Creating the paths in your polytunnel can be almost as important as creating the growing areas. Path materials are not only a cosmetic choice. The right path can mean the difference between a maintenance headache and an easily maintained space. In this article we will talk about some of the best eco friendly polytunnel path ideas, whether you want hard paving, or something much softer and more organic.
Why is Choosing the Right Path Ideas Important?
Certain paths may make it easier to keep a polytunnel cool in summer (perhaps by providing a hard surface from which water can evaporate to cool the area), or keep the place warm in winter (by adding to the thermal mass within the structure). So, what materials you choose for the paths in your polytunnel makes a big difference. It makes sense to think about all the different path ideas you can imagine, and to compare and contrast them all to work out which one might be the best option for you.
Eco-Friendly Hard Paving Path Ideas
To begin with, let’s take a look at some of the hard paving path ideas that you could choose for your polytunnel. The benefit of each of these options is that they will be good at withstanding traffic. They can be very long-lasting and durable, and may also add the benefits of temperature regulation mentioned above.
Natural Stone Slabs
One of the first and most obvious eco-friendly solutions for any polytunnels and gardens are natural stone slabs. Natural stone can be eco-friendly if it is locally sourced – especially if it is reclaimed from elsewhere in a home or garden. The larger the pieces of natural stone that you wish to use, the more expensive the project is likely to be. In a polytunnel, you may be able to use small pieces – for example pieces that might be left over after the laying of a patio elsewhere in your garden.
Pebble Stone Cobbles
You may not even have to find or buy flat stone slabs that have been shaped to create flat paving. Another perfectly practical solution for your polytunnel paths might be pebble stones or small uneven river rocks etc. These could potentially be embedded in the soil to create a cobblestone path. A DIY cobblestone path can be beautiful, and you might even be able to make this durable and hard-wearing path using rocks and stones dug from your growing areas or sourced from elsewhere in your garden. If the cobbles are not adequately held in place by the soil, you could also embed these in a mortar (lime mortar is more eco-friendly), or in natural clay.
If your growing areas are raised, or have high edging on them, then you might also wish to consider a gravel polytunnel path. Again, this may be easy to create using small stones etc. from elsewhere on your land, or sourced locally. Gravel offers good drainage so could be a good solution for a polytunnel positioned where groundwater is high and the area can be prone to waterlogging. However, without a membrane beneath it, gravel paths can tend to develop a problem with weeds – more so that paths with a better overall coverage.
Recycled Glass Paving
If you would like solid, flat paving but do not want to go for natural stone (which can be expensive) or for concrete (which is bad for our planet) then you might wish to consider an eco friendly path idea like recycled glass paving.
Another more planet-friendly alternative to pouring a concrete path is to create a new path using limecrete – either in slabs or as a solid path along the entire length of your polytunnel. Limecrete is less environmentally damaging than concrete, and though it takes longer to set than traditional concrete, it has many of the same practically beneficial properties.
Reclaimed Concrete Paving
If you do decide that concrete paving is the way to go, either for cost concerns, or for other practical reasons, remember that you should always look into the possibilities of using reclaimed materials before buying new. It is often very easy and affordable to get your hands on some old concrete slabs that someone else wishes to remove from their own garden, and these could be just what you need for your polytunnel.
Another reclaimed material that could be ideal for a polytunnel path is bricks. Regular house bricks are often found relatively inexpensively at reclamation yards, or elsewhere. Laying these in the ground to create a pathway in your polytunnel could give you a solid and durable surface to work from.
Natural Ceramic Tile Paving
Again, reclaimed materials could save the day,if you find some old ceramic floor tiles these could be ideal for path ideas for your polytunnel. You can create a wide range of different effects by using different left-over or recycled floor tiles in different ways.
Broken Tile Mosaic Paths
You may be able to get even more creative when it comes to your polytunnel paths and create a mosaic path by laying pieces of broken tile, sea glass and other items into some form of mortar. If you are an artist, creating paths in this way could be a good way to give your imagination free reign and create something truly beautiful as well as functional.
Rammed Earth Paths
Interestingly, you might not need to add material to create your polytunnel paths at all. You could also consider the possibilities of rammed earth, which could potentially create a perfectly practical solution. By compacting the soil you could potentially create a solid pathway through your polytunnel.
Natural, Soft Path Ideas
Of course, you do not necessarily have to have a hard path at all. Paths could actually be a part of your planting scheme, or could use organic materials that can create a good walking surface for a time before returning to the soil, at which point they can be replenished. Paths, like the growing areas in your garden, could be considered as something that changes and evolves over time. Here are a few natural, soft path ideas that you could think about implementing in your polytunnel.
Bark or Wood Paths
Bark or woodchip paths can be practical in a polytunnel. They can be an affordable option, and you might even be able to source the bark or woodchip using pruned branches etc. from your very own garden if you invest in a garden shredder. Of course, weeds can pop up through such paths, but this may not be considered a problem in an organic polytunnel, and a little light weeding may be easy enough as you go along. Of course, the wood will need to be replaced or replenished over time, but this is not necessarily too much of a hardship.
Other Wood Paths
Staying on the woody theme, you could also consider making a longer-lasting path using straight branches or logs laid down to make a pathway, or even make a raised walkway with wooden planks. Wood is almost always an excellent eco-friendly material.
You could also consider simply laying a medium over your soil where you wish your path to be that will suppress but not entirely eliminate weeds. Sand could be one option. Sand paths could be lovely if you like to garden in your bare feet. You could feel like you are on a tropical beach while you are busy tending your polytunnel.
You may also wish to simply leave grass paths between your raised beds in your polytunnel. If you do decide to go for grass, you will, of course, need to make sure that you will have enough space to get the mower in, so seeds don’t form and the grass does not take over all your growing areas.
Herb Lawn Paths
If you like the idea of a planted path, but grass is too high maintenance, paths in a polytunnel that do not experience particularly heavy traffic could also be planted up with Mediterranean herbs. Thyme, for example, is a lovely choice. Walking on it will release a lovely scent, which could help attract beneficial wildlife and repel pests. You could also have stepping stones/ log circles etc. along the herb path so that you do not need to step on the herbs as you move through the tunnel.
Finally, if your polytunnel is a shade tunnel rather than a very warm and sunny one, you might also consider creating paths through the woodland-like space using moss and other shade-loving ground cover plants. This, too could be lovely beneath bare feet, and could also look lovely. Again, as with the above, you could walk on the plants themselves, or create stepping stones to allow you to move between the mossy patches.
The path ideas above should help you to think about all the different options that you could consider for your polytunnel. Which is the right one for you? If you have implemented innovative path ideas in your polytunnel, share your tips and suggestions in the comments below.
Elizabeth Waddington is a writer and green living consultant living in Scotland. Permaculture and sustainability are at the heart of everything she does, from designing gardens and farms around the world, to inspiring and facilitating positive change for small companies and individuals.
She also works on her own property, where she grows fruit and vegetables, keeps chickens and is working on the eco-renovation of an old stone barn.