Ahhhh, my first big yard project of 2012. It has been many months since my last noteworthy homeowner project and this one is a doosey: A flagstone path and steps up to the front patio. It took 3 full weekends to actually complete the work and many, many hours of preparation, looking for inspiration photos, concept drawings, space planning, calculations, materials hunting and checking prices.

Actually, this project began last year when I covered the grass in my front yard with construction paper and compost in an attempt to kill it off naturally. Well, it worked…kind of. The grass underneath died, but a bunch of stuff grew on top of the compost over the past 6 months. Rather than dealing with the hassle of renting a truck, digging up the levels of dead sod and taking it to the dump, I paid my go-to guy Buddy Stedman of Big Sky Tree Guy to dig it all up and haul it away. 2 days, and a couple hundred bucks later, I had a clean slate of a front yard.

My next step was to mark the path to get a sense of the path’s dimensions to calculate the amount of base material and flagstone I would need. Before I began to dig I made a couple important decisions about the gravel layers of the path so I knew how deep to dig. I decided on a 2 inch layer of 3/4 minus gravel as the base layer to provide good drainage and a 1 in layer of 1/minus gravel above that for setting the flagstone. With that in mind, I starting digging a 3 inch channel for the gravel layers.

Digging out the path and leveling it took about 12 hours over 2 days.

Once I was happy with the direction and shape of the path I was able to make more accurate materials calculations. Here’s my final materials list for a 36 ft long, 3.5 ft wide path:

  • 1 cubic yard of 3/4 minus gravel base for a 130 sq ft.
  • 1/2 cubic yard of 1/4 minus gravel for a 130 sq ft.
  • 1 ton of charcoal quartzite flagstone.
  • 650 lbs of basalt wall rock.

I ordered all the materials, except the basalt wall rock which I picked by hand, and readied myself for yet another weekend of shoveling and lifting.

On the day of installation I prepped the path. First, I marked up a bunch of stakes with three level indications:

  • Ground level
  • 2 in level of the 3/4 minus
  • 1 in level of the 1/4 minus

By placing stakes like these all around the path I can gauge the height of the materials as I rake it out.

Next, I placed landscaping fabric as a weed-blocker and a separation between the dirt and the gravel.

Ah, perfect timing the materials are delivered right on time. Thanks, Oregon Decorative Rock on Columbia Blvd.

So, it’s important to do these next steps in two phases. First, I applied the 3/4 minus base, raked it level and tamped it down with a 10 lb hand tamper. Hey, those marked up stakes sure came in handy.

You’ll notice I decided not to use any kind of edging to hold the gravel apart from the dirt. I felt like edging was just an unnecessary added cost because I was digging the trench for the base into the ground that was already well compacted. If I was building the path above ground level and filling in around the path with loose dirt or some other material, then I’d probably feel differently.

Looks good, right? After laying the 3/4 minus, I went back and applied the 1 in layer of 1/4 minus and lightly tamped it as well.

This portion of the project, including the landscaping fabric, measuring stakes and laying down both kinds of gravel, took about 9 hours working by myself.

Setting the flagstone took FOR. EVER. They are heavy and I was constantly picking up the stones, moving them around, trying new configurations. I would make progress and lay 4 or 5  stones in a row, then have to take a few off because I couldn’t find stones which looked good continuing the design. The trick is making the placement feel random and making the pattern diverse enough so your eye doesn’t detect straight lines between the stones.

It took a total of about 26 hours over a 3 day period to lay the stones and build the rock wall.

You’ll notice there’s just dirt between the flagstones. It’s actually a mixture of compost, dirt I had left over from digging the path and 1/4 minus gravel. Also, I made sure to keep the space between the stones between 2-3 inches. I decided early on in the process that I wanted Scotch Moss and Creeping Thyme to grow between the stones. Scotch Moss for the areas of the path which receives more shade than sun and Creeping Thyme for the parts of the path which receives more sun than shade.

There I am, tired and broken, just trying to get those damn plants in the ground before I pass out from 3 straight weekends of working on this thing.

Not bad though, don’t you think?

Check out what the yard looked like when we first moved in.

The photo above was taken our first year in the house. Big difference! Honestly, I have had other hair styles…

Oh, one thing I forgot to mention. Sometimes flagstones don’t set perfectly in 1/4 minus gravel and they wobble, or they settle a little lower than the stones around them. No problem, just get a bag of paver sand at your local garden supply place, pry up the stone in question and even out the area underneath with the sand. Replace the stone and give it a wack with a rubber mallet and you’re done.

Well, that’s it. Epic path #1 done and done. There’s lots more to do, check back soon for more progress now that the rain is subsiding…kind of.