Bulbine: One of my favorite border plants!

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Bulbine frutescens is a species of flowering plant in the genus Bulbine. Its common names are Yellow bulbine, Snake flower, Cat’s tail, Burn jelly plant.

Orange bulbine flowers.

Orange bulbine flowers.

It is one of my favorite plants to use as a border in a high traffic sunny spot and gardens where children play. It is originally from South Africa and doesn’t mind our hot Houston summers and did just fine through are cold weather with temps dipping down to 18 degrees. The word Bulbine comes from the Latin word bulbus; meaning bulb, onion or edible bulb. This is misleading because the plants don’t have a bulbous base. It is a clumping form evergreen perennial succulent with long narrow juicy leaves. It stays about 18 inches high and spreads up to 2 feet. Bulbine thrives in full sun to light shade. The flowers come in orange and yellow blooming on tall spike or stalk that dance above the foliage. It is suited for gardens in USDA Zones 9-11.

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Bulbine starts blooming in early spring and continues on through autumn although it can go a bit dormant during the heat of summer. It is easy to propagate from stem/leaf cuttings by putting them in a pot of damp soil and set it in a shady area until it grows strong root and then plant it back into a sunny spot or share with a friend. You can also dig it up and divide the root ball. The plants will self-seed (although not the popular orange ‘Hallmark’ cultivar, since it is sterile). Deadheading will encourage the plants to produce more flowers, but it is not necessary. Bulbine are prolific bloomers

Bees on bulbine in our holding area.

Bee on bulbine in our holding area.

Bulbine is great for attracting bees, butterflies and birds. It is very drought tolerant and suitable for xeriscaping. It does want regular water but doesn’t like to be over watered. And it also does just fine in a container.

Bulbine soft juicy leaves that won't bother walkers when they brush up against them.

Bulbines soft juicy leaves won’t bother walkers when they brush up against them.

They have long juicy leaves. And the juice of the leaves, much like aloe, is said to help sooth rashes, scrapes, insect bites burns, blisters, cracked lips and areas of cracked skin. This makes it a great little first-aid plant. In my research I found that in its native habitat the indigenous people make an infusion of a few fresh leaves by boiling it with water. They strained drink is taken for coughs, colds and arthritis.

Yellow bulbine flowers.

Yellow bulbine flowers.

Happy Gardening!

Tips on Constructing a Fire Ring

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We like to make sure our clients get out and enjoy their garden spaces. We can add little patios out in the garden, pergolas with fans, water features to drown out all the a/c units in the hot months or something very interactive like a fire-pit or fire-ring. In our last installation we added a fire-pit on the edge of a water permeable flagstone patio.

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In setting up a fire pit a few items need to be determined first. Placement: Sometimes it is best to use a mobile pit until you are sure of placement; once the blocks are set they are not easily shifted. Size: The pit in this project is six feet from outer edge to outer edge and about eighteen inches high (which is a comfortable seating high). The pit needs to be big enough for whatever purpose you intend. Materials: we finished the outside with natural chopped stone and used the same flagstone for the coping that we used for the patio. Be sure to select materials that will safely achieve your goal.

Once you are sure of size and placement ready the ground by stripping out the surrounding vegetation and leveling the soil. The first tier of blocks are installed on a bed of mortar. We prefer mortar over concrete as it is easier to level the blocks in. We space the blocks using a string tied to a stake in the center of the area. Each corner of the block will be equidistant from the center.

First tier going in.

The first tier is installed. Each block is settled into the mortar and we make sure the entire structure is level.

During construction we found that the third tier (seen below) made the fire pit too high for the clients and subsequently removed this level. Make sure to check the level of each block as it is installed. Additionally, you want to check the overall level across the structure. Most blocks are close enough to square to make leveling an easy task.

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We use brick-ties between the levels to aid us in tying the facade material into the structure.

The brick ties need to come out far enough to allow our chopped stone to overlap them.

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Brick ties

Once the cinder blocks are installed (and allowed to cure for at least 24-hours) we begin our chopped stone facade. Because we are using a straight product in a curve we chose shorter pieces of stone. This creates a more even curve.

Adding a chop-stone facade

We use the cap stone on top of the cinder blocks to close off the holes (in which we have re-bar) and give us a surface to mount our coping to.

