The Front Walk: Conception

– Posted in: Front Walk, Hardscaping and Projects, New House, New Gardens

There is no front walk.

the three front doors of an old house with three additions

Left to right: the dining room door, the kitchen door, and the living room doors.

Three entrances on our house face the road, and there is no paved walkway at all from any of them to the edge of the road, nor even a footpath worn in the grass. It is one unbroken expanse of lawn.

Why is there no front walk?

We live out in the country, and there are no sidewalks along the edge of the road, so there is no reason for a front walk to connect with a sidewalk. The road is narrow, so visitors coming by car would not park along the road in front of the house, but would park in the driveway, and most likely enter from the garage door, which has a doorbell. Really, the only reason to have a walk from the house to the road is to make it easier for us to get the mail out of the mailbox. The former owners probably drove up to the mailbox on their way home from work, so didn’t have much need for a paved pathway to the roadside mailbox. But about a third of this family are home every day, and we walk from the house to the mailbox to get the mail.

What kind of front walk shall we have?

I started pondering this lack last winter, a few months after we had moved in. The first thing to settle was, from which door should the walkway begin? I considered the double doors of the original building, which because of their size, and because they opened onto a foyer intended for receiving guests, would certainly have been the logical choice before the rest of the house was built.

But as currently constructed, the kitchen is the physical center of the house, has a welcoming little porch, and is directly across from the mailbox. I did some research, and found experts recommended a main path to the house be wide enough for two to walk side-by-side, four to six feet. I was tempted to just go with four feet, as that was surely the most economical. But I wanted the walk to complement the rest of the house and not be a niggardly appendage that screamed “We were too cheap to do this right!” So I paced it out on the snow, and found that aligning the edges of the walk with the uprights supporting the porch worked very well:

It's 45 feet from the edge of the road to the door. Those two shrubs are no longer there.

It’s 45 feet from the edge of the road to the door. Those two shrubs are no longer there.

front walk stamped in snow

The same path, as seen from the house. The shrub obscuring the mailbox is no longer there.

More Questions, More Decisions

Basing the dimensions of a garden’s design on architectural features of the house is generally considered good garden design, and I thought that width looked well-proportioned. Now I had two more burning questions: what should the walk be paved with, and how should a garden be designed around it? Stay tuned for the next chapter in my exciting adventure!

This post is part of a continuing series chronicling how I am designing new gardens at my new (to me) house. Previous posts include my one year anniversary and an overview and map of the environs.

About the Author

Kathy Purdy is a colchicum evangelist, converting unsuspecting gardeners into colchicophiles. She would be delighted to speak to your group about colchicums or other gardening topics. Kathy’s been writing since 4th grade, gardening since high school, and blogging since 2002.

If winter is slumber and spring is birth, and summer is life, then autumn rounds out to be reflection. It’s a time of year when the leaves are down and the harvest is in and the perennials are gone. Mother Earth just closed up the drapes on another year and it’s time to reflect on what’s come before.

~Mitchell Burgess in Northern Exposure

Comments on this entry are closed.

Joene at Joene's Garden March 2, 2013, 5:59 pm

Kathy, front walkways should definitely be wide enough for two people to walk side-by-side and plantings should not infringe on this space. Do the two porches connect? If so, the single walkway could easily serve the kitchen entrance as well as the double-door entrance if it is ever used. I like the weight a wide walkway will bring to the front – it will give a focal point to the house and, being straight, leaves you with multiple planting plan possibilities for the future.

debra March 1, 2013, 7:14 pm

Hi Kathy, I love the idea of garden design in the snow….your footprints tracing the lines and perimeters of the fron twalk. It makes me smile!
Nice and wide – that’s inviting and functional….and hey – you could sure have a lot of space for containers, right?!!!
cheers, Debra

Pat Webster March 1, 2013, 10:44 am

What interests me is what you will do where the walk meets the road. The way it slopes downhill to the left offers some interesting possibilities. I like looking out at the natural woodland across the road but would like to see some kind of definition to make the view more distinctive. I’m following this process with great interest.

Frances March 1, 2013, 7:11 am

How exciting! Yes, do it right. Is there any other paving material in use around the house? Is the driveway paved or gravel? Maybe flare the walkway at the street? Just a few ideas that come to mind. I will stay tuned?

Becky February 28, 2013, 11:00 pm

I have to cast my vote for a stone path with red creeping or wooley thyme between the stones. See

Gail February 28, 2013, 9:40 pm

I like the formal aspect of a straight walk to your door, you can always add a curve later leading from the straight path to the front foyer door later on. I think brick would be lovely.

Donna@Gardens Eye View February 28, 2013, 8:44 pm

Kathy what an interesting front with all the doors….I think a walk would be lovely…I am partial to real brick and curves but of course that works with my house….a nice wide walk will look lovely and I look forward to seeing the design.

Steve March 3, 2013, 11:58 am

Hi Kathy. My first thought after seeing the paced-out photos and reading your description of how the house was approached was “Why take the walk to the road? Why not take the walk out a comfortable distance from the house and turn at a right angle to return to the driveway, where people would approach the door from?” You could then create a courtyard garden, enclosed by a low fence or shrubs, that would provide a great location for a garden filled with choice herbaceous plants and bulbs and a cheerful experience of arrival. There could be a swath of lawn between the road and fence/hedge that would keep snow and salt plowed off the road out of the courtyard garden. The path from the driveway could be four feet wide, then turn at a right angle and broaden to whatever width would look best in relation to the proportions of the house. That would save some material, which in the Southern Tier might best be local bluestone? Personally, I’m not crazy about curved walks directly adjacent to a house, where I think the lines should defer more directly to the architecture and provide the most direct path from A to B.