Path's no good when pretty but impractical

We appreciate the candor with which gardeners share their big mistakes. We hope that sharing these lessons learned will spare other people some pain.

What was I thinking when I paved the path to my back yard utility area with cobblestone even though I use it all winter? I'm going to change it back to beaten dirt first thing next spring because snow shoveling and walking over these uneven stones is driving me nuts!

Stones that sit high may create a sharp image and make sense for drainage but they are trouble for heels and shovels.

Stones that sit high may create a sharp image and make sense for drainage but they are trouble for heels and shovels.

To clarify the problem -- why gardeners get into this situation -- and suggest a remedy:

Stones in a path remain a dry walking surface if water can drain off of them. One way to ensure drainage is to dig out the soil in the entire path, replace it with free-draining gravel, slag or sand, then lay the stones into that base. Another is to use thick stone and set it to project above the soil so water drains into the air space between stones.

The first option requires more work and might be shunned by someone in a hurry. However, that extra preparation means you can set the stones level with the gravel surface, eliminating big gullies between stones that can trap the heel of a shoe or the blade of a snowscraper.

This path is pretty, but impractical on two counts. Both the high stones and the edging catch heels and tools. Setting the stones level into a well drained base and making the path wider can solve the problem and maintain the look.

This path is pretty, but impractical on two counts. Both the high stones and the edging catch heels and tools. Setting the stones level into a well drained base and making the path wider can solve the problem and maintain the look.

If you do not change direction, you may end up where you are heading.

- Advice so universal it is variously attributed as life philosophy from China's Lao Tzu, a gentle warning by Nepal's Gautama Buddha and fundamental advice within Native American teachings. -

We watched once as two women walked in a public garden, obviously enjoying the outing. They may have been mother and daughter of about 60 and 80 years, the elder's forearm resting securely on her companion's arm. We both said "Aww, too bad!" when the pair stopped at the entrance to this path, considered the uneven stones, and turned away.

We watched once as two women walked in a public garden, obviously enjoying the outing. They may have been mother and daughter of about 60 and 80 years, the elder's forearm resting securely on her companion's arm. We both said "Aww, too bad!" when the pair stopped at the entrance to this path, considered the uneven stones, and turned away.

To be fair: The path we showed you with the bamboo-hoop edging is a design in keeping with revered Japanese tradition. That path is meant to be seen more than to be used, and if used is meant to slow people down and encourage them to observe the detail around them.

Yet it does serve to help us warn people: Don't copy a path without thinking. Maybe we're speaking now primarily as older, less steady walkers but our opinions also include decades of seeing the paths we've created in use by lots of different people. It was over 20 years ago that we began speaking of a path that's meant to be used as a Grandma Jenny path, in honor of Steven's grandmother who still navigated our garden paths in her 80's.