Simple path for side yard

jenn(SoCal 9/19)August 19, 2010

We're planning to re-do the side yard this fall with a path leading from one end to the other. This path is the one we take from the patio to the shed and trash cans at the far end. Last year, we laid about 2 dozen stepping stones (the type that are perfectly round with small smooth stones embedded in cement on the top) down the middle of the path on bare soil, just to have a place to step when the soil is wet. Our soil is heavy clay and so far we have not had any flooding issues in this area even in a very rainy winter.

We want this area to be casual and informal. I have in mind a meandering path with these stones down the middle, and ground cover (perhaps Thyme) in between, bordered by small round rocks (5-6 inches or so in diameter).

I'm wondering if we really need to dig out about 4 inches of soil beneath the stepping stones for drainage. Admittedly, I am trying to take the easy path, but I don't want to have any serious regrets later. If we fill in the stepping stones where they currently lay with DG, and plant in between the stones, and border the path with stones, edging boards and plants, will that be sufficient?

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A natural pathway using 1/4" pea gravel looks great too and is very economical. Not white gravel but natural earthtone colors and no bigger than 1/4". Kind of crushed stone path. You could get small,irregular natural stones used typically for buiding retaining walls and flip them on their side and bury partially into the ground for your edging along the pathway to keep the gravel within bounds. Drop in a few large, irregular flagstone here and there that keep the same color pallete and can be purchased at a landscape stone yard....and place into the path in a non-formal pattern just to mix up textures a bit. If this is in shade, maybe plug in a few low growing ferns in random spots along the edges of the path to add a soft touch. If the path is in sun, possibly plug in some low growing grasses like Mexican Feather Grass or Carex, or herbs like creeping Thyme!
One thing I have messed up on in the past is pouring too much gravel and therefore making a "squishy" path that is hard to walk on. Just make sure your base soil is hard and compact and then add only about an inch or two of gravel.

I'm skipping a lot of details but just giving you something to think on. Sounds like you already have a great start. Good Luck!

    Bookmark   August 19, 2010 at 4:14PM
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madtripper(5/6 Guelph)

Why are you worried about drainage?

I assume you just removed the sod and placed the round pavers, or there was no sod to start with. If the soil is properly slopped away from the house you do not have to worry about drainage.

Now if you raise the height along the path with something (soil or stone) so that the height is now the high point water will run back to the house. So you have two options. Raise the soil betwee nthe walkway and the house just as much as the path. Or lower the path. the inportant thing is that the slope remains away from the house.

    Bookmark   August 19, 2010 at 8:49PM
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jenn(SoCal 9/19)

Uniquegardenplants: Thank you for the great ideas!

madtripper: The sod is long gone... took it out years ago. Since then, we've forged a natural path during multiple walks to/from the garage, trash cans, shed, etc. That soil is now very compact, and we just want to cover it with stepping stones, flagstone, rock, etc. It is slightly sloped away from the house and I'll be sure we keep it that way during the project.

    Bookmark   August 20, 2010 at 11:27AM
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karinl(BC Z8)

Making a proper base for the stones is not about drainage, but about avoiding frost heave. Water accumulating in the soil below the rocks is only a problem if it freezes. If I'm interpreting your zone correctly (9?), you don't have to worry about frost heave at all.

In my zone 8 world, I lay slabs like that right on the ground, Any sinkage or heave that I get, which is very little, is easy to fix.


    Bookmark   August 20, 2010 at 12:09PM
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jenn(SoCal 9/19)

Karin: We do get frost here, but no frost heaves.

    Bookmark   August 21, 2010 at 12:22AM
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jenn(SoCal 9/19)

I'd completely forgotten I posted this thread, and found it by accident while searching "path", LOL!

We're still working on the side yard, and still haven't completed the path. For reasons beyond our control, we didn't finish last Fall. However, since then we have planted 2 apple trees down the center of the side yard (Anna and Dorsett Golden), and purchased another shed to store gardening supplies. I plan to use creative ways to "hide" the sheds with plants. We still want an informal look, but with interest and plants that hide the sheds and lead people down the path to discover what lurks at the other end.

Below is a recent photo taken last month. Since then, the Nasturtiums (center) have been removed, and the tumbler and lawn mower next to the nearest shed were moved.

I want to have a bed along each side -- one along the side of the house (far right in photo), and one on the other side along the fence. I am starting to prepare the soil for planting this Fall (this year for sure!!) using the Interbay Mulch method.

I'm not sure I love (or even like) the layout of the current stones, but they are what we have and would like to reuse them to save $$. On the other hand, we're saving $$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$ by not hiring a professional to do the job, so we could use some of that ($$) toward some large flagstone pieces (to match the ones used to create a small patio in our front yard) with DG between the stones. But then, what to use as edging?

On the other hand, I quite like "casual" and "informal", and lining a path using the current stones with field stones (5-6" in diam) on both sides of the path.

Then, to cover the ground between the path and the border on the other side of the yard (in the area where the apples grow), we may use groundcover bark mulch just to cover the bare soil and keep the dust from blowing around during the breezes we get every afternoon.

I'm trying to formulate a plan to prepare the area and design the beds for planting by Fall (late November, early December), and trying to reach a decision about path materials and what to use as mulch in the center area.

It's helpful to have a few other sets of eyes to "see" things I don't, and would appreciate any and all suggestions for path design/materials and plants.

    Bookmark   May 4, 2011 at 3:39PM
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jenn(SoCal 9/19)

Bump.... any new suggestions? :)

    Bookmark   May 12, 2011 at 1:02PM
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natal(Louisiana 8b)

Do you have access to pine straw (needles)? I use it for bed mulch and to line the pathways in my kitchen garden and the path along the north side of the house leading to the back yard.

    Bookmark   May 12, 2011 at 2:15PM
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jenn(SoCal 9/19)

Not really... at least not in our yard.

    Bookmark   May 17, 2011 at 12:49PM
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