Don't be fooled. Inside this thin coating of sweetness is a fiery core of total insanity.

Thursday, June 1, 2017

On The Path Unwinding (Part One)

Readers may recall a couple of years ago when I was having a problem with Canada thistle taking over a path in my back garden. I took up the pavers, sifted the soil and removed as many thistle roots and pieces of root as I could find, and then replaced the pavers, adding to them to make a better path. I wrote about it in a blog post, here. (That was successful, by the way, there has been no recurrence of the thistle in this particular spot, although I do have it elsewhere in the garden.)

For the past 8 years, since I first started gardening here, I've known there were areas where I should have had paths installed. I have a lot of beds that are much too wide, that require judicious stepping through whenever I need to weed, or plant, or just surveille my domain. So one of the chores I set myself this year was to put in a new path, and redo a couple that were inadequate.

Path #1

When we had the front garden redone about 3 years ago, we had a handful of bits of recycled concrete left over from making the wall, so I used them to improvise a crappy, not very good path to serve as a shortcut to the street. I supplemented the concrete with a handful of stones, so it ended up a combination of concrete pieces and cobblestones, that slowly sank into the soil over the course of the last few years, and then got buried under plants, until you could no longer see that a path had ever existed there.

A couple of months ago I started digging a wide trench, pulling out all the old concrete and stones. I realized the new path was going to need a short wall to keep the soil from falling into it, so I decided to use a combination of big rocks, the broken concrete, and wine bottles that Portland blogger Loree of Danger Garden had been saving for me over the winter (I picked them up from her the last few times I visited Portland). I didn't have enough of any one element to make the wall entirely of concrete, or entirely of bottles, so I decided on a mix. I wanted to use the rest of the random bits of concrete, both to use them up and to give the new wall some continuity with the recycled concrete wall that already exists in the front garden.

Digging the trench

The trench from the other direction

Concrete chunks

More concrete chunks

Yet more concrete chunks

Rock stash

A couple of trips to Lowes for flagstones

I ordered gravel from a local stoneyard, and one weekend, Nigel wheelbarrowed it from the driveway over to the trench and filled it in. That was followed with flagstones, and then more gravel to fill in around them. After that I went to work on the wall, which was slow going, given my old lady muscle aches and our cold, wet weather. About a month later, it was nearly done.

A week or so ago, I finally got the last few bits in place. A few years ago, I bought these jugs for a few dollars from someone on craigslist, and I've left them out over the winter. This past winter, one of them cracked neatly in two, so I incorporated the two halves into the wall. I also used two cases of wine bottles plus half a case of the blue ones that I bought last fall from Amazon.

A few new Sedums, some brightly colored Oxalis, and a Yucca 'Color Guard' that had been previously lost much further back in the bed got planted along the top of the wall.

The other half of the jug on the other side of the path

I was briefly stymied about what to do about this access pipe to our main sewer pipe. The bed was built up around it, and the soil level has always been higher. I didn't want to cover it with the wall because it needs to be accessible, so I made a niche around it.

A potted Agave 'Blue Glow' on top hides it, but keeps it accessible enough.
This 'Blue Glow' is just a baby, so it's wearing baby-size sunglasses. I actually have a second, larger 'Blue Glow' that gets moved around with a dolly.

At the end of the path inside the garden, behind the greenhouse, there's a step already built into the wall right where the path begins, to make stepping up onto the path easier.


Path #2

The second path that I've been working on is brand new and goes in back of the stream. Over the course of a few days I dug out another trench and lined it with rocks.

On Memorial Day weekend, Nigel moved and spread almost half a ton of gravel into the space that I had cleared.
New path!

Much nicer to have access to the back of the stream

View of the new path behind the stream, from the back porch
Exhausted Nigel takes a break lying on the enchanted pile of gravel. Enchanted because it never gets any less no matter how much he takes from it!

