Entrances are the first part of the landscape that people see. Therefore, these areas should not only be designed in a way that enhances the home or garden's appearance, but they should also create a warm, welcoming feeling, enticing others to take a closer look. One way to achieve this is through the construction of attractive flagstone pathways.
Choosing Flagstones for a Flagstone Path
Natural flagstone walkways are a great way to create welcoming paths for a beautiful landscape. Flagstones are rocks that have been split into slabs and cut into irregular flag-like shapes. Flagstones are available in varying thicknesses, depending on the job at hand, from 1 ¼ to 2 inches (3-5 cm.) thick. They can also be found in different color variations and rock types to easily match the surrounding landscape design such as bluestone, limestone, or sandstone. Care should always be taken in choosing the right type of flagstone for a flagstone walkway as they also differ in the way they absorb water. For instance, some types of flagstones absorb water quickly and easily, somewhat like a sponge. Then there are other types that actually seem to repel water, making them slippery when wet.
Deciding on Flagstone Walkway Designs
Depending on the current theme or style of your home and garden, flagstone walks can be given a formal or informal design. Formal flagstone walks are straight while informal designs make use of slight curves and bends. You also need to decide on how you will install a flagstone path. Although it may be more permanent, laying flagstones in concrete is costly and difficult. However, flagstone pathways can be cheaply and easily installed on a gravel and sand bed. When designing a natural flagstone walkway, it usually helps to lay out the path beforehand with a hose in order to get a visual sense of how it will look. It's always better to see the idea first, rather than jumping right in and digging up areas of lawn you may regret later.
How to Install a Flagstone Walkway
Once you have established the flagstone walkway design, mark off the area with stakes and string. Dig out the soil about 6 to 8 inches (15-20 cm.), keeping it as even as you can with a level. Slightly slope the walk with the grade, however, to ensure adequate drainage and prevent water buildup. Excessively sloped areas may require the incorporation of steps or terraces with the walk. It may also be a good idea to set up a form using pressure-treated boards to hold everything in place. Clear away any debris and rake the area smooth. You can apply a layer of landscaping fabric or simply leave the area as is. This is your choice. Depending on the depth, fill in the excavated area with half gravel, half sand, leveling and tamping as you go. Arrange the flagstones firmly in the sand, leaving ½ to 1 inch (1-2.5 cm.) between them to create a formal design or space them irregularly for a more natural and informal appearance. Position the largest stones at each end of the walk, placing the individual pieces together to create narrow, uneven joints. Make the spaces between stones smallest where traffic is heaviest and widen them out toward the sides of the path. Once the flagstone path has been laid, fill in the gaps with a mixture of half sand, half soil by applying it directly to the walk and sweeping it into the cracks with a broom. Water the flagstone pathways thoroughly to settle the rocks in the joints, tamping all stones with a rubber mallet. Allow this to dry and fill in empty joints as needed. Repeat the process until the joints are filled.
Finishing Your Flagstone Walkway Design
In the event that you would like to implement low-growing groundcovers or grass amongst the stones, use some of the excavated soil instead of the sand/soil mixture. If your path is located in full sun, choose plants that tolerate hot, dry conditions. Low-growing thyme and sedum make excellent choices. For shaded flagstone walks, moss can make a lovely accent. Flagstone walks can also be combined with other stones to create an impressive entrance to your home. Don't forget to add plants, lighting, and focal points to enhance the journey along your flagstone walkway. A stroll down the garden path is more enticing when the path itself is alive with plants. A flagstone entry walk or garden path makes a big impression, offering a warm welcome to others and providing a sense of permanence and beauty to your landscape year-round.
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Nikki Tilley has been gardening for nearly three decades. The former Senior Editor and Archivist of Gardening Know How, Nikki has also authored six gardening books.