December 29, 2008

A Variety of Garden Paths

What's the best material to use for a garden path? A lot depends upon your preferences and the style of your house and gardens. Brick, stone, gravel, mulch, grass and other materials are used for garden paths.

There are pros and cons to all materials, and we use three different styles within our gardens (photo taken from second story window to show examples):
  • Flagstone with polymeric joints (main walkway)
  • Flagstone stepping stones over mulch (outer garden paths and in cottage garden)
  • Gravel (cottage garden along roses)
Since our house is a cottage style, we didn't want a formal walkway.

Our main walk consists of flagstones with polymeric sand in the joints. We didn't want cement in the joints on the walk as we felt it would appear too formal for the style of our house and meadow setting. We considered growing thyme between the stones, but decided to try the sand.

The polymeric sand is used for dry-laid projects. It's a sand product with polymers that make it harden so that you don't have to keep sweeping loose sand or screenings between the stones.

In a nutshell, here's an overview of the steps to use polymeric sand:
  • dig and level the ground
  • layer of permeable landscape fabric
  • layer of screenings
  • lay the flagstone
  • sweep polymeric sand in the joints in a thin layer
  • mist with water
  • wait 10 minutes and repeat with layers/misting until sand is level with stones
Since the house was finished in fall 2005, we've had to re-apply the sand once, but it was an easy project. Some weed seeds, like spurge, will find the way into the sand, but that is minimal. I've had petunias reseed into the sand!

The stepping stones are the same Pennsylvania bluestone (lilac heather) as used for our main walkway, front porch floor and patios. These are laid on the ground and dressed with triple-ground hardwood mulch. The stepping stones are almost carefree, with the occasional weeding of the mulch. The mulch is thick enough that weeds aren't too much of a problem.

The gravel used along the roses inside the cottage garden requires the most maintenance in terms of weeding. Weed seeds sprout quite easily in the gravel. I wait until after a rain, then use a trowel or flat shovel to dig and scrape out the weeds, then rake the gravel back into place. Vinegar sprayed directly on the weeds is also useful. There is no weed mat/landscape fabric beneath the gravel. The gravel is locally known as "Chapel Hill grit" or "Chapel Hill gravel" as it comes from a local quarry.

We've not yet had to replenish the gravel, but we are considering using pea gravel. We have a small test section by the guest parking to decided whether or not we will want an entire path made of pea gravel.

An added benefit of all of our paths is that we can maintain these ourselves. In fact, we built a large dining patio ourselves using flagstones and polymeric sand. I like that we have a variety of path materials in different sections of the gardens, rather than using all one material everywhere.

Photos and story by Freda Cameron
Freelance travel writer. My current fiction writing projects include a completed manuscript and several works in progress.

By the way, my name is pronounced fred-ah, not freed-ah. Thank you.

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