A walkway can lend ambiance and a bit of visual interest to any garden. It can define different areas in the garden or lead to a focal point like a seating area, reflecting pool or pergola. Cottage garden walkways can be made from a variety of materials that are easy accessible at any local garden center. No special skills are needed to create a simple walkway, but it will take a bit of strength and stamina.
A cottage setting calls for casual comfort in the garden. Flagstone, stone pavers or bricks are well suited for the cottage garden. Stone walkways add the perfect rustic touch. Flagstone comes in a variety of natural colors that can be mixed to create even more visual interest. Brick paths tend to be a bit more formal, but the effect can be softened by planting flowers along the walkway's edges. If there are large areas of lawn surrounding the garden, consider creating a path using stepping stones to break up the expanse of green.
Soft surfaces such as gravel or mulch are another alternative that are less stable, but quick and easy to work with. These materials should only be used on walkways that are designed for visual appeal and not foot traffic. They should never be used near the cottage doors, as the materials will easily get tracked inside. Walkways that will get heavy traffic should be stable, relatively level, as nonslip as possible and able to be shoveled when it snows.
The walkway's path must be plotted with functionality in mind first. Primary paths lead to and from the cottage doors, street or sidewalk. They should be relatively straight and easy to follow. Secondary walkways are those that branch off from the primary walkway and lead to other places in the garden. These walkways can follow gentle, natural-looking curves. Lynn Ocone, author and guest contributor to "This Old House," says that straight paths can make a garden appear longer, while curved paths are good for long, narrow gardens as they draw the eye from side to side.
To lay out a straight path, set a small stake in the ground and tie a ball of string to it. Walk to the end point of the walkway and set another stake in the ground. Pull the string tight and tie it to the second stake. Repeat this for the other edge of the walkway, making sure to keep the same width throughout. For walkways that will curve, use garden hoses or other similar materials to lay out the path.
Primary walkways should be wide enough to accommodate two people walking side by side, approximately 4 feet. Secondary paths can be narrower, generally 3 feet wide. Rarely used, tertiary walkways can be slightly narrower and can even vary in width.
Once the path is laid out using string or hoses, spray a light-colored spray paint on the ground to follow the path of the string or hoses and allow it to dry. Measure the height of the bricks or stone that will be used and add 2 inches. If 3-inch thick stones are being used, use a spade to cut down into the ground 5 inches all along the walkway's spray-painted lines. Use a regular digging shovel to remove all of the grass and soil between the two edges of the walkway, effectively creating a 5-inch deep trench that runs the length and width of the path. Keep the base as even and level as possible.
Use a garden hose to water down the trench and use a gardening tamping tool to tamp down the soil making it as firm as possible. Landscape fabric or other plastic or rubber material, will keep weeds from growing and disturbing the walkway. Cut the fabric the width of the walkway and lay it down along the length of the trench, and cover with 2 inches of sand. Use the tamping tool to tamp down the sand, making sure that it is as level as possible.
Start laying down the stones or bricks in the chosen pattern. Start using the largest pieces first and concentrate on the middle of the walkway. Keep spacing between the stones or bricks as small as possible. Walk down the path to make sure that the materials are level and easily navigated, particularly if the walkway is on a slope. Complete the path with the remaining stones or bricks.
Apply more sand to the walkway making sure that all of the gaps are filled in, and use the tamping tool again to tamp everything down. A small piece of wood can also be used to tamp down the sand in the gaps between the brick or stone. Sweep away any excess sand.
If using a soft material such as bark, mulch or gravel, follow the instructions above except dig the trench 2 to 3 inches deep and eliminate the sand. Tamp down the material and use a carpenter's level if needed to be sure the surface is even.