Living the Good Life with Chris Olsen
Suburban houses usually come with a pre-poured concrete sidewalk. That idea is so pervasive we don’t even think about it. You arrive at your friend’s house, get out of the car, and stroll up the walk. A walk invariably flanked by green grass, carefully manicured and fed. What if you want to be just a little different? You can tear up the sod and replace with hardy perennials that will provide interest, no matter the season. And you can bisect your new planting area with a clearly defined pathway, which is both decorative and functional. People are beginning to discover the pleasures of plants, as opposed to sod, and adding rock strewn paths to provide for a pleasing note of individuality.
Once the sod was removed and the plants installed we provided the path. The idea came out of the need to access the backyard by maintenance crews. You can’t drive a mower through the plants, so what do you do? We levelled the designated—curved–area and created a bed for both large flat pavers, and plenty of rock. The pavers are for stepping, the surrounding rock for interest and drainage. And take a look at the perennials we chose; all are rugged, dependable and fit the proportions of the space. Nothing could be worse than having to dig and remove specimens on a regular basis that have outgrown their allotted segment. We chose a complementary mix of rudbeckia, verbena, salvia, rosemary, and other specimens chosen for their growth habits (more rounded than tall, more cascading than upright).
Part of the fun of such an installation is selecting the rock and pavers. You’ll find many options in color, size, and finish. If you haven’t stopped to consider something as basic as landscaping rock, you’re in for a treat, and will love its variety. And then think before you place your stepping stones. Keep turning them until you find the best angle. Use those angles in your precut stones to their advantage. And another thing: you’ll want to mount your pavers just a little bit higher than the surrounding river rock for better drainage. Once your path is in, select plants for the borders that will flow and drift onto it in a controlled way, such as this ‘Homestead’ verbena. It has a vibrant little flower most of the year, and loves the heat, which you’ll need to consider.
We used the same plants for both sides of the yard. Why? Uniformity of plant material means uniformity of design, which means your space looks larger. Period. Also, take a look at the foliage. Nothing is outsized, all fits. You’ll want to group your plants before you install to make sure they look happy together. And hardiness matters. You want plants that can take a bit of heat reflected from the rock, and can also get a bit dry without flagging. The spirea down front is a great little workhorse, and seems to thrive with a certain amount of abuse.
The rock path takes off from the sidewalk with no fuss. And the plants all seem to follow.
Remember I used the word’ functional’ to describe this path? It’s just wide enough for a lawn crew to use for the mower to get to the backyard. Form once again follows function.
And don’t forget ‘flow.’ You want the same sort of plants on both sides, and you want a selection that will give you color for most of the year. Ask questions about growth habits and bloom times. Translation: Read those plant tags, but also ask.
One more idea to support a path to augment a concrete walk: Use pavers to create an areas for seating. You don’t want all walks, all paths, to be strictly used for speed of getting from one point to another. You want to be able to linger, to even sit and admire your garden. Take a corner of the pre-poured walk and add to it with pavers. Find the kind of seating you want for your new space. Take advantage of it.
You might find the idea of ripping out sod and replacing with hardy perennials defined by a rock-strewn path revolutionary, but it really isn’t. This concept is actually part of the evolving look of contemporary landscape. Sod is high maintenance, expensive, and needs a lot of consistent water. Simply put, hardy perennials and rock do not. Lots of homeowners will be removing grass and replacing in the years to come for one reason: sustainability. But I have another take on it. It has a great individual look, and is easy to install and maintain. And you just can’t beat that combination.
Live Life to the Fullest,
Chris H. Olsen