PUTTING IT DOWN
The same principles apply when installing most solid materials, including brick, concrete pavers and cut stone. Whichever material you choose, keep these essentials in mind:

•Most paths, excluding grass and stepping stones 4 to 5 sq. ft. or larger, require a base of coarse crushed stone to stay level for years to come. Soil type and climate determine how deep to make it. A landscape contractor or stone dealer can provide suggestions for your area. In general, figure on a base 4 in. deep in mild-winter climates with well-drained soil, and 5 to 8 in. deep if you live where the ground freezes.

•Improve drainage in heavy, clay soil by placing a 4-in.-dia. PVC drainpipe down the center of the path, enclosed within the gravel base. Drain holes should face down.

•Prepare your path so water drains off the surface. You have two options: Install the path so the finished surface is 1/4 to 1/2 in. above the adjacent grade, or slope the path away from your foundation or driveway 1/4 in. per foot of path width.

•Apply a leveling course—usually 1 to 2 in. of sand—over the base so you can move a stone or brick around until it's nested just right. An optional layer of landscape fabric between the gravel base and sand prevents sand from filtering through the gravel.

•Use professional-quality masonry edging to hold bricks, concrete pavers and small stones in place. Edgings, which are commonly aluminum, steel or plastic, cost $13 to $15 per 7 1/2-ft.-long section.

•Even if you don't plan on lighting the path now, install electrical conduit just above the base in case you decide to add it later. That allows wires to be retrofitted easily and provides added protection for wires on a low-voltage lighting system.

Building a garden path is mostly common sense. But it does require some skill and a lot of elbow grease. So don't hesitate to seek advice from pros early in the planning process. Check the yellow pages under landscape architects, contractors and designers. These pros will answer questions specific to your site or handle the entire project.

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