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garden design
Published August 18, 2022 by Nicole Hutchins

How to Create a Kitchen Garden Pathway

Filed Under:
pathways
garden elements
garden layout
garden planning
Garden projects
brick pavers

Introduction to Garden Pathways

When designing your kitchen garden, you will want to pick the right pathway. Pathways can be a beautiful statement piece to go along with your kitchen garden design. By keeping the flow of an existing home’s design and thoughtfully thinking through each season of the garden, you can better choose your pathway materials. 

I'll cover:

  • the reasons for adding pathways to your garden,
  • the different materials you can use to create your pathway, including some pros and cons of each material,
  • and how to add your own pathways during or after your kitchen garden installation.

I know, saying "cons" sounds negative, but by knowing the cons of a certain material, you will be able to better choose the correct material for your pathway.

garden path

Why Add Garden Pathways? 

Pathways allow easy access in and out of your kitchen garden, which is important considering you'll be tending your kitchen garden regularly. Should you have any visitors, a pathway will guide your guest so that they do not step or stomp on any of your beautiful plants. You wouldn't want any of your hard work or beautiful plants going to waste.

Paths also create a nice, clean look that will compliment and define your garden. Pathways can even keep garden maintenance down depending on the material choice and add to the durability of your raised beds.

garden path ideas

The Best Materials for Garden Pathways

Before initiating your design, you will want to choose your pathway material. A few common materials used for pathways are gravel, mulch, and stone. When considering your pathway materials, keep your home's style in mind. If there are any existing pathways or hardscapes, you may want to consider using the same materials, or you may be ready to bring in a new design element or texture. One thing is for sure: You will want your new pathway to be an extension of your home's existing design. As you read through the different materials, keep this in your thoughts as you dream of your future path. 

gravel pathway

Pathway Material: Aggregate/Gravel 

An aggregate is one of the most durable pathways that you can create. An aggregate is a granular material like pea gravel, crushed stone, or crushed minerals.

Since an aggregate isn't a solid surface, it will move as the soil under it moves, making gravel a great choice if you have shifting soils like clay. Aggregates do not disintegrate like some materials, so it will be there for years to come.

One of my favorite things about using aggregates are the sounds created as you walk. I also love the way some rocks feel under my feet, and hearing them crunch is a bonus! You could say that I am biased when it comes to aggregates. Another big pro of using an aggregate is that they tend to dry quickly after a rain and provide great drainage. Because of this, they also help your raised bed material dry quicker, resulting in less disintegration and wear.

When deciding which aggregate to choose, consider color, texture, and shape.

gravel options

Color

Color is a big factor when choosing the right aggregate. You will want to consider your home's style, existing pathways, and garden bed choice. For example, a home may have lots of brown tones or brown undertones. A pathway that flows with this existing home could be pea gravel since it contains shades of brown. In the last few years, whites, creams, grays, and black have taken home exteriors by storm! These homes would look great with crushed slate or another grey-toned material. 

Texture

Aggregates have different texture. Texture give aggregates a certain look, such as fine or heavy. Crushed granite or crushed rock have a fine texture since the pieces tend to be very small or powdery. Crushed rock or minerals have an angular shape, meaning that they have defined edges and sharp corners and are usually rough. Rounded river rock are larger in size and therefore have a heavy texture.

When sourcing an aggregate, be sure to ask about size. Limestone gravel comes in several different sizes. Quarter down limestone will have pieces that are 1/4 inch and under, so it has very small pieces. On the other end, 2"-limestone has large pieces, making it less comfortable for walking. 

Shape

The shape of an aggregate will determine the ease of walking on the aggregate. For example, pea gravel is more comfortable to walk on verses #57 washed gravel. Both pea gravel and #57 washed gravel look similar, though they are different sizes. Pea gravel comes in smaller pieces, while #57 washed gravel is better for vehicle use since it has large pieces. 

blackstar gravel

Let's look at a few aggregates to help you decide! 

Blackstar gravel

Color: dark grey (pictured above)

Texture: medium 

Shape: angular with various shapes, some larger pieces may make it uncomfortable for walking 

Pea gravel 

Color: browns

Texture: fine

Shape: rounded, angular small pieces are comfortable for walking 

pea gravel

River Rock 

Color: Rainbow, browns, gray 

Texture: various sizes are available 

Shape: rounded or angular, usually not comfortable for walking unless a small size is used, better used as a design element around stepping stones 

river rock

Limestone Gravel 

Color: generally gray but may have brown

Texture: various sizes are available (1/4" down fine texture; 1/2" medium texture; 3/4" heavy texture)