Fire needs three things to function. Fuel, Oxygen and Heat. The client will provide the wood and the spark, we just need to make sure that they have the oxygen. At the bottom of our rings we leave gaps for the air to flow in to feed the fire.

Fitting in the pieces...

This lower gap is used to let air in and any rainwater out

We only set two tiers of stone per day to allow the mortar to cure. Working too quickly would risk undermining the masonry. Note that this uppermost level finishes flush with the cap blocks.

Mortaring the cracks

Now to straighten out the brick ties and mortar the last tier.

It is important to note that cinder blocks may not hold up to direct flame very well. This is why we line our fire rings with fire bricks. They are specialty bricks often used in chimneys and work quite well for this project. We notch two on the bottom tier that correspond with our air gaps. Note that these bricks ought to be installed with specially designed mortar (fire clay) that will allow the bricks to function as intended.

Lining the ring with fire bricks...

We have also begun laying out the coping stones for fit.

We prefer to let a little of the coping flagstone to overlap the outer edge as well as the inner edge of the ring. The outer detail provides a nice finish. The inside overlap covers the tops of the fire bricks.

Cap stones

The chopped stone appears chalky because we have yet to acid-wash the facade

The fire pit, when completed, is about six feet across. The eighteen inch coping brings the proportions into a pleasing scale. Acid-washing the flagstone has allowed the natural colors to shine through.

Finished

And here is the pit, acid-washed, and surrounded by lawn and flagstone patio

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 We are looking forward to hearing about the family’s first fire!

 -This post was contributed by Shawn Michael

If you need more information please comment and I will get back to you!

Garden Quote – Lafcadio Hearn, In order to comprehend the beauty of a Japanese garden…

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 “In order to comprehend the beauty of a Japanese garden, it is necessary to understand — or at least to learn to understand — the beauty of stones. Not of stones quarried by the hand of man, but of stones shaped by nature only. Until you can feel, and keenly feel, that stones have character, that stones have tones and values, the whole artistic meaning of a Japanese garden cannot be revealed to you. Not only is every stone chosen with a view to its particular expressiveness of form, but every stone in the garden or about the premises has its separate and individual name, indicating its purpose or its decorative duty.” Lafcadio Hearn (1850-1904), a noted writer on Japan, said this about Japanese rock gardens.

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The style and tradition of Japanese garden design evolved over hundred years. It was influenced by culture and religion, especially from China. Ultimately it became unique to Japan. Japan’s first religion was Shinto, the reverence of nature symbolized in the garden in the form of rocks, water and trees. The Japanese practice Shinto as a way of life and a religion that believes in harmony between the divine, humans, and nature. Zen Buddhism came to Japan and the concepts of simplicity, austerity and contemplation became reflected in Japanese gardens. The way the garden is tended has its own culture and practice which focuses on harmony and peace. In Japanese gardens, every element from nature has a sacred side.

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When I was at the Portland Japanese Gardens a docent pointed out the Turtle and the Crane in the pond near the waterfall. I was curious what they symbolize knowing there is a meaning and intention to every element in a Japanese gardens. Tsuru the crane and Kame the turtle are the symbols for youth and long life (or immortality) and found within Japanese garden designs from earliest times in the form of rocks and islands.The crane is a sacred bird that’s said to live 1,000 years and if it lives 2,000 years it turns black. The turtle or tortoise is said to live 10,000 years. It is one of four celestial guardians (dragon, phoenix, tiger and turtle) of Chinese mythology.

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In a Japanese garden there is always the element of water. This can be represented by a real pond or gravel pond. The rocks in a pond symbolize islands. They serve as focal points and help give perspective. It is best to place them near a shore and not in the middle of the pond. You will find Crane and turtle islands in most Japanese gardens. To make a crane you use an upright rock to symbolize the wings, it is okay to use one rock for this. You may put a low lying rock next to it to symbolize the head and neck as if the crane is flying. For a turtle island you need a head rock and smaller rocks for the feet and tail. Or you can have on large mound rock that represents the turtle shell.

