gardeningby Clodagh and Dick Handscombe, Spain’s best known gardening authors who have lived and gardened in Spain for 25 years.

A Dilema

Why are so many gardens designed with straight garden paths?

Why is the path around so many new houses laid up against the wall of the house allowing no possibility for shrub and perennial beds around the house?

Why are all paths in many gardens finished with a single surface rather than using different surfaces in various areas to add contrast and interest?

Historically most main paths in gardens were straight in order to set up a washing line alongside and not get ones feet wet if it had recently rained, but that constraint went years ago with the advent of rotary drying frames and washing machines with driers, so why not more creativity for the layout and construction of the network of pathways have a major impact on the quality of a garden?

Decide Why You Want Paths

The first thing is to recognise why we have paths in gardens. The following reasons are extracted from our books:

To enable persons of all ages to move around the garden easily and safely in any weather.

To move things around the garden without fear of tripping or straining.

To link the different areas and features in an interesting way; indeed to create a mystery tour which changes season by season and by time of day and weather conditions.

To move rainwater around the garden to areas where most needed.

To create interesting and often unexpected internal and external vistas.

To make a small garden seem larger by varying the width of paths from near the house to outer areas. A straight path which narrows twenty percent from beginning to end can work wonders as can curving and snaking paths.

To link terraces. Together with terraces, a network of paths can reduce the planting areas and extent of garden maintenance. Indeed see terraces as wide paths with a number of connecting paths to other terraces and garden features.

To provide a moisture reservoir and shade for the roots of plants lining the paths.

To establish a formal, informal or mixed garden style.

If you are having a new house constructed, decide on the network of paths around the house while the house is being built and get the builder to lay down what you want for an elegant garden rather than an easy concrete path attached to the house.

Beyond designing the network, the next thing is surfaces and edgings. These days the choice for surfaces is enormous, ranging from coloured concrete to natural stone slabs, from stone chippings to sand, from low growing herbs to grass or plastic imitation grass, bark chippings or compost between rows of vegetables and formal stone cobbles or bricks. Not all paths need to be continuous, for stepping stones laid in grass or in areas of stone chippings can add interest in low use areas.

In many gardens edgings to paths are useful to add interest and formality and keep stone chippings from being spread outside the intended path areas and to control the velocity of torrents of rain water running off paths to planted areas. Path edging can range from small rocks to terracotta edgings, wooden slats or small plants and bricks on edge, to narrow concrete edging slabs.

This week two persons sent in questions related to problems with fruit trees. When we asked for information, it was not available as the writers indicated that they rarely visit those areas of the garden.

Look at your own gardens. Would more features, special plantings and seats with pleasing vistas prompt you to walk your network of paths more often or add new paths?

We looked at paths at this time of year as changes are best made during the cooler months. Fast changes can be made by using stone chippings laid between small rock edgings. They can always be covered with stone slabs laid on concrete at a later date. We had that idea in parts of our garden twenty years ago but the mature stone chipping paths laid on solid plastic sheeting, or in one part on overlapping supermarket plastic bags to minimise the cost, still exist and need little maintenance or weeding.

If you have terraces upstairs go up there now and look down at the garden. Are there paths that go to all parts of the garden? Are they too formal or two higgledy-piggledy? Are there interesting plantings on both sides of most lengths of paths? Would it be worth the effort to make some changes before Easter once the winter cut back is complete?

  Clodagh and Dick Handscombe’s books include the following:

  •   Your Garden in Spain
  •   Apartment Gardening Mediterranean Style
  •   Growing Healthy Vegetables in Spain
  •   Growing Healthy Fruit in Spain
  •   Living Well from Our Mediterranean Garden
  •   Making Waterless Gardens a Practical Reality Worldwide
  •   The latter is available as an Amazon Kindle E-book.

More details of each book will be found on

(c) Clodagh and Dick Handscombe January 2013.