Flowers and pup enjoying large flagstone stepping stones: Photo by Jane Gates

One way to make your garden more artistic and practical without spending a lot of money is to use bricks, blocks,  pavers, stepping stones, cast concrete or flagstone.

Pavers and stepping stones are ideal to make pathways throughout the landscape. They are decorative, make passage easier and save wear and tear on lawns. You can use them together to construct patio areas, too.  Paving with stepping stones, cast block and other pieced materials is a trend that is growing in popularity.  These materials offer a form of permeable paving that is proving to be a better way to hardscape than pouring  large, solid, flat concrete areas. They are better for drainage when it rains, easier to install and are more flexible since you can change your mind at any time and move the materials to get the effects you want. And with good designing, pavers and stepping stones can create decorative highlights in your landscape.

Avoid straight lines unless the theme of your garden is formal or geometrical. Allow your pathways to curve and meander. And make sure they lead somewhere. Paths that lead nowhere are not very useful and can look downright silly. Paths can be used to break up large spaces and long garden areas. You can use them to lead you to convenient areas for utility servicing or plant maintenance. They make the passageway to a shed, water feature or another structure into something decorative as well as practical. And a slightly curved pathway up to a bench or hammock creates an irresistible invitation to relax in the landscape. Even if you don’t have the proper layout for building paths, you can still use pavers and stepping stones to outline boundaries of different parts of your landscape or cluster them to crate a patio area.

Stepping stones and pavers can be made of an assortment of materials. You can find simple cast concrete rounds or squares at the local home stores or check into specialty shops to find designs for just about any taste. Flip through catalogs to discover artistic stepping stones for sale. Brick can be set in groups creating patterns or laid in rows to make a path. Flagstones are ready-made pavers that offer the beauty of natural stone. Stone can also be cut into whatever shapes you want. Or you can pour concrete to make large stepping stones in a variety of designs. Additional interest can be created by coloring, stamping or adding patterns to the cement before it dries. Even slices of tree trunks make rounds and can be used as stepping surfaces that will eventually break down over time. But they give a great woodsy feel for years. And they are an ornamental and useful way to recycle a fallen or cut tree while saving on the cost of haul-away.

To use stepping stones in the landscape creatively, you can use a mixture of colored pieces or even materials to invent pictures or designs. These will function like mosaic flooring. Another possibility is to lay sections that alternate with two or three different materials creating a checkerboard, stripes or other patters. Or you can outline one material with another for effect. In short, the ways to make your design into art with various materials is completely up to you.

You might find interesting pre-designed stepping stones available in a variety of stores that carry hand-crafted items as well as at your local gardening suppliers. If you want to shop on the Internet or flip through catalogs, you will find all kinds of stepping stones from hand-painted designs of your favorite theme to elaborately sculpted stones with interesting materials embedded. I have a friend who has collected hers from various craft fairs. Another makes her own by pressing stained glass into cast concrete rounds before the cement hardens. You can even find an interesting assortment of stepping stones, rock and pre-cast cement pavers at the big home stores. For those of you who can paint, look for outdoor paints and personalize inexpensive generic materials to make them unique or turn them into works of art.

You can use a group of materials like bricks to make a section that reads as one big stepping stone, or you can separate your materials like single chunks of flagstone. If you are into making crafts, there are lots of ways to cast, cut and create your own stepping stones. You can make molds and cast plaster or cement. Adding pieces of pottery or pressing in your children’s handprints are a couple of ways you can make your pavers unique. Use your imagination to design and create your own effects with pavers, stepping stones, cast concrete or flagstone.