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 I have been fortunate this year to visit the Portland Japanese Garden in both winter and summer. I feel a calm wash over me as I walk along the paths. I feel such a sense of ones with nature there. I met a woman sitting on a bench that said she use to live in Portland and would come here after work to recover from the hectic day. I have been studying the art of Japanese Gardens for several years. My two favorite books are Creating Japanese Gardens by Philip Cave and Landscape Gardening in Japan by Josiah Conder. I am drawn to the philosophy and reverence for nature and I let this influence my designs.

Happy Gardening!

Garden Bloggers’ Bloom Day – July 2014 Flowers from the ‪#‎GBFling14‬

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Just back from an action packed long weekend in Portland Oregon attending the Garden Bloggers Fling 2014, ‪#‎GBFling14‬. We toured 17 gardens in 3 days and I met wonderful people from all over the globe. The Portland hosts were amazing, I would move to Portland in a heart beat. In honor of Garden Bloggers’ Bloom Day, I thought I would share some beautiful blooms from Portland.

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Water Lily at Chinese Garden

Poppy, Bocconia (Macleaya cordata) at Cistus Nursery

Poppy, Bocconia (Macleaya cordata) at Cistus Nursery

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Hydrangea at Joy Creek Nursery

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Smoke Tree at Joy Creek Nursery

Crocosmia 'Lucifer' at Old Germantown Gardens

Crocosmia ‘Lucifer’ at Old Germantown Gardens

Yellow Dahlias at Old Germantown Gardens

Yellow Dahlias at Old Germantown Gardens

Poppies at Westwind Farm Studio

Poppies at Westwind Farm Studio

Day Lilies at Westwind Farm Studio

Day Lilies at Westwind Farm Studio

Iris at the Portland Japanese Garden

Iris at the Portland Japanese Garden

I think this might be a Matilija poppy (Romneya coulteri) at McMenamins Kennedy School

I think this might be a Matilija poppy (Romneya coulteri) at McMenamins Kennedy School

Thistles at McMenamins Kennedy School

Thistles at McMenamins Kennedy School, Miss Willmott’s Ghost, Giant Sea Holly Eryngium giganteum Read more: http://davesgarden.com/guides/pf/go/2666/#ixzz37eX6uaKL

Echinacea purpurea at Rhone Street Gardens

Echinacea purpurea at Rhone Street Gardens

Lovely little plant (forgot the name : ) at Linda Ernst Gardens

Lovely little plant (forgot the name : ) at Linda Ernst Gardens Update perhaps Eryngium planum Blue Hobbit Dwarf Sea Holly

Eryngium planum Blue Hobbit

Dwarf Sea Holly

Eryngium planum Blue Hobbit

Dwarf Sea Holly

A sleepy gnome hiding in the sedum at JJ De Sousa Gardens

A sleepy gnome hiding in the sedum at JJ De Sousa Gardens

I am replete and inspired but also exhausted. I feel like this sleepy gnome using the tree to hold himself up!

Happy Gardening!

Garden Poem – Andy Doty, To Salvia

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TO SALVIA

In these times of fashionable rages
Let us honor enduring sages.
Known to cure, to mend, to ease;
Companions to cooks; splendid teas.
Hundreds of species our world adorn,
Richly diverse in flower and form.
Hail to Salvia, that scented salvation,
Worthy of study and our admiration.

- by Andy Doty

I read this little poem in ROCK ROSE a lovely garden blog I enjoy! It made me think of my new favorite addition to our garden here at Ravenscourt.

We had a few Salvia miniata left over from a garden install and they found a home on the side of our house.

We had a few Salvia miniata left over from a garden install and they found a home on the side of our house.

 Belize Sage, Smooth-leaf Sage Salvia miniata,Family Lamiacea, Genus salvia. It is considered a tropical perennial in zones 9 thru 11. This salvia is native to Belize and the Mexican state of Chiapas. It grows to the height of 2-3’ and 3’ wide. For a fuller plant you can trim it back when it becomes leggy. If it doesn’t die back in the winter you may want to cut it back to a few inches once the chance of frost is past.

Salvia miniata 'Belize' Sage

Salvia miniata ‘Belize’ Sage

This salvia prefers light shade and is the best sage for shade gardens. It also makes a good container plant. It likes soil that is enriched with compost and to be kept evenly moist. The bright red tubular flowers are humming bird magnets, blooming from mid-summer to first frost.

Beautiful glossy green foliage.

