Stone Walkways

Stone Walkways

An excerpt from the book Garden Stone by Barbara Pleasant
A Walkway Walk-Through

Preparing the site for a stone walkway often requires as much time and care as setting the stones. In this excerpt from Barbara Pleasant's Garden Stone, your learn how to prepare the site and position and set the stones to build a pathway that is functional as well as beautiful.

Dig the Foundation Bed
Digging out the soil is the biggest part of laying a walk, and it should be done by hand using a shovel and a wheelbarrow. Plan ahead for where you will put all that excavated soil, for it will quickly grow into a small mountain. As you excavate, use a carpenter's level to check the grade across the walkway. From high side to Iow side, a slope of about 1/8 inch per foot is ideal. If you need to, you can use some of your excavated soil to raise the high side to achieve a proper crosswise grade.

Add and Tamp the Gravel
Fill the excavated site with the amount of processed gravel you have estimated you will need. Dump an approximate amount into the entire walkway, use a shovel and rake to distribute it evenly, and then start at one end tamping the gravel into place with a tamping tool. You can buy a metal tamping tool or make one by nailing a flat piece of wood onto a wood handle. After tamping a few square feet, use a yardstick or a ruler to measure the tamped depth. If the level is too low, add more gravel before tamping the rest. Tamping gets tiresome quickly, and you don't want to have to do it twice.

Add the Paver Base

Use a wheelbarrow or a shovel to gently dump paver base onto the tamped processed gravel. Rake it out evenly, and then do some preliminary tamping to make sure you have a good 2-inch-thick base. When you're satisfied with its depth, tamp it well and then dampen it thoroughly before going back and tamping again.

Position the Stones
After all the work of bed preparation, the slow process of arranging stones is a welcome change. While there are practical matters to consider, the artistry of the task is equally important, and it can be deeply satisfying, too. Set your own pace, and don't be reluctant to redo sections that fall short in terms of fit or flow.

Begin by picking through your pile of stone, selecting pieces that have straight edges. These can be used for the outside edges of your walkway without having to be trimmed first. The less trimming you must do, the better. If your site includes any corners or other right angles, look for stone that already shows this shape. Because corners or other defined angles are the hardest ones to fit, select stones for those areas first and set them in place. Naturally, the flattest side of any stone is the side that should be placed facing up.

As you pick through your pile, set aside small stones that are extra thick, or those that appear unusable unless they are placed on their sides so that they dagger down into the bed. These are exactly the stones you will need to fill in small gaps between larger stones. Small stones need to be set deeply to keep them from popping out.

Begin laying the stones in the foundation bed, starting at the most well-defined corner or straight edge. You don't have to lay down the whole walkway before actually setting the stones in place, but it is nice to have a solid idea of any pattern you see emerging or of the exact placement of especially attractive stones. Throw pieces of scrap plywood down on the places yet to be filled with stone, so that you can walk on the plywood without disturbing the foundation.

Set the Stones
Remove the stones from the bed, a few at a time, and set them aside. They will be easier to move back into place if you keep them on their sides and lean them against something solid. Now you're ready to begin permanently installing each stone in the walkway.

During this process, your most important tool is a carpenter's level, which you will use constantly as you nestle individual stones into the foundation bed. Use gloved hands and a small trowel to add or subtract rock dust as needed to make sure each stone is at precisely the right height. Work in tiers across the walkway, stopping after each tier to check both the level of each stone and the pitch of the walkway. Correct any bulges or dips before going on to the next tier.

Filling Crevices
Although you don't have to stop to fill crevices after laying each tier of stones, don't get too far into your walkway before pausing to pack crevices with rock dust. And I do mean pack. It is not sufficient to simply sweep rock dust into the crevices unless they are so close and tight that you can't poke the filler in with a metal rod. The point of actually poking filler into the joints is to force it into the small pockets beneath the edges of the stones, further anchoring them into place.

It helps to stand or kneel on the stones as you work the crevices, rocking your weight a little to test for any loose spots where the stones may not be well supported by the bed. Stop to fix these trouble spots as soon as you find them. If you can't work enough rock dust under the stone by packing it into the closest crevice, you may need to use a pry bar to lift the edge of the stone and add or subtract rock dust to get it set rock solid in place.

Garden Stone
Creative Ideas and Practical Projects
Garden Stone presents visual inspiration for creative ways to use stone in gardens, coupled with the practical information needed to carry out those ideas in home landscapes. More than 250 full-color photographs demonstrate how gardeners can exploit the contrasting textures and colors of stone and plants to create all kinds of stone projects.

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