in front of the house. If space allows, create garden beds that are 7-10 feet wide to accommodate groupings of shrubs that are massed together and layered in graduated heights and textures. Mass planting a particular shrub has high impact in a foundation planting. Imagine the effect of large clusters of hydrangeas and lavender in full bloom as opposed to a single hydrangea in a narrow bed of low juniper.
Consider how the beds will look throughout the year, a balanced combination of dwarf evergreen and compact flowering shrubs underplanted with appropriate perennials and ground covers will anchor the walkway as well as lend a sense of permanence to the house. The addition of spring bulbs and long blooming shrubs and perennials will provide color throughout the seasons. In the end, you want the final configuration of the walkway and plantings to be in harmony with the home and its surroundings. Above all, it should invite your family and friends to savor and linger along the new walkway to your home.
Click on an image below to see a slide show of walkway ideas!