Beautiful glossy green foliage.

Happy Gardening!

Hostas in Houston

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Here at Ravenscourt we face the west and have two-story houses on both sides creating some very shady beds on the sides of our house; with their own micro climates. Having lived in Northern California for a decade or so, I fell in love with ferns and hostas. They are perfect in shade gardens. Hostas and ferns love rich evenly moist soil. We have been working on our soil health for years and it is now rich with earthworms and crumbles easily. We always mulch right before summer to help our beds retain moisture and again before winter to protect the roots from the cold.

Here are hostas mixed with maiden fern.

Here are some of our hostas mixed with maiden fern.

I have found two varieties of hostas that can weather our summer and have come back for three springs now. I started with the So Sweet hostas and then added in the Stained Glass hostas the next year.

The leaves must be tasty, the bugs have been nibbling.

The leaves must be tasty, the bugs have been nibbling.

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The Stained Glass hostas have started to flower.

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Hosta ‘Stained Glass’ Plantain Lily forms sturdy mounds of foliage, topped with lily-like blooms. They are hardy in zones 3 – 9 and more sun tolerant than other hostas but prefer light shade. They grow up to 18” and can spread up to 3 feet. Their bright yellow gold leave can grow up to 10’ long and have prominent green veins that give the look of stained glass. They are summer bloomers with fragrant pale lavender flowers. Hummingbirds enjoy their nectar. They were first introduced in 1999.

IMG_1391So Sweet hosta, photo by Laurin Lindsey

Hosta ‘So Sweet’ is a herbaceous perennials from the family Asparagaceae. They prefer shade and grow best in zones 3 -8. They get about 6 to 8 inches in height and can spread up to a foot. They bloom during the summer months on nice juicy stock with fragrant white flowers that can be cut and put in a vase. They tolerate heavy shade and are said to be able to tolerate being planted under black walnut trees.

I love the leaves of hostas.

I love the leaves of hostas.

Hostas under our Japanese Maple this spring.

Hostas under our Japanese Maple this spring.

Happy Gardening!

Magic elixir for plants! The benefits of seaweed in your garden.

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Seaweed has a long history of use by humans, around the world in coastal areas, as food and to help promote crop production. Seaweed is a great fertilizer, soil amendment and compost activator. Celtic and Norse farmers put it on their fields for centuries. Seaweed contains several useful plant nutrients, including nitrogen, potassium, phosphate and magnesium. The best seaweed come from the ocean and contains all the nutrients found in seawater plus many trace minerals. Seaweed contains several important plant growth stimulator. In his book, Fertile Soil: A Growers Guide to Organic & Inorganic Fertilizers, Robert Parnes explains “Perhaps the most important merit of seaweed is its content of assimilable organic materials, in particular the growth hormones.” Also because of the alginates in seaweed it act as soil conditioners. The alginates react with metals in the soil forming long and cross-linked polymers. These polymers improve the crumbing of the soil, they swell up when they get wet, and retain moisture for a long period.

Kelp forest/Credit: Heal the Bay

Kelp forest/Credit: Heal the Bay

When gardeners talk about using seaweed on their plants, they are usually referring to brown algae what some call kelp. It is plentiful along the coast of Norway. It also grows along the American coast from northern Maine to Canada. If you have access to fresh seaweed, it is a useful substitute for manure, and does not need to be composted before using in the garden. It is best dug in fresh before it has had time to dry or get slimy and smelly decomposing on the surface. Seaweed is salty, but not in amounts that damage crops or soil.

Seaweed also come in a extract form either dried or liquidized available from garden centers. You only need to add water to use it. Seaweed is also a common additive to fertilizers, both organic and non-organic. The seaweed industry started in Norway, where seaweed is in abundant supply, with its perfect growing environment. It is great for us working to keep our gardens organic. Seaweed comes from an organic, non-pollutant, renewable resource. Maxicrop is a product that’s been around longest, over 40 years. It is sold as a concentrated dry powder that you mix with water and apply to plants as a spray. It is also available as a liquid concentrate, as are most other seaweeds. Not all products are made the same and it is important to read the labels. We have tried others but seem to have the best result with Maxicrop.

from the ‘forests of Giant kelp harvested from ocean surrounding Norway (Photo: S. Rasmussen)

