Building a garden walkway with flagstone-part one
I cringed when I first looked at the walkway and entrance from the driveway. Everything else about the mountain home was perfectly lovely. Rebuilding this part of the garden would be a challenge. I don’t usually take “before” pictures but I thought these would be interesting.
The design request was not only to build a useable and visually pleasing entrance to the back door and down to the pool deck, but to also work everything into one of the nicest gardens I have seen in my thirty odd years of landscaping design and installation. The project also had to deal with a myriad of water issues. I took the pictures above and then went home to sleep on it. I tried a nap but found it insufficient. I then slept on it for two or three nights before showing up with my measuring and drawing materials. I knew that a drawing would be essential, and after several false starts I came up with this:
I wanted to get rid of as many steps as possible and to build a practical landing at the back door that would allow a person to open the door without having to back up and step down. This called for a six foot by four foot platform landing. To do this, we measured and built up a level base with concrete blocks. We formed in the steps and added a flagstone veneer. The level of the walkway was also raised so that water would run toward the driveway instead of toward the house.
Years ago, I had made a mold for a butterfly stepping stone and given it to a friend. A few days before starting this project, I found that the friend didn’t appreciate the gift and was keeping his garbage can on top of it so I repossessed it. I didn’t know what to do with the stepping stone, but when I showed it to the client she asked if it could be inserted into the flagstone. I was delighted. Not only would the butterfly occupy a place of honor but my ego had been returned to the right level. I really thought it came out nice.
Building with flagstone is both a skill and an art form. Installing flagstone veneer for a walkway is not quite as straightforward a job as laying tile or brick. The installer is working with lots of variables such as shape and thickness of the block and maintaining a level without what I call “toe stumpers” (or little protrusions that catch the front end of a shoe). The base for the project must be prepared with the thickness of the thickest stone in mind and then the stones are chosen for size and fit before being laid perfectly flat but not totally level (providing for water run off). The first stage looks like this:
When all of the flagstone surfaces have been carefully put into place and everything has been meticulously checked, we wait for the base mortar to dry. The next step is to “pour the joints”. This done with the use of a canvas bag that is not unlike a cake decorator bag. It takes practice and skill to get it just right. You will notice that the cement at this point sticks up above the surface of the rock. This is essential for a good joint.
After all of the joints and crevasses have been filled and when the cement mixture has reached the perfect point of curing-not too dry and not too wet- the excess is carefully scraped off with a trowel making the entire surface smooth and walkable. After scraping the joints, the entire surface is covered with a thin layer of sand and rubbed down with rags, taking off the excess cement and cleaning the project so that it looks like this:
Mike Hutchins shows up with a dump truck load of the finest compost which he makes for me. We will use this to fill in and to build rock gardens as we finish. This compost is so good you can stick in pencils and grow erasers.
As we raised the level of the walkway, we were careful to put in a drainage pipe to keep the entrance bed from filling up with water. On any landscaping job, water is the boss.
Field stone is placed around the edge for a raised garden bed. I felt like the field stone would give an added juxtaposition of color and texture. I can’t wait to see it planted.
The client was excited as her planting areas started taking shape and she felt comfortable pointing out little details that she would like to see as the field stone was installed. I always enjoy such input as the job progresses because it provides for more thought, more comments, and therefore for more creativity. It makes for a happy working environment and this helps us to end up with a happy garden. I like a happy garden.
John the plant man’s blog will have the rest of the story next week. Of course, it may only be a part of the rest of the story. Next week we will install shelves by the back door for potted plants. Then we will build rock terraces and fill the area from the walk to the landing, installing irrigation as we go..
It will never be finished, though. A good garden is never finished. Stay in touch.
To view part two of this article click here
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