The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, August 4, 2006


Paths in the landscape

Landscapers use the term "hardscape" to indicate paths, patios and walls that are typically the most defining element and ultimately the most expensive component of landscaping a property. Paths, patios and walls are always high maintenance areas, too. They look wonderful when first constructed, but leaves and debris have an annoying habit of collecting in crevices. Paths make edges and edges create work. Lawns creep into paths, plants creep into lawns and weeds creep into everything. Of all the projects in my own garden, it is my one and only path that causes the most angst.

The significant investment in creating and maintaining a path has led me to have only one proper path. By proper I mean a non-grass path; I have grass paths in abundance. My one and only path has morphed over the years and will probably evolve again in the next few years. I have a love/hate relationship with it.

The path was first created to lead to our chicken house. Chickens need to be attended daily. No meandering curvy path would do. Hauling buckets and grain to the hens while negotiating two feet of snow requires a direct straight route. With garden beds on either side of the path, heavy landscape timbers keep the gravel (mostly) in check. Stone dust kept us going for many years, and then a top dressing of pea stone has served us for the last ten.

Each year the debris from nearby trees and shrubs filters down between the gravel creating a compost that invites weed growth. You would think that gravel and constant foot travel would be an inhospitable environment for tender seedlings, but no ... they thrive in the gravel path. Several Carlisle Garden Club Plant Sale offerings have come from said gravel path. By recognizing the leaf shapes of desirable perennials, I can rescue them rather than toss them into the compost pile. Most of the green leafy things growing in the path, however, are nasty weeds that need to be removed.

Removing the weeds from the path can be accomplished in many ways. I sometimes pour pots of boiling water on their heads. Mostly I just reach down and yank them out. The bluestone patio that makes up one portion of the pathway is likewise a chore to keep tidy. How is it that dandelions like to germinate in 1/4-inch gaps between the stones? Don't they know that the stones are so hot in the summer you cannot walk barefoot on them?

Are you considering going to the trouble and expense of putting in a path? Here are my guidelines:

1. To get from here to there in a hurry, make a straight path; otherwise curves are more interesting.

2. Make the path four feet wide or wider. Shrubs and plants are likely to encroach and therefore narrow the path. Even if surrounded by lawn that will not narrow the path, four feet is really the minimum width that can comfortably accommodate two people walking side by side.

3. Use a path material that matches your house in some way. If you already have brick steps, make the path brick too. If you have stone steps, make the path match in color, if not material. If you or your guests wear high heels, avoid all gravel. If you like to walk barefoot, then keep gravel to pea-stone sized or smaller.

4. Weeds get into paths. Lay landscape fabric down to help keep weeds from sending down carrot- style anchor roots. Keep joints between pavers to a minimum.

5. Edge the path in something that can keep the path material stable within the path, and the encroaching plants from creeping in.

6. Remember that you may need to shovel this path in the winter. Is there room on either side for the snow? Will puddles form that could turn into slippery ice?

A wide, well-made, beautifully maintained path is a wonderful asset to your landscape — and well worth the investment.

2006 The Carlisle Mosquito