The right path

The right path

Features - Outdoor Living

Contractors have to consider design style, equipment and materials for hardscapes like walkways.

June 14, 2019

Walkways and paths, while functional, can also serve as eye-catching pieces of design in a landscape. From the type of stone used to the patterns designed, contractors have countless options.

“Typically, our hardscape is all-natural stone,” says Darren Bishop, owner of Darren Bishop Landscape & Design, based in Nashville, Tennessee. The company offers plant installation, irrigation, lighting, patios, retaining walls and other outdoor living features. “Very rarely do we use pavers. I just don’t like them,” Bishop says. “I think they’re just a cheaper-looking product and they date themselves. So mainly, it’s stone on concrete foundations, usually a flagstone and mortar.”

Travis Friesen, owner of Friesen Landscaping in Lincoln, Nebraska, says his paths and walkways begin with the installation of four inches of crushed limestone, to provide stability. Then, just like Bishop, he typically uses flagstone.

“We typically like to use large slabs of flagstone. They don’t wobble where they take three or four guys to muscle them in place,” says Friesen.

The company offers softscaping, grounds maintenance, landscape design and hardscaping. Friesen Landscaping’s clients are 95 percent residential.

When installing a pathway, they typically leave about a 3-inch gap between stones and use a product to dust around the flagstone, preventing cracks and breaks.

Tips for design.

Bishop and Friesen typically install these types of hardscapes in backyards, but they each approach design differently.

“I try to fit the area and fit the style of the house,” Bishop says. “If it’s a modern house, I’ll try to do a modern look in design. I’m also a pretty linear person, so I like squares and rectangles. I don’t like a lot of curves.”

He says curves are easy to overdo. “Squares and rectangles, in my mind, are more simple and less intrusive sometimes,” he says.

“When I meet with people, I ask them... ‘Where do you spend your time at?’ And they all say, ‘Backyard,’” Friesen says. “(In a) front yard, you make it nice for neighbors and friends. Spend the money in the backyard, because that’s where you’re going to be.”

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Equipment needed.

For installation, contractors can rely on small hand-held equipment or machinery that is more heavy-duty.

“A lot of times, when you’re using equipment, you do more damage,” Bishop says. “I try to do as little of damage as possible to yards. And the same with installation. We use a lot of ball carts because when you bring in equipment, it weighs several thousand pounds.”

Bishop and his team dig by hand with a shovel. When laying gravel, they enlist the help of a plate compactor to pack the soil underneath. Friesen starts out using a sod cutter to strip sod off the area to be hardscaped.

Other suggestions.

Bishop says leveling is an important element to walkway installation. Contractors should ensure the design isn’t sloping back toward a house or slanting in one direction.

Another consideration is to install sleeving underneath the path or walkway so that an access point is available for irrigation, drainage or lighting.

Scoping out the lay of the land prior to digging is vital, Friesen says.

“The biggest thing is call and find out where utilities are,” Friesen says. “Number two is sprinklers. Sprinkler lines and sprinklers – make sure they’re marked prior because running a machine over it a couple times would be fine, but running a machine over it 50 times could break it.”

The author is a freelance writer based in Ohio.