Shape: angular to powdery

limestone gravel

Crushed Granite 

Color: Gray to brown 

Texture: various sizes (decomposed granite has fine texture; 1/2" granite has medium texture) 

Shape: angular to powdery 

Stone Chips 

Color: various colors (white marble chips- white in color)

Texture: various sizes available 

Shape: angular 

Crushed Rock

Color: various colors (crushed red rock is rusty red in color; crushed slate is gray in color) 

Texture: various sizes are available (1/4" fine texture; 1/2" medium texture; 3/4" heavy texture)

Shape: angular to powdery (crushed slate tends to have flat pieces, making it great for walking)

crushed rock

Pathway Material: Mulch

Another material for pathways is mulch. Mulches would be the same materials that are used for top dressing landscape beds. This could be pine bark mulch, cypress mulch, or pine straw.

While these are natural, they break down over time and give a place for pests and disease to breed. Mulches also stay moist after a rain, making for a messy path. Wet mulches contribute to damaging wooden raised beds by rotting the wood that comes into contact with the mulch.

On the front-end, mulches cost less, but since they rapidly degrade, they need refreshing, resulting in more costs every year. Mulches also create organic matter that weeds may eventually grow in. 

If mulch is your desired look despite its cons, then stay away from dyed or synthetic mulches when choosing your material for your kitchen garden. The best choice may be a cypress mulch since cypress takes a bit longer than other woods to break down. Not to say that cypress mulch is a cure-all, but pests also seem to not like cypress.

Pathway Material: Moss

Could moss be used for a pathway? Yes and no. Most mosses need shade to live and be happy. In terms of a kitchen garden, most vegetables, not including leafy greens, need full sun. Also, hardy moss varieties will be different regionally. If you think moss might be what you need, then research mosses that are hardy in your area and see if they are a good fit for your growing conditions.

One other thing to think about is the possibility of the moss not thriving. This could be due to foot traffic or growing conditions. Failure to thrive would result in replacements, costing additional funds. That being said, moss is beautiful and gives that lush, organic feel that might make your kitchen garden design dreams come true. Just do your due diligence in researching before making a commitment.

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Pathway Material: Turf 

More than likely, you have existing turf, which can make turf an alluring option. There are pros and cons to having turf as your pathway. An obvious pro is that turf is low cost—or should I say no cost if you have existing turf.

Lush green grass can be nice, but all lawns require maintenance. A con is the maintenance required around raised beds. The beds would need to be far enough apart for a mower, or the area would need weed eating. Both a mower and a weed eater pose a threat to raised beds because they could easily scrape, scratch, break, or dent the sides of raised beds.

A lawn may also stay wet at different parts of the season. This is true of southern regions, where grass goes dormant for the winter months and rains are common. Since a lawn in this type of situation will stay wet, mud can result from foot traffic traveling along pathways. This may not apply to you, as you may not grow a winter garden.

turf pathway

Pathway Material: Stone 

Stone is always classy. From old-world traditional to clean modern lines, stone can provide a timeless look. Stone requires several steps to properly install but lasts for years.

The choices for stone pathways are vast! Let’s look at two: 

  • Flagstone provides a natural look and is available in many neutral colors like browns, tans, and grays. Flagstones are irregular pieces of natural stone, and they can be medium-sized to large slabs. While one person can usually pick up a piece of flagstone, two or more people will be needed to pick up a slab. Keep in mind that since flagstones are natural, their surface is not completely smooth. 
garden stepping stones
  • Pavers, on the other hand, make a beautiful, smooth surface. Pavers come in many sizes and colors, and you could mix these to create patterns for that extra design flair. The right pavers will allow access for handicapped individuals who need a smoother surface. This also makes pavers a great choice for older individuals or people who are at risk for tripping. (Of course, always check with your doctor before doing any activity that might compromise your health.)

All in all, stone is a great choice for any look or style since there are many to choose from.

The picture below utilizes stone pavers with dwarf mondo grass growing between.

stone pavers

Pathway Material: Stepping Stones 

Adding stepping stones to a variety of these materials would be like that first delicious bite of a tomato you grew after a long winter! Not only that, but properly installed stepping stones also offer a flat surface for those who need one. Stepping stones are a great way to add an extra design element to a path.

Stepping stones could be set in an aggregate, creating a beautiful contrast of texture and color. Another stunning use of stepping stones is sinking flagstone slabs in turf. This look works well with many designs since flagstones come in browns and grays. Clean-lined rectangles, squares, or circles also make a statement when sunk in turf. If you want to add an extra touch to your design, then think of ways to incorporate stepping stones.

flagstone garden pathway

Creating Garden Pathways

Tips to Get You Started

One important key to creating a pathway is to build the pathway with correct dimensions. Some things to think about are:

  • How many people will be in the kitchen garden at one time?
  • Do I want to entertain in my kitchen garden? 
  • Will I roll my wheelbarrow or cart in-between the beds?
  • Do I want to create a seating area in my kitchen garden?

