Laying Paths

Here on Pig Row, the sun has started to shine again and the barometer has actually swung from 'change' to 'dry'. I love this barometer, bought on a car boot many years ago, it has sat on our wall at Drovers and is now in pride of place in our hallway at Pig Row. 

Nowadays, when it swings to 'dry' we are all the door as we have come to trust this little machine, old, worn and crafted from mahogany and brass it actually predicts weather pretty well. Over the last week I have been making headway into our piles of brick rubble, clearing it from the rear patio and chucking the best bricks up the hill into new piles for the paths (you can see one of these piles above cover in black concrete). It is amazing how you can reuse and recycle old bricks - I know that they won't last forever as they are not hardened bricks - but they have stood the test of time for one winter in stacks and I think they will give us some solid paths for many years. I always like to recycle stuff in the garden. Today, I found a length of drainpipe pushed into a party garden wall. My neighbour didn't know why it was there, as on the other side from it are just coal bunkers. The pipe will be used in a new barrel of strawberries I am planning, a few drilled holes along its length and we have water reservoir to run the length of the barrel. Saves water but more importantly, saves time when watering. The barrel will sit by the kitchen door and give us an early and late protected crop. Back to the bricks though, these messy covered bricks echoing decor from times past are to become cottage garden paths. This was taught to me by an actual cottage gardener on an allotment many years ago and I have never looked back as it does not need hardcore or cement. 

The laying of cottage style paths is a simple affair, all you will need is a garden fork, spade, rubber hammer, hammer, trowel and rake. I don't use hardcore, not because I am doing a bad job but because to get hardcore up a hillside is folly as it will wash away and the only way I could do it would be to terrace the quarter acre and that is a lot of digging, leveling and pointless four letter singing. Plus, cottage gardeners of the past never had access to hardcore, So, this is the way I do it. 

I remove the turf with the spade by cutting it into sections and then slicing the turf off with a generous layer of top soil attached to the grass roots. I then turn this grass sod over over on the beds on either side of the path for another use. However, if you don't want the turf you can use it to repair bald patches on your lawn or just stack by your compost bins and let it rot down into wonderful loam. Just remember to stack it soil side up and keep it moist on dry days with a watering can. 

In this image you can see how I slice the turf into manageable sections rather than trying to roll the whole lot up like a carpet. Don't try it, working in short sections, in short bursts will do your morale and back wonders.

Once the soil is exposed, fork it over and then rake, walk over it, firming it down with your heels and breaking up large chunks of earth. Then rake again leveling as you go. Avoid having great big holes and hillocks, try and get a crumbly tilth.

Then lay your bricks in any pattern that you like. I have always used the pattern below because it is easy, economical, using the right amount of bricks without the need to cut bricks in half. Use the trowel to level out each brick before using the rubber hammer to bed down the brick. A few well placed blows with the rubber hammer will bed it down into that crumbly tilth that you have prepared. The bricks shouldn't sink down any further if you have walked over the soil as directed before. I don't get too concerned about whether the path is level throughout. Paths for me take me from one part of the garden to the other, they have to be practical, not too wide and help me go on a journey.

I then brush soil into the cracks. I know weeds and flowers will germinate. These will actually help bind the path and I will spray off the weeds or just weed by hand. I will keep the flowers and soften the edges with planting cottage perennials, herbs and fruit.

This photo is around twenty foot of path. The path dips and wobbles but it looks great, and with me walking back and forth on it means that it will bed down quickly. The turned grass turf on the left will be covered with black weed suppressant next week after a liberal application of garden compost and wood ash. Then I will replant my strawberry patch through this to keep the weeds from competing with them and they will be right at the edge of my new path. Practical, hard wearing and something that takes me to my strawberries.


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