It’s winter. Sigh! What’s a gardener to do when she can’t garden? According to my long-range plan (One must make plans, even at my advanced age!) this is the year to upgrade the paths, beginning with a central path at the least. Previous gardens taught me to be patient with paths, to spend a year or two with a temporary surface before expending the expense and labor of something more permanent. I’ve used cardboard (too slippery), sand, recycled roofing shingles (fantastic if you can get them), gravel, pea gravel, bricks, and wood chips with varying success.
If I were pushed to recommend any, I’d say sand because it can easily be changed if it becomes apparent a path needs to curve more or be straightened, or even eliminated altogether. And, it makes a good base for most permanent surfaces, thus saving another step in the future. It also quickly makes apparent any water issues, because the sand will be shifted from high spots to low spots and form troughs where running water occurs. That said, it’s also apparent that it only works well on level areas. My least favorite is pea gravel. Although it is lovely, it is very, very hard to walk on with a cane or walker or wheelchair because all those little balls move when pressure is applied. That’s not an issue for me now, but it can be in a blink. One twisted ankle and it’s a big issue for anyone.
For my potager, however, I chose wood chips spread over landscape cloth. I’d already blown the budget on the fencing, raised beds, Lady Cottage & greenhouse. My energy was depleted from heavy-weight shoveling to fill the raised beds with soil. Shoveling tons more of sand was just not something I could face, and it needed to be done quickly. Wood chips are free, or very cheap in our area, and much lighter weight than sand. I also knew that the soil would settle in the raised beds after the first growing season, and that the slowly decomposing wood chips could be added on top as mulch and organic matter.
For the most part, I’ve been happy with the choice with just a couple of exceptions. In order to get the look I want and ease of walking, the finer ground chips are required. The drawback is that they decompose at a faster rate than expected, requiring replacement every year. The good point is, they do give me an instant layer of mulch as I plant since I simply scoop up the path material and spread it around each row and plant. However since it takes 4 truckloads minimum, a lot of shoveling and trundling in the wheelbarrow, bending and raking, it is quite time and energy consuming, and needs to be done in spring when everything else needs doing as well! It wasn’t bad the first year as I was filled with the enthusiasm of making the new potager and it was in fall, when things were less hectic. The second year seemed more of a chore, and my old body was yet another year older. This year, it was a job not anticipated with any relish. I’m already dreading it come next spring. I’m happy with my potager plan and don’t foresee any changes. It’s time for a more permanent path solution. Another issue is the water flow through the potager. We had to lower the south end of the potager, using some of the topsoil to slightly raise the north end to achieve “level.” Then we sloped the south area outside the potager to form the Lavender Slope. I’m happy with that. However, I hadn’t quite calculated the amount of water that comes off the neighbor’s field, especially after they removed three fence rows that had fed the water into the west woods, rather than onto our lawn area as it does now. The result is that water runs down the slopes on both the south and west sides at various places and through the paths, washing the wood chips into little piles here and there that must then be raked back into place periodically. And along with the water comes soil, so it isn’t long before my wood chip path is actually a mixture of chip and soil which becomes quite muddy. Weed seeds blown or floated in find it a happy landing place and quickly germinate. See me frown!
And so the pondering has begun. What to use as a more permanent path material: bricks, pavers, concrete “sidewalk,” or poured concrete using a “brick” pattern mold? Bricks and pavers usually have sand between them, in which weeds can germinate. Concrete usually cracks eventually. Nothing seems perfect, and all seem expensive. I won’t dig out the paths to lower them, so whatever I choose will go on top of the landscape cloth and raise the paths a few inches. That may help a bit with water running in, or it may just turn out that the walkway gets covered with washed in dirt that is truly annoying. (Maybe at some point I’ll have to deal with drainage and water routing, too. UGH!) However, the weeds seeds shouldn’t find it so easy to grow. Decisions, decisions. It’s not something I must resolve this moment, but I’d like to complete at least one main path, and hopefully two by autumn’s end. The main paths are 4′ wide, so require the most chips. I think I can manage chipping the smaller paths for a few more years, and those would require only 2 loads of chips rather than 4. Regardless, there won’t be time for paving this spring so there is time for research over the long winter.
What materials do you use for permanent paths, and would you choose them again? I’d love your input.