How I Made My Stepping Stone Cottage Garden Path

How I Made My Stepping Stone Cottage Garden Path

A stone pathway in the cottage garden adds charm and beauty. It can be a key part of the allure of the garden.

For my favorite ideas on how to make a cottage garden charming, see my blog HERE.

A cottage garden is designed to look effortless. A pathway out of stones plays into this look beautifully.

They look as though they have been dropped into the garden with little thought and the plants and flowers have just grown around them.

So the plan is to make it look effortless. The truth, however, is the stone pathway will take a good deal of work if done well.

You can also use a stepping stone pathway as your front sidewalk.

Plant your cottage garden along the way as your front landscaping bed. That is the option I chose at my house.

I invested time and money and effort in my garden stone path because I love the erratic shape of the stones and the natural, warm feel the stones give.

And not only is it beautiful, it remains lovely even in winter when my flowers have faded.

For more tips on how to make your garden look good in winter, see my ideas here.

Since I use it as my front sidewalk, it makes the most welcoming path to my front door for friends and family.

I have created several stone pathways. Let me give you some tips, then I will let you know how I made my cottage garden pathway.

Lay Out the Curved Garden Path

I put little staking flags in the ground (you can use a garden hose or a rope) to mark where I wanted my garden path and how I wanted it to look.

My son came out to check on it and asked me if I was going to land a plane there. Ha! Ok. It was too wide.

Ideally, you want your stone pathway to be around 4 feet wide.

Your stones may determine this for you, however. Use your hose or rope and move the curves around until you see what you like.

I like to add a couple of curves.

At any rate, I marked out a 4-foot wide path with the curves just where I wanted them.

Remove the Sod Before You Lay Your Stepping Stones.

Remove the sod before you lay the stepping stones. The time spent on this chore is worth it in the end.

Laying stepping stones on top of the grass isn’t the best idea because the stepping stones will most definitely sink over time.

It also creates an unsafe walking path.

For best results, remove the sod to inset your stone in the soil so that it is even with the soil around it.

This prevents tripping and makes the practical experience of walking along the path an enjoyable and safe one.

If you plan on filling in between your stones with gravel, this will help prevent any grass or weeds from popping up.

In my case, I was adding a front stone sidewalk at a new construction, at my new home, so there was no grass to remove.

I planned on adding a cottage garden as my front landscaping bed so the front sidewalk would double as the garden path.

Plan for the Stones to be Even With the Soil Around Them

Prepare the ground for your stepping stone path by considering the height of your finished product.

If you place the stones lower than the soil around them, they will hold water when it rains.

You will have little puddles of water resting on your stones.

If you place the stones too high, you will create a ledge from the stones to the yard or garden.

To prevent trips and bumbles, let the path blend in at the same level as the soil beside it whether it is a garden or lawn.

It will look most natural with its surroundings if it is right at even.

To keep your stepping stone path at soil level, you may have to dig down deeper than just the base of the sod.

Make sure you account for a 2-inch gravel base, a 2-inch layer of sand, and the width of your stone. We will cover all of this in more detail below.

For me, the ideal height for the stone pathway is where the mower can run the tire right over the top of the stones and cut the grass at the edge without weed eating.

Of course, if you have a garden on each side of your path, which is always so beautiful, this will not apply.

In my case, I was creating a front sidewalk made of stepping stones on a new construction with no established yard.

I simply moved the soil in my new yard to meet up with the path I had created.

If you are working on a new construction sidewalk like me, consider the heights of the front porch steps, the driveway, and landscaping bed.

All of these will come into play in determining the height of your path.

Be sure your path is not preventing water from draining away from your home.

Add a Gravel Base to a Stepping Stone Cottage Garden Path.

You can lay stepping stones right on top of the soil but it isn’t the best policy.

The stones will most likely sink over time and getting them level will be more difficult. Ideally, lay a 2-inch gravel base then spread a 2-inch layer of sand.

The 2-inch layer of gravel is the secret to preventing the stones or any type of pavers from sinking.

It creates a hard surface for your path and serves as a foundation so your cottage garden path will not sink.

In my case, after I got the soil ready, I ordered some crusher run gravel, which is some limestone gravel crushed relatively small with some limestone dust.

I spread the gravel base about 2 inches thick.

Water it down and then compress it with a tamper.

It’s best to do this part but honestly, I skip it sometimes.

I like to water it down but as you start laying the heavy stones and testing them, you will do a fair bit of compacting the gravel.

I have also driven my truck over the gravel to help compact it and have even driven big machinery over it if I am on a job site and have a machine available.

(Don’t overestimate me. I get my son or someone else to drive the big machinery.)

I am not a perfectionist. If you are, tamp, tamp, tamp away. It will help level the surface and prevent some settling later. The tamping is also more important if you are working with smaller stones.

