Paths and Fences (4m 33s)

Okay this chapter is about paths and fences… This is included as part of the earthworks chapter because getting to your site and defining the area of your site are part of the startup aspects of design.


Okay, so first, paths. There are two types of paths we’ll talk about here: footpaths and roads. When doing extensive land regeneration, it’s important to know what places are for people and what places are for plants. People and plants cannot be in the same place. A path says, people go here. Whereas a garden says, plants go here.

I heard about this new university that was built somewhere and the landscapers couldn’t decide where to put the footpaths. So for the first semester, they opened the buildings without paths between them and let the students decide where to walk. At the end of the semester, where there was dirt, they put a path.

A decent path width is ½ m to 2 meter. If it’s going to be only a footpath, then 1/2m is enough space to walk. If you need a wheelbarrow, think about widening the path.

Pavers, stepping stones

At Saelao project in Laos, Sengkeo and volunteers filled bicycle tires with chicken mesh, cement and sand and added nice stones on top. It works well to provide a place to walk in heavy rains. Here are a few other nice looking stepping stones or paths to consider.

The average human step is 65cm. So if you’re going to put pavers down, it’s good to measure 65cm from the center of one paver to the next.

A few notes on drainage. When building a path, think about where water is going to go. You can dig drainage ditches on either side of the path …You can also bevel the path to push the water to the sides… …You can also dig a French drain. A French drain is a trench in the middle of the path that’s about 30cm deep, filled with gravel.

Gabions are another, larger scale erosion control technique. Gabions are those wire mesh baskets filled with large rocks at the base of slopes, commonly found next to a road. They hold the soil next to the hill.

Okay, roads. Yes, roads require a lot of engineering. I mainly wanted to acknowledge roads as something important to have when starting a permaculture site. One general note is that a good road needs a good foundation. So if you’re on your own and you need to create access to your site, look for big rocks, then add a layer of smaller rocks and smaller rocks, then dirt or asphalt or whatever is going to be the top layer. The infrastructure underneath the road is what is important in holding the road.


Where paths divide people and plant spaces, fences multiply spaces. Where there was once one space, now there is two. We draw lines to enable diversity to happen. It’s sort of backwards to what one may think, you’d think we draw lines to isolate or disrupt what is there. Instead we draw lines to enable things to happen, so they won’t disrupt each other and can grow in their own harmony.

Common types of fences use wood or stone posts, run wires between the posts and hang a metal wire mesh on the lines. If you have animals, you may want to bury chicken wire in the soil about 30cm deep to keep them from digging through. Here are some pictures of an earthbag fence my buddy ben built with some friends aroun Chiang Mai. They stacked several layers of earth bags on top of each other and then plastered the outside with a rough coat. This is a very low cost and durable fence. There are also many types of stone fences that look nice. Stone fences help shape and area and create a nice space.


Windbreaks are layers of trees planted to prevent wind from blowing on your site. You can plant trees in progressing height so they slow the wind speed over a distance. It’s surprising how much wind affects the growth of trees.

As for firebreaks, banana trees are great because their trunks hold a tremendous amount of water. So if a fire breaks out, you just cut down the tree and lay it down in front of the fire.

Okay, quick recap:

People and plants cannot be in the same place at the same time. So we use paths to define people places and define plant places. Fences divide places so they can grow on their own. Division enables diversity.

So for our site designs for paths and fences, let’s look at where are the borders of the property, where will you need fences within your site.

Okay, this concludes the paths and fences chapter. Thank you for your time.