HOW WIDE?
The size of a path should relate to its use. A primary path should be at least 48 in. wide so two people can walk side by side. Hayward also suggests that the width correspond to the dimensions of an architectural element of your house—the combined width of the front door and its trim, for instance. "That helps ensure the house and path relate to each other," he says.

A secondary path is more likely to be used by one person at a time, and should be narrower—30 to 36 in. wide. Narrower still are what Hayward calls tertiary paths, which are the most casual and least traveled. An example is a narrow bark-mulch path leading into a wooded area behind the house. Varying the width of this type of path adds interest to the walk.

Be sure all paths are wide enough to accommodate your outdoor equipment. For example, a lawn mower or garden cart requires about 3 to 4 ft., while a tractor may need 5 ft. or more. When in doubt, err on the wide side to ensure paths are comfortable, safe and easy to follow. Also be sure paths are at least an arm's length away from walls so people don't have to walk right up against them.

THE BEST MATERIALS
Choose the surface next. Soft surfaces include a variety of mulches and turf. Hard surfaces, including brick and stone pavers, offer variety and good looks.

Consider safety, practicality, appearance and cost when choosing a surface material. Hayward's advice:

Complement your house. A path that fits in visually is made of materials that blend with the style and materials of the house and surrounding structures. That doesn't mean you can't mix contrasting materials to perk up a path. Mixing also lets you blend expensive materials, like cut stone at $3 to $4 dollars per square foot, with less expensive ones, such as brick, at $2 to $3. But too many unrelated materials in the same area tends to look confusing.

Think purpose and location. A primary path that sees heavy traffic must be made from a material that's set firmly in place and provides an even, nonslip surface. Loose, informal materials, like crushed stone or bark, are often inappropriate near an entryway because people track them inside. They're also hard to shovel when it snows, though they're fine for a casual tertiary path that leads through a woodland or vegetable garden.

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