Add Sand on the Gravel Base for a Stepping Stone Path

On the gravel base, I spread about 2 inches of sand on my stepping stone path.

The sand makes it easier to level the stones.

You can easily add more sand or take away sand under the stone to create a level stone and, therefore, a level walking path.

I get my sand from a local block and brick distributor in town.

I use a rake to spread the sand then use the back side of the rake to level it.

Next, I water it down to help with compaction. The sand will compact over time as well, which will help to secure the stones.

I don’t spend too much time here leveling the sand perfectly because you will be stepping all over it as you set the stones.

Save the more serious leveling for later. You may need some extra sand at that point so be sure to have a little extra on hand.

Acquire the Stone for Your Garden Stepping Stone Path

The next step is to acquire the stone for the cottage garden stepping stone path. We have a stone yard about an hour from our home.

They will deliver but I didn’t want to pay the fee so I talked my son into hauling it for me. It should be noted that STONE IS HEAVY.

Just make sure you have the proper trailer to haul the stone and a truck with a big enough engine to haul it and that will stop effectively even with all the extra weight.

You don’t want to ruin your brakes or blow out your transmission.

If you do decide to haul it yourself, make sure you have something to put under your straps you use to tie down the stone.

The stone I chose cut right through even the toughest straps.

We finally put thick towels where the straps touched the stones, which worked.

At the stone yard, I browsed until I found just what I wanted.

They guys explained to us that we could simply score the stones with a utility knife and then hammer gently and they would break at the score line. They were right.

You may have some land where you can find the stones for free.

Free is good, right? Especially if you are short on funds, as we all are at times.

You can also go to a big box store and use their stepping stones. This may be an easier option but I will give you a couple of tips on shopping for stepping stones wherever you decide to go.

Look for Larger Stones for a Stone Path to Prevent Wobbling

If you choose to use large stones for your cottage garden path, you will be able to prevent wobbling so much easier because they are heavy and the surface area is larger.

You will be much happier with the end product.

The downside is the large stones are HEAVY. You will need help maneuvering them.

The large stones in my pathway have no wobble to them at all and were a breeze to secure compared to stone pathways I have created with small stones.

In the past, I saved money with the smaller stones but they were challenging to secure perfectly, especially the ones on the edges of the path.

I was also able to create the whole path myself with the smaller stones but the end product wasn’t quite as satisfactory.

The garden path was still beautiful and it worked, but larger stones are just better in the end.

Choose Larger Stones for a Stone Path To Make Walking Easier

I have used small stepping stones to create a garden path and it felt like you were playing hopscotch as you followed it.

That sounds fun but it honestly took way too much concentration to use the path than it should ideally.

If you use larger stones, you will be able to walk from stone to stone with little thought.

I also like to consider how easy it would be for elderly family members to utilize the path. The larger stones make it easy peasy for anyone.

Spread Out the Stepping Stones So You Can See Their Shape

When you get your stones to your site, spread them out in the yard so you can see their shape.

Putting together a garden stepping stone path is much like working a jigsaw puzzle, but there’s no completed picture to refer to except the one in your head.

It takes a bit of strategizing.

The best way to start is to unload all the stones and lay them out in the yard so you can see the shape of all of them.

When we got to the house, we cut some of the large stones in half to make them easier to manipulate.

I advised you to use large stones but wow, these babies were humongous.

I helped create another stepping-stone path for my son after I did this one at my house.

We used these same stones and didn’t cut them in half and they worked beautifully. So it depends on what you have in mind.

I had my two sons, my nephew, and another guy there to help unload. They laid them all down on the ground so I could see all the stones at a glance over.

(Of course, if you are using big box store-bought stones, you can skip this part. That is the advantage of those stones. They have already figured out the jigsaw puzzle for you.)

Arrange the Stepping Stones on the Sand and Gravel Base

Start the path with the biggest stone. You want the first step to be a solid one, whether your first step comes off the front porch, a driveway, a patio, or wherever.

Find a large stone and place it at the beginning. I don’t level it at all. I just find the placement.

In my case, I looked for a stone that was as wide or almost as wide as my front porch steps and then tapered the path width from there.

Next, I consider where I want the curves. If I have a stone that makes a natural outward curve, I’m going to go ahead and place it accordingly.

I will also do that for my second curve if I have planned for one.

Now I return to the first stone and just work my way down the path. The straighter edges of the stone are turned to the outside of the path.

When I reach the stones I have already placed for the curve, I will most likely have to adjust. They will have to be moved backward or forward a bit.

I like to mix up the stones somewhat but it’s not necessary. Some are placed horizontally. Others are placed side by side vertically.

All I do at this stage is find the placement for my stones.

When I get to the end, I usually have gaps that have to be filled in with smaller stones. This is when we start scoring and cutting stones to roughly fit.

