Tertiary Walks for Gardens and Greenery

Beautiful Garden Walkway
© lamart1971 / Adobe Stock

Unlike the main walkways running to your house, the tertiary walks found in gardens and other more natural places have a much greater leeway in terms of size and composition.

These allow your garden paths to look natural or eloquent, be wide or narrow, and use crafted or organic materials.

Tertiary Walks Using Pavers

Man Building Walkway with Pavers
© Evgenia Tiplyashina / Adobe Stock

Pavers are a popular material for walkways. Consisting of brick, cut stone, or precast concrete, pavers have high durability compared to most other materials. They function well for more formal walkways and paths leading away from a patio or garden shed.

Differences from Major Walkways

When building a tertiary walk, the focus is on aesthetics more than function. To this end, a tertiary walk is rarely designed for moving heavy or wheeled objects.

Alternative Materials

Gravel Garden Walkway
© Barbara Helgason / Adobe Stock

Due to the less strict requirements of tertiary walkways, a wide array of materials are considered suitable that are impossible for a primary or secondary walkway. Many of these are very natural and add an aesthetic appeal that is perfect for dense gardens and nature-oriented landscaping.


Flagstones, while usable in primary walkways, really shine in a tertiary walk. The most common use is to spread them apart so that one may comfortably step from one to another. The gaps my then be filled with gravel, mulch, or a ground cover such as moss or baby’s breath.

While some weeding is required compared to a solid flagstone walk, the appearance is more rustic, and certain ground covers will release a pleasant aroma when stepped on.

The process for making a stepping-stone pattern for flagstone begins with the same base and setting bed as with a regular masonry-based walk.

Once laid, you will need to pour approximately one inch of sand where each flagstone will be placed and install the stone, working it until it is stable. You may then add the filler, being careful not to dislodge the flagstones.

Gravel Walkways

Gravel walkways are designed similarly to paver walks, although the base is more shallow. The base should be excavated to a depth of three to four inches, and line it with geotextile fabric.

Fill the trench with one and one half inches of crushed gravel or another base material. While you may use a hand tamper or vibrating plate compactor to tamp the base, a drum roller is often easier to use on narrow paths.

Once the base is completed, add your top coat and use a garden rake to gently smooth it, being careful not to disturb the base. Smaller gravel may be tamped down in the same way as the base, although larger gravel sizes such as pebbles should not be tamped.

Note that gravel tends to remain loose and can be easily dislodged, so it is best to have some form of barrier along the edges, such as medium-sized stones or brick.

Pine Needles

Pine needles are a surprisingly soft and springy material which makes for an excellent garden path. Being organic, the needles will degrade over time, requiring more to be added.

One advantage to using pine needles is the fact that they knit together naturally, forming a barrier that makes it harder for weeds to grow. They also have a pleasant scent that is released as you step on them.

Creating a pine needle path is very easy. Begin by creating a base as you would for a gravel path. Then, simply pour the pine needles onto the base and rake smooth, being careful not to disturb the base material.

You may choose to place cardboard layer on top of the base with a 2 to 3 inch overlap to further deter weeds, but this is an optional step. The edging may then be hidden by stones, plants, or a variety of other means.

Wood Mulch, Chips, and Nuggets

These three materials are often associated with gardens as a form of weed deterrent, but make for a wonderful path. As with pine needles, the material is organic and will break down in time. The three types of wood product vary as follows:

  • Mulch – Primarily shredded wood or bark, with generic mulch containing approximately 70 percent of the named wood and quality mulch containing at least 85 percent of the named wood.
  • Nuggets – Chunks of bark removed from mature trees and graded according to their size.
  • Wood Chips – Waste wood that has been run through a chipper and most commonly the size of a quarter; pine and other resinous woods should be avoided for paths.

The base for a mulch path is the same as for a gravel walk. You will want your edgers to be slightly higher than the final level of the mulch to avoid scattering debris into the plants or lawn. Adding stones over the edger will make for a more natural look, although surrounding ground cover will usually be enough to hide the edgers.

Some home gardeners will also add cardboard between the base and mulch layers with a 2 to 3 inch overlap to further deter weeds.

It should be noted that bark-based mulches degrade slower than pulp-based mulch. Furthermore, bark nuggets are not as comfortable to walk on as mulch or chips, but works well as a transition material if the surrounding area also uses mulch.

Having a different type of mulch on the path than connecting garden beds will also set a nice contrast that helps separate the path. Finally, shredded or small-particle mulches also have a tendency of intertwining over time, forming less loose debris than larger mulch types.

Ground Covers as Filler

Garden Path with Ground Cover Filler
© wittybear / Adobe Stock

There are a wide array of ground covers that make for colorful and aromatic fillers between stones. These tend to be small grasses, moss, and some creeping plants.

Be wary of plants which grow too quickly or have different watering requirements than nearby garden plants for easier maintenance.

The following are just a few popular types of ground cover used for walks:

Baby’s Breath

This popular ground cover features clusters of small, aromatic flowers ranging from pink to white. It requires a more alkaline setting and sunlight to thrive. Stepping on baby’s breath releases the scent, making it a very pleasant covering for garden paths.


Also known as campanula, this popular plant includes a wide variety of species which have small blue or white star-shaped flowers. They can be used for walls, ground cover, and as potted plants with equal ease. Well-drained and sunny to partial shade locations work best for this plant, which blooms throughout summer.


Moss is a simple ground cover that adds a very natural green to any flagstone walk. It can appear on its, own, but you may choose to make a mixture to speed up its propagation.

Begin by dissolving a fist-sized lump of porcelain clay in three cups of water. This will produce a thick sludge. Add one cup each of moss and undiluted fish fertilizer. The mixture may then be thickly painted in any spot you wish for the moss to grow.

Sweet Alyssum

One of the best plants to use for edging, sweet alyssum is low-growing with small clusters of fragrant flowers. This compact plant thrives in sunny, average soil and blooms throughout summer. For the best effect, cut after the first blooms begin to fade to encourage fresh buds.


This popular ground cover has clusters of small, aromatic flowers. While the leaves of this creeping plant are fairly well-divided, the flower clusters may grow as much as three inches across.

These flowers may be seen throughout summer and autumn. It requires a sunny, well drained environment and may be uprooted and stored during cold winters to avoid re-seeding.

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