LAYING a path should in theory be simple enough: a matter of slapping down some paving stones or cobbles or bits of wood in an aesthetically pleasing fashion, in such formation as to keep everybody's feet out of the mud underneath. In fact, installing a concrete or paving-slab path is an operation akin to resurfacing the M25, though on a slightly smaller scale. It involves digging a trench, adding a layer of hardcore, then either pouring in the concrete or adding a layer of sand and placing the slabs on top. Bricks are even worse: a brick path involves similar hard labour plus attempting to lay the things out in a fancy pattern (if you don't know your basketweave bond from your herringbone pattern, beware). Bricks also need some form of permanent edging or they will make a slow but determined attempt to escape, and they also need a firm hand to squish them down into their sandy bed (the extremely patient can use a piece of board and a club hammer, those with other commitments outside the garden will end up hiring a very scary petrol-driven plate vibrator). Attempting any of these on curved or wiggly paths multiplies the labour and headache factor by 20 (approx).

Rather easier for going round corners is slapping down a few sackfuls of gravel, though gravel still has to be laid in a trench lined with sand (only a good option if your garden is never visited by cats - any feline passers-through will gratefully thank you for installing the largest, ritziest litter tray in the neighbourhood and your carpets will never be the same again). Even without the cat-poo factor, be prepared to pick handfuls of grit out of the shag-pile on a regular basis, or the Hoover will choke and expire.

The artful can get out of having to dig big holes/hire heavy equipment/mix concrete/lug large slabs of heavy stuff around by going for a more informal approach: for example, a few slices of log surrounded by bark chippings look very Beth Chatto. For a temporary, if un-beautiful, route across a soggy lawn, there is the instant path, made of heavy-duty plastic, which comes in a roll and can be hosed down and re-used.