At the end is also when I have the most difficulty finding the perfect stone.

I have used up most of the stones at this point and my area for the last stones is very limited. I will do a fair amount of cutting stone to fit at the end.

Level the Garden Stepping Stones to Eliminate Wobbling

Leveling your stepping stones is tedious and time-consuming. But if you rush this step, you will regret it.

I always try to use my elderly family members as a strategic thought.

I want to make it so level that it will not cause anyone to stumble, especially not an older friend or family member that may be unsteady on their feet.

My stepping stone path goes from the front porch steps to the driveway. I start with the first stone at the porch and get it even or a bit lower than the last step.

Then I use the sand to level it while keeping it at the height I want.

This means I add sand or take it away. Then I will walk all over it. If it wobbles, I have a very strong someone lift the stone while I add or take it away again.

This is also a good time to have a 2×4 that you can scrape over the sand to level under the stone.

Then I go to the next stone. The goal is to keep it level with the first stone.

I use the same system of adding and taking away the sand.

Only this time I will walk from one stone to the other and will try sliding my foot from one to the other to make sure no one is going to stub their toe.

You can use a level here but I generally just use the “slide-the-foot” method.

Leave Roughly 6 Inches Between Each Stone.

The spacing between each stone is pretty crucial. You want them spaced closely enough that walking is easy.

You don’t want people to have to look down and almost jump from one to the other.

I spaced my stones out with about 2-3 inches between each stone. If I had to do it again, I would leave closer to 6 inches.

Six inches is still a comfortable distance for walking easily from stone to stone and it also leaves more room to plant thyme or some type of plant between the stones or even care for the grass if you plant it between the stones.

You may decide to use gravel or mulch between your stones, but I planted grass and have a hard time keeping it looking good.

Weeds have taken over at present, but they are green so I’m happy for now.

I plan on experimenting with some creeping thyme next spring which would be easier if I had spaced the stones a bit further apart.

Fill Between the Cottage Garden Stepping Stones

The filling placed between the stepping stones will prevent the stones from moving and will hold the stones in place.

There are many options for you to choose from when filling between your cottage garden stepping stones.

  1. You can use pea gravel, crushed limestone, or larger egg rocks. These are pretty permanent and the upkeep is minimal.
  2. Or you could choose to save money and use bark or ground mulch or pine straw. This will most likely have to be reapplied every year.
  3. Another option is to fill between the stones with soil and plant grass or a ground cover. The soil plus the roots of the plants will be sure to keep the stones from moving.

I wanted the grass to grow between my stepping stones but you can also plant creeping thyme (I want to try this next) or mondo grass or another plant that will work there.

If you decide to plant grass between your stepping stones, this is how I did it.

I raked out the sand between the stones. I didn’t dig down below the stones, just in between.

Then I added topsoil between the stones.

Next, I spread some grass seed in the soil with a little fertilizer and pressed it down a bit.

I covered it all with straw to hold the seed in place and gently watered it.

I kept it watered until the grass was established.

Even though the grass came up beautifully, I could not keep it growing. I kept cutting it too short with the weed eater.

Now I have a healthy batch of weeds growing between my stones but the weeds are green so I’m happy.

I think placing my stones a bit further apart would have helped.

Also, if I was better with a weedeater, that would be beneficial.

If I had to do it over, I would not fill the soil to the top of the stones.

Instead, I would have left about an inch, planted the grass seed, then watered and added straw.

This would have helped me when weedeating, as well.

I want to try planting the creeping thyme next spring though and see how it goes.

Finish Securing the Cottage Garden Stepping Stone Path

If you are at a new construction with a new yard, you can grade your soil up against your stepping stone path to secure the stones.

If you have cut out the pathway in an existing yard, you can break up the soil you removed and add it back against the border of the path.

Wrap It Up

Now enjoy your cottage garden stepping stone path for years to come!

It will add charm to your cottage garden, even in winter.

And it makes the most welcoming front sidewalk for your friends and family.

Tracy Crosland, owner of Hey Honeysuckle

Written by Tracy Crosland

I was born and raised in small town, Tennessee. As an adult, I found myself thrown into the construction business, building new homes in our little town. My son has now taken over the business, which means I do what I want - a lot of playing in my cottage flower garden (zone 7). I hope you feel the love in my garden and in my blogs and that we can be friends.

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My Step-by-Step Guide to Creating Your First Cottage Garden

My Step-by-Step Guide to Creating Your First Cottage Garden

Cottage gardens make me happy!
I want you to be happy too…so this one’s on me.

  • Learn to create your first cottage garden with step-by-step instructions
  • A checklist to keep you on track
  • Images to inspire
  • Increase the value of your home by thousands
  • Explode your happiness quotient
  • Oh, yeah. It’s free! Free happiness.