So, this is this week’s project. Of course, it had to be the hottest week of the year, in a South facing garden. Lots of sun cream needed! But, hey, we need paths, right? Can’t get from A to B in a garden too easily without one, and you might as well do it in style.
The choice of pathing is endless. You only have to take a trip to a garden centre, builders merchant or local DIY centre to find a crazy and bewildering array of pathing options. You can have pebbles bedded in cement, crushed glass, slate, wooden decking style paths, gravel, grass or other low-growing plants, and of course all of the usual paving slab options and arrangements. I’m sure there are more options still. I’ve decided on old, reclaimed bricks.
My trusty gardening companion and all-round enthusiastic handyman, Alan, is here to help with this project. Phew. We’re using weed membrane underneath a bed of builders sand, with the same yellow builders sand used to point and fill in the bricks once they’ve been laid out. We aren’t cementing the bricks in – no need. I want to create a nice, laid-back, natural path, with irregularities and bits of brick missing, all of its foibles taken into account and used to create an overall naturalistic, ‘cottage garden’ effect.
Any gaps in bricks along the path will be filled over time with a bit of Saxifraga or Thyme – perhaps Thymus ‘Silver Posie’ or Thymus pulegioides ‘Aureus’. These mostly stay small, very low growing and neat, with some flower and scent interest.
Some might turn their noses up at a higgledy-piggledy reclaimed brick path, full of gaps, slight drops and rises in level. Well, in the wrong situation they’d be absolutely right to do so. You have to choose the path for the garden, and even the area of garden, in question. In this case, there is a slightly formal design of deep herbaceous beds on either side of a straight-down-the-middle, one metre wide path. Whilst a neatly trimmed grass path works well in that situation, and gives the right impression of relaxed and laid-back yet still relatively formal, this path leads straight on from a pathed patio area and I felt it required some harder landscaping to connect the two areas.
Hard, machined slabs straight to soft grass wasn’t working for me. A brick is man-made and yet much softer to the eye than a square slab of concrete made to look like stone. Bricks crumble and soften at the edges. They can, indeed, look quite natural; they are, after all, made of a natural substance. Old, reclaimed bricks are the way forward (pun intended).
Corrr, just look at these sexy bricks with their bits of grout and chunks missing… Makes me think of Lego blocks, and makes me want to build stuff.
Two days in. Turf stripped, ground levelled, membrane down, bricks going in…and this is what we look like today. Wahey!
The key to a successful path is to ensure the ground is level first. In fact, I’m going to use that word a lot in this paragraph just to stress the point… Lightly dig out the ground with a border fork and level using a rake. Use a spirit level to check ground levels. Use a single layer of weed membrane above your base soil level, and use at least an inch or so of builder’s sand above this. Bed each brick in lightly, tapping it in and ensuring that each brick is level with the remaining bricks. Check levels all the time. Even with a more rustic, relaxed path, you still want to ensure that the path is relatively level throughout. You get the idea – level, level, level! The end result will be so much better.
Once the bricks are bedded in, fill in all gaps with completely dry builder’s sand. Be prepared to have to go over the bricks again with more sand in a few weeks, once the path has settled and sand has seeped into cracks and holes. Pointing may need re-doing annually, depending on rainfall and usage. There are a few coloured sand options available now. This could be used to interesting effect when pointing bricks in a path.
Well, today we are almost finished. The weed membrane ran out at exactly the end of the last row, which was fortunate, and we seemed to have exactly the right amount of bricks. I finished off the path that leads into the rose arch using less bricks per row, and using broken half bricks to create a worn away/eroded impression, which then leads straight into lawn. This seems to work nicely, but we have had to raise the level of the ground where turf has dropped over time with heavy footfall. This needs to be seeded so that it grows seamlessly into the turf already here, and back into the half bricks and brick path. It will take a few months for the final result here. Otherwise, all that we need to do now is spend a lot of hours brushing sand into all of the gaps between bricks! This always seems to be the most time-consuming and mundane part of the job!
This was Alan earlier, having reached the quarter way mark!
Alan’s tips for constructing a brick path:
- Select a pattern for layout of the brick path
- Level the area out well to firm ground
- Use weed membrane to keep weed growth in check
- Use a decent inch or two thickness of fine sand as your base for the bricks
- When using reclaimed bricks, choose each brick carefully as you lay them, selecting thickness and size according to the specific spot and allowing for old grout attached to bricks
- Use broken bricks to fill smaller gaps and awkward areas
- Use a spirit level with each row and each section of bricks, in all directions, to ensure they’re consistently level
- Keep lines parallel and straight
- Fill in and point bricks with fine sand
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