Giant kelp harvested from kelp forests in ocean surrounding Norway (Photo: S. Rasmussen)

Seaweed fertilizers as a foliar spray applied directly on the leaves seems to work the best. Seaweed fertilizer also increases the plants cold hardiness and helps with heat stress by strengthening a plants natural immune system. We use it before freezes and throughout the summer. A healthier plant is less prone to insect and disease problems. It is said to help with powdery mildew, spider mites and Blackspot when used as a foliar spray.  It is also a root stimulator because of the hormones and nutrient it has. A bigger, healthier root system makes a plant more frost and drought tolerant. It is natural and safe to use on your vegetable gardens and fruit trees. It also helps reduce transplant shock. You can soak the root ball of a plant in a seaweed solution before planting. Once planted go back and spray the leaves.  I find it helpful to come back a weekly for at least a few weeks and spray again helping the plant get rooted in.

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In the book Seaweed and Plants Growth Dr. T. L. Seen, of Clemson Universities Dept. of Horticulture explains the powers of seaweed as a fertilizer and root stimulator and how foliar feeding can be used to supplement a fertilization program. Dr. Seen is one of the leading seaweed researchers in the world.

Recommended uses from the Maxicrop website.

  • Soaking Seeds and Bulbs – soak overnight in solution of one capful to one gallon of water. After planting, water with solution of one capful to one gallon of water.
  • Seedlings - Water with solution of one capful to one gallon of water each week.
  • Cuttings and Rootings – Stand in heavy solution overnight using two capfuls to one gallon of water. Water with solution of one capful to one gallon of water.
  • Vegetables, Fruits, Outdoor Plants, Flowers and Potted Plants—Water with solution of one capful to one gallon of water every week.
  • Lawn -Spray solution of two capfuls to one gallon of water (to cover 1,000 ft.) per month (minimum five applications per season).
  • Indoor Plants – Water with solution of one capful to one gallon of water every week.

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I learned about the wonderful benefits of seaweed extract from a good friend and fellow gardener years ago. It really changed what I could grow in our difficult Houston climate. I know it got many of my water loving plants through the long drought. I mix it up in my big galvanized watering can. Professionally we use a back pack sprayer and spray it on all our plant we install.  We recommend it to our clients. I have found Maxicrop here in Houston at Wabash Feed Store and Hydro Shack.

My watering can.

My watering can.

Happy Gardening!

Garden Quote – Thich Nhat Hanh, Letting go gives us freedom… My thoughts on the 4th of July.

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“Letting go gives us freedom, and freedom is the only condition for happiness. If, in our heart, we still cling to anything – anger, anxiety, or possessions – we cannot be free.”
― Thích Nhất Hạnh, The Heart of the Buddha’s Teaching: Transforming Suffering into Peace, Joy, and Liberation

By Buddha statue sitting at the head of my holding area enjoying nature and nature in joying him.

My Buddha statue sitting at the head of my back garden enjoying nature and nature enjoying him. This little moment I captured makes me smile!

Today is the 4th of July, Independence Day and I am thinking what are we celebrating? As a child I learned these words from the Declaration of Independence.,“We hold these Truths to be self-evident, that all Men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.”  Freedom is precious! I was raised to believe that the United States of America valued these things for all people. Yet as I read the news I see freedoms being taken away by the government, corporations and individuals that have judicial and economic power . I see them selling fear and I get anxious and depressed.

Then I breathe! I still my mind and remind myself to stay in the present moment and that true freedom exist in me.

Wishing you all a safe and happy Independence Day!

Blue Chip Buddleia for beauty, birds and butterflies!

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A favorite perennial shrub of mine for cottage gardens, butterfly attracting gardens and as a low border is Blue Chip Buddleias. They are true dwarf buddleias, only wanting to be about 24” to 30” tall and wide. They growing fairly quickly into a mound shaped small compact bush. Mine were about 10” balls when we planted them in early spring and they are already nearly full grown. Their blooms are beautiful cones of tiny violet-blue flowers with orange corolla throat.

IMG_2677Blue Chip Buddleia, photo by Laurin Lindsey

The leaves are elliptical and about 2 inches long. Birds and butterflies love the flowers. I only wish I could have captured a picture of one of the hundreds of butterflies that have come by for a visit. Blue Chip buddleias are new comers to our market were first released commercially in 2007 and patented in 2009.

