Monday, February 08, 2010

Gravel Path

We started the garden paths using cedar chips from the cedars (Juniperus virginiana) we cut down to make space for planting. Good to start with, but cedar rots in this wet, muddy place, and every time we have a big rain, it washes out. Time to bite the bullet. I had 20 cubic yards of "river washed" pea gravel and 15 of coarser gravel delivered a couple of weeks ago.

 We're laying a geotextile fabric to keep down weeds, then a thick two-inch layer of coarser "blue" driveway gravel, and a top layer of pea gravel. This appears to be making a solid, stable, easy walking path that will keep the feet well above the extreme wetness of the garden soil.

I've always wanted a gravel path not just for the look, but more for the feel of walking on it, and for the sound, a soft sursurration of movement and faint crackle - it's a synaesthetic experience, part of appealing to all senses in the garden.

Of course, the gravel isn't cheap. And since limited access makes it necessary to move and place the gravel by hand, labor cost is high. I'm hoping this path will last.

Now the path calls out for groundcovers and varied pathside plantings to better integrate it into the whole. That means plants that can survive and thrive in wet clay, are at least moderately agressive but not too much so, and will spread into the surrounding areas to moderate the growth of weeds and create a visual ground congruent with the larger plantings. For starters, various carex, Deschampsia caespetosa, Lysimachia nummularia. Suggestions welcome.


  1. Just beautiful! I agree about the magic of "crunching" paths. Have you considered some of the different irises for this path? Some might be too high, but others could perhaps provide great little pockets of color.

  2. Oh James, I do love this. The width, colour and edging. I also love the gravel crunch underfoot and the contrast and sense of place it gives when you change from and to other surfaces.

    Yep, hard work it is too. I know first hand from the much smaller scale ones I have made. I am certain your hard work is worth it though both practically and as a feature.

    BTW My latest posting on Cambo shows the new North American Prairie with young plants growing through gravel :-)

  3. Tim,
    Thanks for the suggestion. I have many "water" irises for early summer color. These will work well as pathside accents, and their seed pods provide interest into winter. Great idea! And I can save money by taking starts from my existing plants.

  4. Shirl,
    You remind me that I want to incorporate various kinds of paving into the gravel, at intersections (perhaps squares of cheap concrete to weather and become moss covered), and other pavings suggestive of "mosaic" in large scale, for contrast and interest. I'm looking forward to your new postings on Cambo.

  5. Hi James, it is lovely already, and will only continue to *blossom* with plantings at the sides. We have found that seedlings sprout in the gravel paths much better than in the soil of the beds. I would suggest plantings that might self sow to give you free plants and that mass look. Not knowing much about your conditions, but possibly Alchemilla, heucheras, (with Americana in their bloodline), and our featured plant today, Erysimums, wallflowers.

  6. Is it not February in Federal Twist? We're knee deep in ice and snow here. And, I must say, the idea of huffing some gravel from place to place warms my hibernating heart. Thanks.

    How heavy is that clay? Do astrantias do well for you?

  7. Frances,
    I've wondered if Alchemilla could make it in my heavy clay. I've had such doubts, I haven't even tried it. But it's worth a go. May as well kill another plant in my search for plants that suit my conditions.

  8. You will appreciate the fabric not only for weed control, but for keeping the gravel from getting sucked into the ground over time.

  9. Peter,
    Imagine the worst and you've got a pretty good picture of my clay. Oh, I have a place where I want a long swath of astrantias, but I don't know whether they can take the stress my garden will put on them. And they're not cheap (I'd need at least 30 or 40 to do what I want.)

    By the way, these photos were taken before this past weekend's snow storm dropped about nine inches and, I hear, we're expecting another 12 to 18 inches tomorrow and Wednesday. So the path project is on hold until the temperatures rise.

  10. Les,
    That was another of my hopes. Also my reason for putting a layer of larger gravel below the pea gravel. I used a rather stiff, heavy fabric in the hope of retarding the unavoidable sinking to come.

  11. A "woodsy" looking ground cover for paths: Yellowroot (Xanthorhiza simplicissima). It likes wet, has interesting leaves that turn gorgeous wine and copper in fall. It's low and shrubby, with erect stems, not a creeper, but it fills in. My 3 little plants quickly massed across a damp berm (zone 5 Conn.) to make a lush edging. For a ground cover it's just very elegant, not spready-messy like some! I don't know why it isn't sold everywhere. I love your new dressed up paths... looking forward to seeing them with plants and edging.

  12. Laurrie,
    I did try Yellowroot in front of the house about three years ago, but it was outside the garden and in a position with competitive tree roots. It disappeared. I'll check it out for a pathside planting. Thanks for the suggestion and the description.



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