Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Crushed rock pathway

What do you do when you've got a backyard with trees shading parts of the lawn and the grass doesn't grow well?

I tried to re-seed those scruffy patches and was getting nowhere. I finally concluded: Why fight it?

My backyard is rectangular. A sport court takes up 1/4 of my backyard and it is in full sun. My boys still use it occasionally to play one-on-one basketball, so I'm limited to a couple of moveable plant containers on that sunny stretch of concrete.

At the opposite end of my yard, beneath a huge fir tree, is a very nice grape arbor that I just rebuilt (article on that is forthcoming). I concluded: Instead of grass, why not create a gravel path from the sport court to the arbor?

A rock path would cover bare earth and keep shoes from getting muddy. Plus a gently curving path would meditatively draw the garden visitor from one area of the yard to the other and along the way he could enjoy my garden artistry. An ingenious plan! My wife agreed (to the plan, not the genius part).

I followed gardening book examples and laid out a hose to get a general idea of how the completed path would look. At its narrowest, it is 4 feet wide. The area under the arbor is 13 by 15 feet and the pathway expands to 11 feet in the table-seating area. I wanted it large enough for two people to walk side-by-side. That also equates to less grass to mow.

I bought cedar bender board and stakes and put the pathway borders together with a sledgehammer and screwgun. I had one exposed tree root which sat 3 inches above ground, so to create a level area without stumbling over it, I gradually increased the height of the path to 4 inches in that vicinity.

The entire pathway, including the area under the grape arbor is approximately 2000 square feet. I made some rough calculations and allowing for an average layer of two inches of crushed rock, I ordered 3 yards. It wasn't enough. (Math has never been my strong suit.) A second load of 3 yards did the trick. I have a bucketful left over.

There wasn't much grass to remove, but for "insurance" I did lay down a layer of ground cover cloth to prevent most weeds from poking through.

That was last year.

The path begins in photo below:

Path entry from concrete sport court (foreground left). Ferns on either side, a red rhodie and spanish bluebells in right and center. Large fir tree with trilliums at its base in upper left.

I noticed weedlings growing in the crushed rock this spring, but they are easy to pull out. They may even die by themselves because there's no soil for them. (I did rescue half a dozen fir seedlings which were doing well in the rock without much competition.)

Rescued gravel-grown evergreens. They will be transplanted to our forest property in another year or so.

The pathway opens up again and ends inside the grape arbor.

Path terminus at grape arbor. Rhodie in upper left with bleeding heart below it. Notice the narrow ribbon of 2- to 4-inch rock on left of pathway. That strip transitions the flowering border to the pathway.

Grass borders most of the path on the east side except at the start of the path.

The only thing I have to do maintenance-wise is to rake it (heavy-duty garden rake) twice a year to cover the ever-present falling fir needles from existing trees.

Moving six yards of 5/8" crushed rock is real work, but easily accomplished if you hire willing teen-age boys. It took two 18-year-olds 1 1/2 hours apiece using shovels on the pile in my front driveway and transporting it about 100 feet in a wheelbarrow. They dumped each load where I pointed and I spread it by sweeping it around with my shoes while standing. The heavy wheelbarrow weight is murder on grass so I had them take the long way around (running it on the concrete sport court). No extra work at all for me.

I widened the path in one area between a Spruce, a fir tree and the lawn to make a shady table-with-seating area.

Seating area where pathway widens. The white plastic table will be replaced by a glass-topped one this summer.

One thing I hadn't counted on: our dog used to use a portion of the area to do her business and now she does it on the crushed rock pathway. She's a creature of habit, I guess. But I do need to correct that behavior before company comes over.

Creature of habit that needs behavior modification. Potted plants form one corner of the arbor.


  1. I enjoy the little bits of humor you let slip into your narrative. Like the part about Mom not thinking you were a genius, and that Cookie needs to be retrained. You could do a post on Cookie and her contribution to the backyard. You know, as a moving sculpture and sun ornament. Or something.

    Good blog so far!

  2. How about: when Cookie dies, I'll have her stuffed and mounted and use her for a backrest somewhere in the garden? As for her contributions, they stink. She doesn't bury it like the cat does. Or were you thinking of something else, like all the holes she digs next to trees, shrubbery and in the middle of the lawn? Or perhaps you were thinking of her ability to decrease the surplus squirrel population? Mostly she lies on the grass in the sun, enjoying all the dog days of her life. A dog in repose? I guess that's somewhat sculptural...in a weird way.

  3. She did decrease the squirrel population by 6, but you cannot admit she isn't loyal and always ready to lend a sympathetic ear in exchange for a good petting.