Essentially, it boils down to space. How much space is needed for pathways?

Another important factor in helping you determine your pathway is your garden's design. The rule of thumb is for pathways to be no smaller than two feet wide. Two feet will work, but three feet is recommended and will be much more comfortable for tending the garden. Also, most wheelbarrows will easily roll through a three-foot-wide space.

If you plan on having the whole family in the garden, then you may want to go a little wider but not so wide that the garden is out of proportion and overtaken with pathways.

You will also want to consider any furniture or other design elements that you may want to include along your pathways. If you have a border garden, you may be able to get away with a one-foot path or stepping stones—something just wide enough for your feet to rest on comfortably. The key idea is to keep your garden tidy and your feet mud free! 

garden pathways

Steps to create a Pathway

Different materials require different installation techniques. For example, some material installations will require an excavation of soil to make the finished product the correct grade. Before installing any pathway, the area should be marked and leveled by removing any existing plant materials or turf. A sod cutter could be used for turf removal, or you could scalp the turf with a weed eater.

Aggregates and mulches will need landscape fabric, cardboard, or butcher paper installed after the area is leveled. This creates a barrier that serves as a weed suppressant and keeps the material from sinking into the soil. Landscape fabric pins are used to hold the barrier in place and secure to the prepared ground. 

gravel pathway installation

Landscape fabric will give the most longevity, as the other barriers will break down over time. The general rule of thumb for an aggregate or mulch is to use a layer of three or more inches deep. An edge restraint like metal edging is needed to separate and keep the aggregate out of turf and in their designated area. Be sure to keep any organic materials off aggregate paths as they can break down and cause organic build-up, which can become a place for unwanted seeds to sprout.

metal edging

Next, let's look at stone. Depending on the stone, it can be dry laid or locked with a mortar or polymer. Dry laid is when sand is swept between pavers to lock them in place. Using mortar or a polymer sand locks stones in place by sticking together and hardening. The prep work involved for stone usually involves excavating since a 4" or more subbase is needed to lay the stone on. The subbase could be concrete or a compacted aggregate. Sand or mortar is added on top of a leveled subbase, and then the stones can be laid. After this, the locking agent can then be installed to lock stones in place. 

Keep in mind that this is not an exhaustive list of installation techniques, but I hope it serves to give you a better idea of what installing a pathway entails.

It is important to know that regionally different materials may or may not be available. Finding out what is available in your area will allow you to pick the best option. Also, different suppliers may call materials different names, so be patient. I have seen #57 washed gravel called river rock, and the list goes on. It is a good idea to look at samples before ordering or committing to a material. Remember that your area may be better suited for certain materials based on seasonal changes or soils. As discussed in the turf section, turf may not be the best choice for wet southern winters where turf goes dormant. Relate this to your specific area and think of any obstacles that may sway you to choose a certain material over another.

wide pathway

Pathway Check List:

  • Does the pathway material flow with the existing design?
  • Does the pathway width allow easy access for tools (i.e., a wheelbarrow) and people?
  • Are there seasonal changes to consider?
  • Do I want to create sound as I walk?
  • Do I need a solid surface or is a loose material okay?

Answering these questions, will have you well on your way to creating the perfect pathway for your garden! Whatever pathway you create, enjoy the journey and keep gardening.

(All pictures used above come from Rooted Garden installations. Like Nikki, the design team at Rooted Garden is biased toward gravel pathways.)

Meet the Author, Nikki Hutchins

Nikki Hutchins of Plant Connections Unlimited

Nikki Hutchins of Plant Connections Unlimited

Gardenary-certified coach Nikki has 18 years of professional green industry experience, including designing and installing kitchen gardens, landscapes, and specialty gardens in Central Mississippi. Nikki grew up in the family vegetable garden and has a passion to see others take back control of their health and food through gardening. 

She loves planting gardens for our pollinators, creating wildlife habitats, and beautifying through landscape design that can also attract hummingbirds, bees, and butterflies to our spaces.

Below are some pictures of Nikki's recent landscaping installations in progress.

lanscape installation

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Pathway installation
FOLLOW NIKKI AND LEARN MORE ABOUT HER BUSINESS

Plant Connections Unlimited

Plant Connections Unlimited, LLC, is on a mission to help clients become healthy and fit by connecting to nature. We have a passion to help others create a legacy of healthy living for the next generation through gardening!

Learn More from Our Knowledgeable Garden Coaches

How to Create a Kitchen Garden Pathway