A loose-fill garden path can be the perfect project to finish off your yard and make it easy to get from on point to another. If you've got a weekend, you can do it. Take a look at the different types of fill often used in garden paths, and consider all the functions a path can serve. A loose-fill garden path is inexpensive, attractive and a great option for your yard or garden.
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Paths offer a chance to view the scenery, show off prized plants and flowers and discover sheltered garden corners and outdoor living spaces. They are a practical help to the gardener by providing an easy, obstacle-free way to get from one section of the garden to another, as well as making it easier to push a wheelbarrow or lawnmower or carry a big sack of leaves from one part of the yard to another. And, yes, paths do offer an easy way to get from point A to point B.
Loose-fill paths differ from paths composed of bricks, concrete or outdoor tiles. A loose-fill path is edged and then filled with some sort of small, loose landscaping material. Pebbles and gravel are popular for loose-fill paths. Pea gravel is the smallest option, is easy to spread and is readily available. River pebbles come in varying sizes, but most are rather small and smooth. They offer a more pleasing appearance but may be harder to walk on. Other gravel options abound, from lava rock to crushed rock to gravel by colour (black, pink, red and more). Wood and bark are also popular options for loose-fill garden paths. Wood chips are easy to find, as is crushed bark. Some municipalities even offer free wood chips at certain times of the year. You can certainly find it anytime at your landscaping supply centre. Shells are a lesser-known but equally durable option; you can use crushed sea shells or nut shells (such as pecan or walnut). Seashells are usually available year-round, but pecan and walnut shells may only be available seasonally.
A loose-fill garden path of moderate length is a good weekend project for the do-it-yourself homeowner. You'll need to clear the area for the path, which is often the most difficult part of the job. Once it's cleared, you'll need to dig it down, edge it, lay down a plastic or fabric ground cover (to prevent weeds), lay down a layer of sand and then lay down and level your path material. See Resources below for a complete step-by-step guide to installing a loose-fill garden path.
Before you jump into digging up your path or buying yards of fill material, think over these considerations: Is your path laid along the best route? Will people be tempted to cut through the yard anyway? Does the path cross an area of water flow in heavy rain? Though edging will help keep fill material in place, some will always find a way to escape into the yard. Are there any drains nearby that could be potentially clogged by loose-fill material? Will the material you use harm your power yard equipment? Stones can dull lawnmower blades or fly up and hurt the operator. Loose-fill garden paths are less formal in appearance than paths composed of bricks, stones or tiles. Does a less-formal path fit your yard and garden?
Loose-fill garden paths are great over rough and uneven terrain and don't require nearly as much back-breaking work as does levelling rough ground for a brick or stone pathway. Loose-fill paths are usually less expensive than hardscape paths. Buy the fill material in bulk from a landscape material supplier, not by the bag. Loose-fill paths are easier to complete and give the do-it-yourselfer more "flex" room on the project. They don't have to be perfect, just routed well and edged well. Additionally, loose-fill paths don't have to be permanent. The fill material can be shovelled up and removed, edging taken out, fill dirt replaced and a new use for the area created.
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