IMG_2698Blue Chip Buddleia, photo by Laurin Lindsey

Lo & Behold® ‘Blue Chip’ Buddleia hybrid USPP 19,991, Can 3,602 were cultivated by Dr. Dennis Werner and Layne Snelling at the J.C. Raulston Arboretum, NCSU. Mine have been blooming since early May. They are known for their long lasting blooms and should continue blooming till our first frost. All types of buddleia do well  in Houston because they are heat and drought tolerant and like full sun. They are known to be deciduous but more so in places with colder winters than in Houston where they are semi-deciduous.

IMG_2678Blue Chip Buddleia, photo by Laurin Lindsey

They are very hardy and need little maintenance. We use and all-purpose organic fertilizer on our whole garden every other month and we spray with diluted liquid seaweed extract during the summer to help with heat stress. They may need a little trimming once a year but only if they over grow the space they are in. Buddleia blooms on new wood so trimming to stimulate new growth will help them be showier but isn’t necessary. Blue Chip buddleias make a great container plant. Which is nice for decks and roof gardens where people would like to attract butterflies. I like them as a low border plant. When I get requests for lavender, which doesn’t grow well in our hot humid climate, I suggest these little shrubs. I have used them in designs for a couple of years and they went through our hard freezes last winter without any problem.

IMG_2681Blue Chip Buddleia, photo by Laurin Lindsey

Blue Chip Buddleia boarder in front of my citrus hedge.

In 2008 they were voted the second most attractive cultivar out of 97 candidates by the public in the Euro trials held by the Royal Horticultural Society at Wisley test gardens in England.

If you have never been to RHS Wisley’s website it is full of information and pictures. It was always my first stop after landing in Gatwick airport durning my 10 years of traveling to UK regularly.

Happy Gardening!

How to make a decomposed granite path.

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Looking for an inexpensive flat path? Decomposed Granite (DG) is a great, low-maintenance, and inexpensive material to use for paths. The easiest method of installation is simply layering DG where you want it and begin using the space. The problem with this method is your path may sink, shift, or quickly dissipate.

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Our client had plenty of green space, but found the use of it awkward. This bed bisected their usable space and walking through the lawn left their shoes sodden. We first mark the space with spray paint. This notes the edge for us as well as allows the client to understand exactly what parameters we imagine. When stripping/removing great amounts of sod I highly recommend using a sod stripper. It will save your back and make sod-removal a much easier chore than removal by hand/shovel.

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Set the machine to cut as shallowly as possible to remove the sod and roots but not churn up/disturb the soil beneath.

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Once all of the sod is stripped, and hence the edges defined, excavate the area to allow the base layer to be installed. Sometimes you can use the excavated soil on the same site to fill in low spots on the property or it can be raked into the neighboring lawn.

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We often use crushed concrete as our base layers. It is an inexpensive material that transports and installs easily, and can be compacted very well.

Install your base material in thin layers, making sure to wet each layer before you compact it.

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After the base layer is prepared, we begin installing our edging. While not strictly necessary it helps keep the area low-maintenance. Hitting the DG with a line trimmer (‘weed eater’) can produce flying bits that can find and shatter nearby windows. Also, edging keeps the perimeter neat and in place for years to come.

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Above you see the DG installed but uncompacted; functional but a bit too rough for this project.

Below you notice how smooth the path becomes once compacted. Wetting down each layer as you go helps you get greater compaction.
Remember to install your material in thin layers and to compact the dampened materials well to create a uniform and long-lasting path.

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Be sure to select a compactor that is narrow enough to fit in your project. A wider machine will cover more area faster, but becomes burdensome when you try to turn it around. You may create small divots when you pivot the compactor; these are expected and do not undermine the finished product. With practice you can learn to turn the machine without causing much disturbance.

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 By shortening the bed beside the driveway we created a usable, and easily accessible, path.

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Once we finished the client wanted a slightly roughed look. We ran a leaf rake over the top to loosen up the top layer

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There is little maintenance needed for a well-installed DG path. Weeds do not find the material very hospitable, and refreshing the path is as simple as adding additional layers of material and compacting them down.

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