Weed-free garden paths with minimum effort and costs, no back-breaking labour and do-able by anyone who can swing a spade.
There is a multitude of materials you can use for laying garden paths, as diverse as wood chip mulch to concrete and from old bricks to railway sleepers. Many of these require two or three strong men; did YOU ever try lifting a railway sleeper on your own?
Where to Lay Garden Paths?
Laying garden paths involves effort and some costs, once laid they tend to stay laid for decades. Therefore it is important to plan where to lay your path.
You need to think about laying paths wherever you take a wheelbarrow or walk frequently. You lay garden paths to enable you to walk around your garden without getting your feet muddy.
Think about joining the important parts of the garden with paths. You will need to lay a path from the house to the garden, then to the shed, the compost heap, the vegetable patch, the dog run, the greenhouse and any other work areas around your garden.
You might also want to lay garden paths leading to and then around particular features, such as a rose garden or your orchard.
Planning the Layout of your Garden Paths
Avoid straight lines. Every path should be slightly curved. This gives a more natural look to the garden. Plan the path's route to skirt shrubs and trees by a large enough margin to allow for shrubs to grow without overgrowing the path and to avoid low tree branches.
Laying Garden Paths from Pebbles or Gravel
Pebbles are round, and are difficult to walk on unless you are young and active because individual pebbles move underfoot as you walk on the path. Gravel has an irregular shape with sharp edges, meaning that the individual stones will not move over each other as easily as pebbles do.
Laying Garden Paths-Preparation
You need to roughly level off the ground and remove any sharp stones. You can leave in any weeds or grass. They will die underneath your new path.
Buy a roll of heavy duty black polythene, such as builders' merchants sell for damp-proof membrane. This normally comes in a roll 12 feet wide, folded over twice, so the roll is 3 feet wide.
A 4 foot wide path will probably suit most gardens. Unroll the black polythene by about 6 feet. Cut off a 4 foot length using scissors or a craft knife. Take the 4ft by 12 foot piece of black polythene you have just cut and lay it out at the start of your first garden path. Weight it down with stones or bricks for now. It must be black polythene, because it kills the weeds by excluding light.
Repeat until you have about 20 yards of black polythene laid out where you are laying your garden paths. Overlap the 12 foot lengths by about 1 foot. If possible join the pieces where your curves are going to be.
Laying Garden Paths-Edging
Buy path edging type concrete kerbstones, these are about 9 inches high by 2 feet long. They only weigh half the weight of a 2 foot square paving slab, so are easy to handle. Dig a shallow trench about 3 inches deep down each side of your black polythene path. The kerbstones will sit in this. Try to keep the base level, or your kerbstones will be crooked.
Place the kerbstones in your trench. Get down and look along the tops of the kerbstones to judge for any irregularities. Take out more earth where you have high spots and build up earth under low spots. Knock wooden pegs into the ground to keep the kerbstones in place. Make sure the kerb stones stand 4-6 inches above ground level.
You now need to buy concrete. The easy way is to buy bags of ready mixed concrete that you just add 2 litres (2 quarts ) of water to. Buy 4 or 5 bags for your first path. Mix your concrete using a clean spade according to the directions on the pack. You need to put dollops of concrete along the base of each kerbstone. You do not need a continuous 2 inch pile of concrete on both sides, nothing like that, it is not a motorway you are building.
Laying the Gravel on Your Garden Paths
Leave your concrete for three days to set. Order your gravel or pebbles. You will need 1 cubic yard of stones for every 25 feet of path to give you a 3 inch deep path. Tell the company you are buying from the volume you need. They will work out how many tons that will be and the price. Order 1 cubic yard of builders sand for every 75 feet of garden path you are laying.
Use your wheelbarrow to move the sand to where you are laying the garden path and lay it about 1 inch deep. This will prevent the gravel from cutting the damp proof membrane. Move the gravel once you have laid the sand along your length of path. Tip it out on top of the sand until you have a layer about 3 inches deep, Leave 1-2 inches of kerbstone standing above the gravel.
Repeat for more lengths of path until you have finished laying all the garden paths you need.
At no time will you have to lift anything heavier than about 25 pounds, the kerbstones. A spade full of sand weighs about 10 pounds, a spade full of gravel slightly less. Your path will be weed free for at least three years, and after that it is just a matter of applying a proprietary weed killer designed for garden paths to kill each year's weeds.
If you want a bit more hard work you can replace the gravel with old bricks or even planks from old pallets. A path made from wood chip mulch looks very attractive, too. Omit the sand if you use mulch. The mulch will tend to grow a few weeds after the first year. Wood chips also rot down and will need topping up every year.