Pave the way

Follow these five tips for designing functional, beautiful walkways.

© Milkos | iStockphoto

The paths that lead through landscapes can make or break the overall design. Pedestrians will notice mistakes right away if a walkway forces them to go out of their way to get where they’re going – but a well-designed walkway can lead to more satisfied customers.

“It takes a lot of planning and design to get a nice, flowing, functional walkway,” says Herman Solis, owner of Solis Landscape & Construction in Hollister, California. “You’ve got to consider all the surroundings to integrate it all.”

Several factors play into the perfectly planned pathway. Keep these five tips in mind to make your next walkway design more effective.

1. Plot a proper path.

The purpose of a pathway is to guide foot traffic from Point A to Point B. But integrating a walkway into an overall landscape design requires more forethought than just plopping a path between two points.

“Look at the whole layout of the yard and design (the walkway) so the main purpose is functionality and accessibility,” Solis says.

Consider the natural path someone would walk to get from the driveway to the front porch – they’re likely not going to take a sharp 90-degree turn, says Brian Wismer, head designer at NOVA Landscape & Design near Washington, D.C. He says walkways should follow that same natural path, with a minimum width of about four feet.

“It’s important to consider the shape of the walkway and also the flow of traffic,” he says. “When you keep usability in mind, (the layout) works itself out.”

Consider the architecture of the house, as well. If the house features straight lines and sharp angles, then a straight, squared-off walkway might make more sense, Solis says.

2. Make way.

Walkways offer a range of different materials to choose from, depending on a customer’s budget, maintenance preferences and aesthetic style. For main walkways that connect a driveway to a front door or porch, Wismer recommends pavers.

“Natural stone pavers are on the more expensive side, but correctly installed pavers are the longest-lasting option with the least maintenance,” Wismer says.

For cost-effectiveness, plain concrete is the way to go. “But the problem with concrete is it’s plain, boring and blah – and (eventually) it’s going to crack. With interlocking pavers, you’ve got a huge selection of designs and colors, and they’re not going to crack,” Solis says.

This is a critical advantage in California, where contractors like Solis need materials that can withstand earthquakes. The versatility of pavers makes them a good choice anywhere.

3. Enhance with landscaping.

Walkways should look like they belong on a property, so they should be integrated into the overall design.

“It’s important to tie the landscaping into the walkway so everything flows,” Wismer says.

Also, Wismer prefers curved walkway designs because curves create natural focal points where landscaping can enhance the path. For focal points, he advises planting small, shapely trees – such as weeping Japanese maple, weeping snow fountain cherry or Blue ‘Globosa’ Spruce.

Then, add color along the edge with low-growing flowering varieties like verbena ‘Homestead Purple,’ Solis suggests.

“As a border plant, I like to use Variegated Liriope for a number of reasons,” Wismer says. “It’s low maintenance, and it’s also tolerant to being trampled. The other thing I like about it is it’s very low-growing. A lot of times, people make the mistake of putting in a nice walkway and then planting shrubs along it that grow three feet tall, so they completely block the walkway. The whole idea of a walkway is having a nice, open, inviting flow, so accent it with a low perennial that’s highlighting it, not blocking it.”

“The whole idea of a walkway is having a nice, open, inviting flow, so accent it with a low perennial that’s highlighting it.” Brian Wismer, head designer, NOVA Landscape & Design
4. Shed light.

Landscape lighting is essential to keep walkways safe and visible after dark.

“We use low-voltage LED lighting, because it’s cost-efficient, low-maintenance, and the bulbs last a long time,” Wismer says. “They put out a decent amount of light, so they’re not like solar lights, where you need a million of them.”

In fact, excessive lighting is one of the most common walkway mistakes contractors make.

“I’ve seen people put path lights or paver lights every three feet, and it just looks like an airplane runway,” Solis says. “You don’t want too many lights; you want to space them out.”

Let the shape of the walkway dictate light fixture placement. “The important thing is having pathway lights at key points, which is typically going to be at each end of the walkway and where the walkway changes direction or shape,” Wismer says.

Wismer also recommends uplighting focal point plants along the walkway. He also suggests uplighting the house, especially to highlight brick or stone textures.

Even if customers forego lighting, contractors should plan ahead in case they want to expand in the future. “It’s important to have the foresight to put a four-inch conduit underneath the walkway, so if you want to add lighting or irrigation later, you have a place to run that wire,” Wismer says.

5. meet customer desires.

The challenge of walkway design is bringing together all these elements to fit each customer’s needs.

“One thing that can’t be overstated is the importance of listening to the customer,” Wismer says. “So step one is meeting with the customer to understand what they like and what they don’t like. I hear complaints from customers too often that contractors just don’t listen to them. If you really listen to the customer and then (combine that) with your knowledge and experience, you’ll be in good shape.”

NOVA uses 3-D design tools to help customers visualize proposed walkway designs and illustrate any changes instantly. Wismer advises contractors to show customers samples off-screen, as well.

“I like to actually take physical samples and set them in front of their house, so they know exactly what they’re going to get,” he says.

By making sure your design aligns with your customer’s needs, you can set up walkway projects for success from the start.

The author is a freelance writer based in Ohio.

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June 2018
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