Natural stone offers beautiful color, interesting texture, and great durability, making it one of the very best building materials for outdoor construction. Although it is more expensive than many other materials, if it fits in your budget, you’re not likely to regret choosing stone. It is a good choice for edging, walls, walkways, ponds, fountains, and waterfalls. Natural stone is also used to accent flowers and plants creating depth in garden areas (this is a great way to use stone if you can’t afford huge amounts of it).
Each type of stone offers a distinctive look, as well as a specific durability and workability. The nature of your project will often dictate the best form of stone to use. When shopping for stone, describe your project to the supplier and ask him or her to suggest a stone that meets your needs.
Fieldstone, sometimes called river rock, is used to build retaining walls, ornamental garden walls, and rock gardens. When split into smaller pieces, fieldstone can be used in projects with mortar. When cut into small pieces, or quarried stone, fieldstone is called cobblestone, a common material in walks and paths.
Ashlar, or wall stone, is quarried granite, marble, or limestone that has been smooth-cut into large blocks, ideal for creating clean lines with thin mortar joints. Cut stone works well for stone garden walls, but because of its expense, its use is sometimes limited to decorative wall caps.
Flagstone is large slabs of sedimentar y rock with naturally f lat surfaces. Limestone, sandstone, slate, and shale are the most common types of flagstone. It is usually cut into pieces up to 3 inches thick, for use in walks, steps, and patios. Smaller pieces – less than 16 inches square – are often called steppers. Rubble is irreg ular pieces of quarried stone, usually with one split or finished face. It is widely used in wall construction.
Fieldstone is stone gathered from fields, dry riverbed, and hillsides. It is used in wall construction.
Manufactured stone is designed to resemble natural stone, but because it’s more uniform it is easier to install and generally costs less. Concrete products are being offered in more styles all the time, giving you a lot of flexibility to build distinctive projects that are also reasonably priced.
Concrete paver slabs, available i n several shapes and sizes, are used for laying simple walkways and patios. They’re available in a standard finish, a smooth aggregate finish, or can be colored and molded to resemble brick or cobblestone. Concrete paver slabs are relatively inexpensive and quite easy to work with . They’re usually laid in a bed of sand and require no mortar. Their surface is sometimes finished so the smooth gravel aggregate is exposed, but they are also available in plain pavers and colored slabs.
Flagstone consists of large slabs of quarried stone cut into pieces up to 3″ thick. It is used in walks, steps, and patios.
Paver bricks resemble traditional kiln-dried clay bricks but are more durable and easier to install. Paver bricks come in many colors and shapes and are ideal for paving patios, walkways, and driveways.
Many varieties are available in interlocking shapes that can be combined with standard bricks to create decorative patterns, such as herringbone and basket weave. Edging blocks are precast in different sizes for creating boundaries to planting areas, lawns, loosefill paths, and retaining walls.
Loose materials for patios and walkways encompass a wide range of natural elements, from gravel to wood chips to small river stones. You can use a loose material by itself to create a simple patio or path surface or use it as in fill between an arrangement of heavier materials, such as flagstone or large, concrete stepping pavers. In contrast to the solidity and permanence of traditional paving, loose materials have a casual, summery feel. Walking over a pathway of crushed stone or wood chips can feel like a stroll down a country lane or a walk through the woods.
As a primary surface, loose materials offer several practical advantages. They drain well, are forgiving of uneven ground, and can be replenished and graded with a rake for a quick facelift. They also tend to be much less expensive than most other paving options and couldn’t be easier to install. In a typical installation, start with a bed of compacted gravel and cover it with landscape fabric to inhibit weed growth and separate the gravel base from the surface material. Then, spread out the surface material a few inches thick, compact it if necessary, and you’re done!
For simpler applications, such as a lightly traveled garden path, you can often skip the gravel base and lay the landscape fabric right over leveled and tamped soil. In most cases, it’s best to include a raised edging of some kind to contain the materials and maintain the shape of the paved surface.
Selecting Loose Materials
Because different loose materials can have very different textures and properties, it’s important to choose the right surface for the application. Here’s a look at some of the most popular materials for patios and walkways:
A popular choice for level patios, paths, and driveways, decomposed granite (DG) can be compacted to a relatively smooth, flat, hard surface. DG consists of small pieces of granite ranging in size from sand-size grains to a quarter inch – this size variation is the reason this material is so compactable. DG is available in various natural shades of gray, brown, and tan. Due to its gritty, sandy finish that can stick to your shoes, DG is not a good choice for surfaces that receive heavy traffic directly to and from the house.
Pea gravel and crushed stone include a broad range of gravel, from fairly fine textures to very coarse. Pea gravel is small- to medium-sized rounded stone. Crushed stone typically consists of coarse, jagged pieces in various sizes, generally larger than pea gravel. Many types of gravel are compactable, but usually less so than DG.
Smoothed and rounded by water or machines, river rock ranges from small stones to baseball-sized (and larger) rocks. These smooth surfaces make it more comfortable to walk on than jagged gravel but it is also less compactable and easily displaced underfoot. Larger stones are difficult to walk on and are more suitable for in fill and accent areas than for primary paving surfaces.
Wood chips and mulch are commonly used as groundcover in planting beds, gardens, and flowerbeds. Most types are soft and springy underfoot, and many can be used for light-traffic paths and even children’s play areas. Wood chips come in a wide variety of grades, colors, and textures. In general, finely chopped and consistent materials are more expensive and more formal in appearance than coarse blends. The term mulch is often used interchangeably with wood chips but can also describe roughly chopped wood and other organic matter that’s best suited for beds and ground cover. Most loose material made of wood needs some replenishing every two to four years.
Both stone and wood loose materials are typically sold in bulk at landscape and garden centers and by the bag at home centers. Buying in bulk is often much less expensive for all but the smallest jobs. Landscape and garden suppliers typically offer bulk deliveries for a reasonable flat fee. Due to the variance in terminology and appearance of loose materials, be sure to visit the supplier and take a look at the materials you’re buying firsthand, so you know exactly what to expect.