Thursday, August 18, 2011

Tickle - Tickle

There’s not too many of us who don’t have ticklish feet:  From tickling to pain, the foot takes a beating over the years.     

One area of the garden that is foot worthy is the garden path.  If you’re planning a new garden path, here are a few pointers: 
Garden paths are classified as hard and soft.  Soft paths are made up of grass or other plant cover, gravel, mulch, and soil.  Soft is any material that “gives” when you walk on the surface.   Hard surface paths are made from cement, stone pavers, brick, wood, or any material that doesn’t give to the pressure of foot traffic.                                                                        

All paths take some preparation and upkeep.  The cost for a path is determined by the materials brought onto the property and if you hire outside labor. 

Unless you plan to use your paths for exercise, the use of hard or soft surface usually isn’t determined by foot comfort.  Looks and how the path is installed is often the most important. 

No matter the style of your gardens and yard, your paths need to be wide enough to comfortably accommodate two people walking side by side.  Assuming you will have others with you walking the paths; it is difficult to talk unless you’re side-by-side.  It’s also difficult to maneuver lawn care equipment down a narrow path.  It’s recommended 3-4 foot for comfort.

Natural plant or soil materials should be weed free.  To keep these paths weed free will require hand weeding.  A thick healthy grass will deter many weeds.  Plants such as creeping thyme and even grass will not do well if the path is too well traveled.  Paths of natural plant material will usually need to be mowed (think width of mower deck).  A path of cleaned soil will need to be compacted and will be muddy & slick when it rains.

 Gravel is considered a soft path because it gives with pressure.  Ground-up material should have something on the outside of the path to keep it contained.  To deter weeds:  Dig down at least one foot, level and compact the soil, add a weed inhibitor fabric (something porous), 6 inches of sand (compacted) and 4 inches of ground-up material.  (This might be any of the smaller sized gravel, garden glass, rubber tire mulch, shells and such.  Think about if you will wear shoes or be barefoot before picking a path material.)

I recommend researching the techniques for a hard surface path.  Cement might be the most exacting and I recommend a professional unless you have the equipment and experience.  All paths, and especially hard surface, require strength to do-it-yourself.

Stones and bricks will heave with our freezing and thawing weather unless they are laid on a base much like I recommended for ground-up materials.  Even with cement between the materials, it will crack and become dangerously uneven without the proper base.

Once you research the instructions and whether you are able to do this project yourself or hire a contractor, determine the material to be used.  Locally obtained materials will be the cheapest because most hard surface path materials are heavy (equaling high shipping costs).

Man made pavers, bricks and stepping stones are available locally – sometimes even free.  The more exotic bluestone, marble, limestone and etc. are available at most landscaping businesses. 

Take into consideration, the upkeep, if there’s space to construct, the cost of material and labor, the size, the desired look (blend in - be a focal point), will it hold up to years of service, will it serve the purpose needed.  And, will it be a comfortable surface for walking?  It should tickle your feet as-well-as tickle your fancy.

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