Path #3

The third path is one that was installed when we had our back garden put in 8 years ago, but it has gotten progressively overgrown, weed-covered and debris-strewn over the years. There have never been enough flagstones there to suit me, so it needs an overhaul.

See the path? No?

See it now? There are more flagstones beyond those two, as well as underneath that bigroot Geranium growing beyond.

To be continued in Part Two. When I get to it.

Also, here's Elton John singing The Circle of Life, from The Lion King, just in case you're wondering where my blog title came from. I think a lot of what he says in this song also applies to gardening. There's always more to do than can ever be done!

The Circle of Life

From the day we arrive on the planet
And blinking, step into the sun
There's more to be seen than can ever be seen
More to do than can ever be done

Some say eat or be eaten
Some say live and let live
But all are agreed as they join the stampede
You should never take more than you give

In the circle of life
It's the wheel of fortune
It's the leap of faith
It's the band of hope
Till we find our place
On the path unwinding
In the circle, the circle of life

Some of us fall by the wayside
And some of us soar to the stars
And some of us sail through our troubles
And some have to live with the scars

There's far too much to take in here
More to find than can ever be found
But the sun rolling high through the sapphire sky
Keeps great and small on the endless round


  1. Impressive! You've been very busy! Just when I thought that your garden couldn't get any better you go and improve it. The paths look fabulous! Love the mixed wall and can't wait to see it in person one of these days. Nigel is a dear to have helped so much, maybe you should keep him. I'm tired just thinking about just one of the many huge projects you've completed. You go girl! (This is not the work of an old lady but of a woman in the her creative prime.)

    1. Thank you Peter! It makes me tired too!

  2. That is a lot of work! I love what you've done with the mix of materials in the front path, it looks wonderful. So much more interesting than just a wall of broken concrete would be.

    I think of you when I take bottles to the curb for recycling now, wondering if you needed more. Looks like probably not...but you who to turn to if you do! Oh and that photo of Nigel, ha! Thanks for the laugh you two.

    1. Thanks! The bottles you saved for me came in very handy. If you ever buy any wine that comes in blue bottles, please hang onto those. I think I may have enough wine bottles for now, but you never know what brainstorms I'll come up with.

  3. You've done a GREAT job, Alison! Your bottle, stone, concrete and jug creation is a masterpiece of design. I know how exhausting building paths can be, although, if I'm honest, my husband took care of most of the heavy flagstone lifting and positioning here. However, I spent innumerable hours digging and sifting gravel-sized stone out of the garden (formerly the site of a stone quarry) and using it to fill other paths. I'm of the opinion that it's hard to have too many paths - I still need more.

    1. Thanks, Kris! Nigel did all the heavy lifting here too. And, you're right, it is hard to have too many paths. I have at least two more I want to put in, which might mean buying more gravel. But I'm afraid to tell Nigel that.

  4. I love your paths ! I take the easy way out and put down micro redwood bark every spring, but I don't have the grade changes like you do. And damn clever your broken pot inclusion !

  5. The paths look great! The agave wearing sunglasses on the access made me laugh. Be cool, be cool. Nothing to see here.

  6. I'm going to show Philip the picture of Nigel with the gravel…maybe he'll be inspired to shift my next load ?

  7. The use of mixed materials adds so much interest.
    Creating and building is a lot of work, but also a lot of fun.

  8. Oh, poor Nigel. We can relate. The mixed materials approach is fabulous! So many nooks and crannies to enjoy. Love it.

  9. Do you get some pretty nasty weeds in your area? I speculate it be the downside of generous rainfall--there has to be a downside, right?

    Nice work getting those paths back into shape. Nigel was a sweetie to help.

    Paths do need some edging plants to make them look right, don't they? Shopping opportunity!

  10. So that's how you use bottles to make a wall. I was wondering about that. The sunglasses on 'Blue Glow' makes for a great look.

  11. I love garden paths; they seem to pull a garden together. The blue bottles in the front path are a great addition of color and texture; incorporating the broken jug was ingenious. Kudos to Niger for lending his muscles to your vision.


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