Rebecca Sams from Mosaic Gardens

This elegant pea gravel pathway is enhanced and contained by stone borders.

Pathways and seating areas are as much a part of a beautiful garden as plants. There's always a need to get from Here to There, and the materials chosen to pave these spaces become essential characteristics of a garden's design.Natural materials, like stone and gravel, give the garden depth, weight and a connection to the land.  In today's post, we are going to highlight a handful of our favorite options for paving material, and offer a few thoughts on their pros, cons and best uses.

Before we jump into our discussion, we'd like to point out that while some natural materials may be easier to use than others, all require careful prep work and slow, thoughtful installation to look and perform their best. We recommend hiring an experienced professional to install these materials. If you're really brave, though, you can always get comfortable with base compaction, stone cutting and volunteering your free time for a couple of months.GRAVEL

We only use "small" gravels for our paths, as it is easier to maintain and more comfortable underfoot.

ADVANTAGES AND DISADVANTAGES OF GRAVEL

  • Pros: Quicker and less expensive to install than stone, although base prep is still essential. A soft appearance, can be integrated with plantings, local sources, can be used as a driveway surface.
  • Cons: Requires weeding, raking and occasional replenishment
  • Pro-tip: Properly laid gravel rarely gets caught in shoes, but a small landing of a hard surface will help prevent pebbles from tracking into the house.
  • Don't: Use weed cloth, ever, for any application. Under gravel, it will make your base unstable and you'll get weeds, anyway.
Pea Gravel is essentially little round river rocks.  We use a 3/8" gravel pulled from local rivers.
  • Pros: The tiny round pebbles have a lovely, almost water-like effect, filling voids around plants and in stones. Some people find it comfortable under bare feet. It seems to track just a tiny bit less.
  • Cons: Requires a border, a nearly flat sub-surface, and regular raking. Not ideal for a seating area where furniture will be scuffed across it or gardens where children and dogs will frequently run.

Quarter minus gravel is a soft, low maintenance and lower cost option for a path or terrace. Its dark gray color looks quite at home in this shady, northwest garden.

Quarter Minus or Quarter Minus Ten Gravel

In our area, this is a gray, sharp edged basaltic gravel that comes from local quarries.  

  • Pros: Requires less maintenance than pea gravel. Does not require a border (although it does look lovely with one), and can be laid on a gentle slope without becoming slippery underfoot.
  • Cons: Its sharp edges make it uncomfortable for bare feet


 

FLAGSTONE

While we can't present an exhaustive list of the excellent flagstones available in our area, the ones listed below are a few of our favorites.

ADVANTAGES AND DISADVANTAGES OF FLAGSTONE

  • Pros: A regular, low-maintenance, beautiful paving surface that is comfortable for any type of footwear or bare feet.
  • Cons: More expensive and time consuming to install than gravel or made-made materials.  We don't have an excellent local flagstone, so all of our top options are brought in from other states or Canada.
  • Pro-tip: In general, less expensive stone has surface irregularities that require more time to install.
  • Don't: Expect to remain stable on anything less than 4-8" of machine-compacted base (more may be required, depending on the type of stone), and firmly question any source that says otherwise.

The casual, but substantial appearance of Huckleberry basalt is beautiful, but furniture can be wobbly on its uneven surface.  We solved that problem in this garden by installing permanent, cantilevered steel and benches.

Huckleberry Basalt is a light grayish, slightly bumpy stone quarried in British Columbia.

  • Pros: Its slightly rough surface and irregular forms make it an excellent choice for woodsy and natural settings.  Available in a stair tread, which allows you to use the same material for paving and stairs, if necessary.
  • Cons: The irregular surface and slightly larger gaps required make it a less-optimal choice for entry pathways and seating areas with movable furniture and entry pathways. The stones require some cutting and shaping to fit together into a tidy surface.

The tan hues of Frontier Sandstone add warmth to this suburban entry garden.  The availability of matching stair treads is one of the stone's many advantages.

Frontier Sandstone varies from buff to dark tan with whitish patterning on some stones.  Its surface is fairly flat and regular, with occasional humps and rises. The Frontier that we generally use is the "random rec," in which the stones are split into a variety of rectangular sizes.

  • Pros: The rectangular stones require little cutting to put together. Another stone which is available as stair treads.
  • Cons: Reaching here, but it is important to "grade" the stones, removing any with significant irregularities that would diminish the quality of the path. Aside from that, as with any stone, its appearance isn't everyone's cup of tea.

In this garden, a Pennsylvania Bluestone terrace and rusty steel retaining wall unite the contemporary lines of the house with the naturalistic feel of the plantings.

Pennsylvania Bluestone  has a nearly perfect, grayish surface. We use the "pattern cut," which is available in a variety of set dimensions.

  • Pros: There are few stones with such consistency of dimension and surface as pattern cut bluestone.  It is a little like laying slate floor tiles. Really big, impressively heavy floor tiles. It is an ideal choice for front paths and seating areas.
  • Cons: It does, indeed, come from Pennsylvania, which is a long way from Oregon. It is not available in a border stone or stair stone.

The varied tones of this small, circular Iron Mountain patio create a tapestry-like focal point from the house.

Iron Mountain is a common flagstone with a flat, usually smooth, surface and colors that vary from deep grayish blue to rusty tones. Its irregular shape appeals to clients who prefer a less formal appearance.

  • Pros: Iron Mountain's generally smooth surface makes it an excellent option for seating areas and primary paths.
  • Cons: Requires a fair amount of cutting to achieve tight gaps.  Like the Frontier, some pieces are better than others, requiring careful grading in order to avoid warped stones.  There isn't a perfectly matched, high quality stair stone.

These are just a handful of our favorite options for natural paving materials. The best way to discover the right stone for your garden might be to visit a local stone yard. Lane Forest Products in Eugene and Springfield, and Pacific Stonescape in Albany both offer a selection of beautiful stones. For further reading and inspiration, we recommend the gorgeous and informative book, In the Company of Stone, by Dan Snow.

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