Magazine article Sunset

Gravel Leads the Way

Magazine article Sunset

Gravel Leads the Way

Article excerpt

Create a garden path in a weekend, and make your yard irresistible for rambling

Crunch, crunch, crunch. The satisfying sound comes as you walk a gravel path that winds its way into a garden. Its serpentine form leads you around each bend until the path ahead disappears among the plants, its uneven texture and natural colors blending into the environment. But a gravel path isn't just about aesthetics. It offers the practical benefit of keeping your feet out of the mud on rainy days, and for the time and money, it's one of the most achievable do-it-yourself landscaping projects.

With a little planning, you can install an entire path in a weekend, and ease of installation is but one reason to consider gravel. Cost is another. At as little as 25 cents per square foot, gravel beats an installed wood, concrete, or brick surface hands down.

Although gravel paths tend to have an informal quality, the type of gravel you use and how you choose to edge it will determine your path's character. Well-defined, broad edging materials like brick, lengths of lumber, or concrete arranged with a crisp, right-angled geometry create a formal tone far different from that of a curving path flanked by loose river rock. The same characteristics can affect your choice of plantings adjacent to the path. For instance, formality can be further emphasized with a low, squared-off hedge of boxwood.

The main drawback of gravel is that it moves with you. Small pieces can wedge into shoes, and the pebbles' angular points can then mar wooden surfaces like decks or floors. In many ways, gravel is better suited to secondary garden paths than to main-entry ones, which should be made of concrete, stone, or brick.

There are many types of gravel, but what you will find at local garden centers and rock-supply yards will mostly be limited to what is quarried in your area. For paths that bear foot and wheelbarrow traffic, two rules of thumb apply.

Small gravel is better. Anything bigger than 3/4-inch diameter is hard on feet. However, if you want to achieve that heavily pebbled or riverbed look and still have good foot support, position broad, flat steppingstones in the field of pebbles and rocks.

Crushed is more stable. Rounded rocks and pebbles (such as pea gravel) tend to roll and shift. Crushed rock, with its fractured, multifaceted edges, locks together to make a more stable base. …

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