TIGHTLY engineered metres of rectified paving and patio are not for everyone. Once resting on a stable base and levelled for safety, more romantic sylvan choices are both beautiful and, incidentally, more nature-friendly.
FLAGS AND BRICKS
If you fancy some of the hard stuff, foot-paths in character flags, reclaimed brick and even cobbles setts are within the abilities of most gardeners. Luscious flags can be surrounded by less expensive materials. Leaving gaps between the chosen paving in soft but packed joints will aid draining. Concrete is not even completely necessary, but get familiar with a useful soft mix of sand and aggregate. Explore tutorials online to understand soft and hard bases and joint choices with a little give under pressure.
We cannot have wobbles or uneven ground. Small slippages and movements underfoot can sprain an ankle or pitch a walker into the cotoneaster. Cuddle the paving in to be self-supporting and use a rubber mallet to "thwack" in level annually. Brick laid on a crushed stone base finished in sand and bordered in wood — sigh. Complement any existing stonework, favouring the tones of the quarried stone particular to your area. A colour in your garden lichens, its planting, a thread of icy quartz; look for a lead. Slop a little water on potential paving to see its look in the rain — mid-tones can go positively black.
Brick houses are beautifully complemented by a little of the red stuff around beds, walls and BBQ areas. Try concrete paving stones mixed back through traditional brick for raised beds and paths; the colours sit up really well against greenery. Reclaimed, porous brick can be easily damaged and ‘commons’ intended for walling, is suited to foot traffic only. Prices from €2 per reclaimed or new "rustic" brick, and at least €55 per square metre for limestone sets; choose 50mm depths if you ever expect to drive over them.
A LITTLE CRUSH
Cost-effective, attractive and with a firm foothold in a sharper stone, gravel drains superbly and can be refreshed every three to five years depending on foot traffic. The scrunch of gravel is a useful security measure and it’s especially good going for gripping the tyres of wheelchairs if not laid too deep. Prepare a good, stone or crushed concrete base in a larger size, compacting with a tamping machine or a lot of stamping flat in heavy boots to allow the sub-strata to lock together. Matching this, look for self-binding, angular gravel of 10mm or less, which will again lock into a stable surface, working down into gaps left in the supporting base. A layer of moisture-permeable fabric weed barrier -or two- lapped up on the edging will dissuade plants from coming up through your gravel.
Inevitably, small weeds will find their way into your path in blown-in material, some carried in on any muck left on unwashed stones. Together with hand pulling, we have found rock salt a good alternative to chemical weed-killers for thuggish invaders. Gravel does shift and flow on inclines, and even on flat going should be well contained with upright boundaries and gravel mats where required — a brilliant addition on driveways; prices from €8-€10 for 25kg bags of washed slate, pebbles, quartz and flints, and far less if bought by the tonne (22 tonne-27 tonne small lorryloads). Unwashed stone of any kind can carry in Japanese Knotweed – be wary. Mechanical spreading costs up to €50 per hour or part of an hour.
In a state of decay, mulch terrifies some gardeners, but it’s a warm, understated, fragrant, inviting pathway between raised beds and looks beautiful against grass or blousy beds. Play grade mulch blankets – around 40 -80mm, are soft enough for children to take a tip on without injury or splinters. Strulch (straw mulch) has a golden, very fine appearance, popular in public gardens and parks, but a lesser life than wood of about 2 years. Any chipped wood will do, and mulch is easy to carry and pour out in bagged form, making it ideal for DIY installations and refreshing of around 2.5cm depth per year as it decomposes into the earth. 5cm deep mulch paths can be laid straight on the ground or by taking the topsoil out with a spade in sections to provide a trench, which is again filled with crushed stone or gravel, battered flat. If drainage is an issue in that area – go for a sub-strata to hold and sip it away.
To create a pathway – start by marking out the direction, shape and any bends with a length of hosepipe and some wooden dowelling. Add L shaped metal or plastic edging or brick if soft edges nip at your nerves. Mulch will ingest a lot of rain, and it is squelchy under boots in very wet weather. 50l bags of Bord na Mona mulch from €7 (Hanleys, Cork), 1 tonne/850l/750kg bag of mulch, 1.5m3, (delivered) from €120 nationwide – quickcrop.ie. Strulch, mineralised wheat straw, 2.x 50l bags from €25, fruithillfarm.com
De-lawning might seem an extreme process, but in many gardens green, turf rivers between beds are the only sward that stays. Mown paths can form conjunctions between planting frothing with flowers or slice through the rich biodiversity of a meadow-style planting or a poetic orchard. The use of the mower puts a clean edge on an otherwise-casual landscaping (carefully curated more often than not).
A little tension between the kept and the apparently lovely but unkempt, works well. Green paths can be set with stepping stones or cut into swirls and Celtic strap-work in larger grassland. Try studding the boundary of your clipped grass going with trees or box hedging for added magic and consider allowing traditional flowering weeds a little room. Very cottage garden and lovely for a run with bare feet. The single caveat for grass between the toes is very heavy use (balding and puddling) not quaint.
If your lawn has unpleasant troughs from kids (or adults) springing up the same route or you want a way to circumnavigate a long bed or even loose gravel, step-stones could be just the thing. If you’re putting them in the lawn, keep in mind we want them set fairly low so that the machine will skim over them without dinging the blades. You can use naturally occurring flat stone, or buy in flags or concrete pavers or wood rounds in round or angular forms, there’s plenty of choice. Just ensure the surface has a non-slip key.
Pace out the area taking easy steps rather than reaching wildly out with your ankle. Laying stones just entails digging a hole about 2cm-3cm deeper than the shape and size of the stone and filling it with sharp sand. Push soil down around the edges with your gloved fingers and trowel after setting the stone and check those levels before riddling in some grass seed or setting in some small plants. For something unusual try winders — crescent-shaped pre-formed concrete step stones that sit into each other to form a stacked style step-stone path, great for complex turns. Single natural stone step stones with tumbled edges from €17-€20 at good DIY or garden suppliers. Concrete forms from €8 each.