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An inviting path or network of paths to welcome and lead your guests is one of the most valuable features you can add to a garden. Fortunately, some pathways can be downright inexpensive, as with gravel paths. Gravel as a material bridges the gap between the solidity of stone and the softness of grass or mulch.

Often associated with warmer climates like the American Southwest, the Mediterranean, and parts of Central and South America, gravel has been used to adorn everything from quaint English to Japanese and grandeur French garden walks.

From finely crushed gravel to peastone, decomposed granite, or even crushed seashells, there is a variety of options for every garden designer. These options offer an assortment of colors and textures that can be introduced into the garden to underscore different moods.

A well-built gravel path can last for years with the occasional maintenance. On top of that, gravel paths are adaptable and can easily be altered as the garden evolves. And because the material is usually locally, it has a quality that feels just right.

A gravel walkway build is a great day project for you as a homeowner. It does not involve a lot of expense, special equipment, or skilled labor. 

Designing a Gravel path

When deciding on the placement of a gravel path, its width, and its shape, it is best to have a clear understanding of the relationship between the garden space and existing structures such as buildings, walls, fences, and hedges.

This way, you will determine the best line and shape for the path so it relates to the garden space. The shapes of the central building, outbuilding, and doors can also give you the initial clues about your design.

Straight lines of a path come from the straight lines of walls of buildings. Out in the garden, existing trees, shrub borders, or views you want to frame can help determine the placement of straight paths or landing spots within the path. At the end of the path can be a bench with the promise of wide views inviting you along the path.

Gravel paths can also curve and wind through cottage gardens or from the front door to the sidewalk or garage. Just be certain that there is logic to the curvature.

A path through a cottage garden broadens as it approaches the house to form a generous landing area where visitors can linger before leaving. The path can begin wide at the outset and narrow considerably as it curves out of sight behind dense shrubs. Curves through dense planting result in suspense.

In the middle of the path can be a specimen tree, water feature, or sculpture where the path can divide to go around both sides of the feature.

Gravel paths as edging

As with any other paving material, a band between a lawn and a perennial bed can be paved with several inches of gravel to form a pathway that doubles as edging.

You can also set a gravel path through a lawn to lead visitors while simultaneously dividing the lawn into satisfying shapes. The color contrast between the path and the lawn creates a strong visual path through the lawn.

For reduced maintenance, the lawn surface should be flush with the gravel path.

How to Order Gravel

Gravel is purchased in cubic yards.

To determine what needs to be ordered, multiply the length of the proposed path by the width (in feet) times the depth (in feet). This will give you the cubic feet. Then divide the resulting number by 27 to get the number of cubic yards to order.

The prices range depending on the rock and how it is delivered to the site. You could buy the gravel in bulk from a rockery. Some rockeries offer free delivery for sites close to the quarry but if you own a truck, you can get a load of gravel yourself.

Gravel type, texture & color

Gravel comes in a range of sizes; anywhere from 3/8″ to 1.5“. It can be rock that is mined such as pea gravel or decomposed granite or mechanically crushed to make material with sharp angular edges. Crushed material can be basalt, black pebbles, marble chips, or lava rock, depending on what is locally available.

The finer rock is a mix of particles down to the size of dust. This mix creates a solid, smooth surface as the fines act as glue filling the gaps between the larger rocks.

Texture has an impact on the look of the path as well as the sound produced. Fine textured crushed stone or decomposed granite made up of tiny angular bits are more natural. Such material creates a crunching sound underfoot and settles into the path.

Peastones and smaller river stones are rounded and do not settle into the soil in the same way as crushed stones. They create a more manicured look and click when walked on.

Colors that blend well with other landscape features near the path and complement the colors of surrounding flowers and plants add to the serenity and natural quality of your path site. Contrasting colors, say cool colored gravel against a rich green lawn can create a striking appearance. Bright white gravel or marble chips tend to be too stark a contrast in most settings.

