Things to think about

Paths are a permanent garden feature and can dominate the layout, so think carefully before deciding where they should go and of what they should be made.

You can centre a path on a door or windows so that they lead somewhere, or they can meander in a less direct way around the garden, but to be usable they should not be narrower than 60cm.

An ideal form for a path would be a neat, attractive construction, which is pleasant to walk on and broad enough for you and a friend.

Paths can be made of different materials, including slabs or block paving. Gravel is a simple solution – it's good looking and easy to lay and maintain. Raking a gravel path refreshes the whole garden.

Paving slabs are inexpensive and available in many different sizes and colours. They are very practical and durable, and can be set in patterns and edged in different materials.

Pavers are lighter than paving slabs, so they are easier to lay, and their small size makes them perfect for paths in small gardens.

Pavers can be laid in different patterns. Traditionally they are laid end to end, as for a wall, but they can be laid on edge to make a contrasting border and in herringbone and basket weave patterns too. Creating a path with them is an opportunity to be creative.

Every path needs a good foundation, so that water doesn't collect beneath the surface and cause damage when there is a frost.

A well-made path with good drainage can improve the general condition of the garden.

Lay paths with a very slight slope away from adjacent walls. A fall of 25mm in 2m is an acceptable gradient.

A curved path can be an attractive feature. Layout the shapes of the curves with a garden hose, or mark the lines with an aerosol spray or a trail of kiln-dried sand.

To prevent subsidence of the path, the best solution is to hire a plate compactor. Thoroughly compress the path foundations and then when you have laid the path, if you have used pavers, firmly bed them too. A thick layer of kiln-dried sand spread across the pavers will prevent surface damage by the compactor.

If you need to make many cuts, of slabs or pavers, which will depend on the format of your path, you can hire a slab and paver splitter. This will particularly help if you plan a path with curved lines.

Lay a concrete slab path

1

Mark the line of the path with pins and line. Mark all along the edges and dig out the path with a spade before you remove the string lines.

2

Dig out the area to allow 10cm of hardcore, 2.5cm for Slablayer and the slab depth. The final path should sit 1cm below the grass.

3

Drive in pegs along the length of the path at 1m intervals, level with the ground. Fix treated timber edging to the pegs. Check that sides are level

4

Rake 10cm of hardcore level across the path area and compact it with a sledgehammer, or a hired plate compactor, to make a solid base.

5

Dry lay the paving slabs on the hardcore base of the path to make sure they fit, remembering to allow space for mortar joints. Remove slabs.

6

Level 2.5cm of Slablayer with a rake. Sprinkle with water, using the fine rose of a watering can, as directed by manufacturer. Rake area level again.

7

Make sure you maintain a consistent spacing between edges of slabs – a 1cm gap is ideal. Use offcuts of ply as spacers if you wish.

8

Continue laying slabs, lightly bedding them into the Slablayer. Use a rubber mallet to settle them. Check all are level and the gradient even as you go.

9

Leave Slablayer to dry for at least 48 hours. Mix up a dry mortar mix (four parts sand to one part cement) or Slablayer may be used again.

10

Press mortar between slabs, making flush joints and removing excess mortar as you go, or brush a dry mortar mix into the joints and sprinkle with water.

Lay a gravel path

1

Press mortar between slabs, making flush joints and removing excess mortar as you go, or brush a dry mortar mix into the joints and sprinkle with water.

2

Dig out the path to a depth of around 6cm. Drive in pegs along the length of the path at 1m intervals, level with the ground.

3

Fit treated edging boards to the pegs on either side of the path and use a spirit level to check that the board is level with the ground.

4

Roll out landscape fabric, cut and trim it to fit the path. If you need to overlap the fabric, do so by at least 10cm.

6

Pour gravel to fill the path and rake it level. You may need to add more after a few weeks when the path has settled and the surface has dropped a little.

Lay a path with block paving

1

Clear the path site of vegetation. Mark the line of the path then dig out the area to the depth of the block paving plus another 7.5cm.

2

If soil is compact, you may need no further foundation. For uncompact soil, you can excavate a further 10cm for a hardcore foundation.

3

Make an edge to contain the block paving with treated timber, held in place by wooden pegs, then compact a 7.5cm lining of sharp sand.

4

Work out your pattern by dry laying the block paving. Start at one end of the path and lay the blocks in rows in the pattern you have chosen.

5

Brush fine kiln-dried sand into the block paving joints. Ideally compact the path with a plate compactor and re-sand the joints on a dry day.