Laying Gravel path: Step by step

Step 1: Mark the layout

Use a flexible garden hose to mark the outline of the path. Define both outside edges using marking paint, flour, or lime.

3 to 4 feet is the standard width for most paths but you could make the pathway as wide as you like.

Step 2: Prepare the site

For a long-lasting and well-draining path, you will need to excavate the site to remove the topsoil. Topsoil contains organic matter that breaks down causing the path to settle over time following decomposition.

So, dig out the topsoil (about 4 to 8 inches deep); cut the sod, and eliminate all plant matter and roots. When digging out the site for the path, use a square-edged spade to define the sides and bottom cleanly as much as possible then compact the soil with a hand tamper. Check the depth of excavation as you go.

Step 3: Install edging

Gravel needs an edge to contain it.

Brick, stone, lumber (rated for ground use), plastic or pinned steel strips can be used as edging. Steel edging is a popular choice as it can easily be curved to fit the shape of your path and offer a crisp border to the path. Brick and stone are used to create a more solid edge while giving a clear definition to the path.

Brick or stone edging can be set in concrete to hold it permanently. Galvanized steel, plastic, and wood edging is held in place using stakes.

Be certain the edging is flush with the surrounding ground or lawn. Otherwise, you could end up with a tripping hazard.

Additionally, the edging should be kept an even distance apart.

Alternatively, the surface can be kept lower than adjoining surfaces to contain the material. This establishes a softer edge but you have to be certain excellent drainage is assured or the path, after a rain, will be one long shallow puddle.

Step 4: Lay the foundation

Once the path is excavated and edging installed, we cover the bottom with a woven geotextile fabric (landscape fabric) to separate the soil from the subsequent gravel layers. Hold the fabric in place with 5-inch long landscape staples or pins and overlap the fabric by about 5 inches where the two pieces meet.

For the base, I like to use washed crushed gravel (3/4 to 1-inch stone) to ensure good drainage and to deal with frost heaves. If the soil is wet or holds moisture, lay 1 inch of crushed stone, then a 4-inch PVC perforated drainage pipe along or across the path (with holes down) to carry excess water off and away from the path. The highest end of the pipe should be capped to prevent soil from clogging the pipe, whereas a grate should be placed at the lowest end to prevent small animals from crawling up the pipe.

Cover the PVC with 4 inches of stone. Spread it evenly, water it slightly then run several passes of a compactor plate over to create a more stable base.

Step 5: Lay the surface gravel

We finish off the pathway with 2 inches of a decorative stone of choice. This can be decomposed granite, pea gravel, crushed stone, or crushed seashells with fines or rock dust to stabilize the pebbles.

Rake out the gravel and smooth it out. As you are raking, give the path a crown, making it higher in the middle so rainwater won’t puddle but instead flow off both sides of the walkway. You may need to create drainage ditches across the pathway to carry off surface water.

Water and then tamp down the surface or run several passes of a vibrating plate over it to make the path sturdy. We don’t use a compactor plate with pea gravel because it won’t compact or interlock.

The finished grade of the path should be flush with the grade of the adjoining lawn and perennial beds.

Step 6: Add planting

Plantings and ground cover around the gravel path soften the edges.

Because the gravel tends to have a dry, Mediterranean look, plants associated with dry gardens are especially appropriate: lavender, rosemary, thyme, artemisias, santolina, poppies, Alchemilla mollis, and euphorbias are some great examples.


If you are after a well-groomed gravel look, rake the path regularly. On a sloping site, rake the gravel upward since gravity and rain tend to work the material downhill.

In the spring, the path can be raked clean of the winter’s debris and leaves from overhead trees.

Weeds hoe out easily in loose gravel, Wait until after a heavy rain or after adjacent beds have been heavily watered, and you will find that the weeds are more easily pulled.

George Gitau

Meet George, an advocate for traditional craftsmanship. I will provide you with educational content, techniques and ideas for your next garden and home improvement project. Together, let's create beautiful spaces that are not only beautiful but also functional

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