Sunday, June 16, 2013

building a front walk

we are on a fairly busy street. a couple of bus routes, car traffic, and a major pedestrian route. we also park on the street in front of our house. but we also have what's called a "tree box" - a five foot strip of dirt between street and sidewalk. last year, we put in a quick path with some leftover slate tiles i found in the backyard. it looked great for a few months, but then the tiles started splitting and it didn't  hold up. we left them over the winter, deciding what to do.

 in a perfect world, we want to resurface our front sidewalk and stairs with flagstone. it's so gorgeous, but a little out of our current price range. so we decided to dig up the bricks that were our yard border to use as a walkway. maybe someday we'll upgrade, but for now, all we had to buy was gravel and sand.

we watched several youtube videos on building a brick walkway. we started by digging down about four-ish inches to allow for gravel, sand, and bricks.

then we marked off the centerline with chalk. we decided to center the walk on our front steps. 

we dug and dug and dug and dug. the soil turned a little clay as we got deeper and it was harder to dig. i decided to take the soil we dug up and bring it around back to start my little raised garden bed i'm trying to build. since we live in a townhouse, there's always a tough decision: do you take the time to walk around the other houses (we're middle in a row of seven) to the alley, or do you walk through the house? i'm lazy, so i took buckets of dirt through the house. and then vacuumed. and swept. may not do that next time. sure would have been easier with a wheelbarrow. eh. 

after all that digging, we decided to call it a day. i had been sick with a summer cold and phil's back had reached its limit, so we knocked off for the day. it ended up raining the next week. a lot. like several inches, flash flooding a lot. which meant our tree box became a disgusting mud puddle. much to the dismay of our neighbors and delight of local dogs and toddlers. so we had to wait a week for everything to dry out and then re-dig a little. 

after we re-dug, re-measured, and re-chalk marked, we poured a layer of gravel. we just bought the cheap multi-use stone from home depot and poured two bags into our pit. then we raked it out, so it was nice and even. 

then we poured a 60 pound bag of sand. we actually chose sakrete, so it would hopefully bind everything together. we poured a bag, spread it out, tested the depth with a brick... and were too low. oops. should have used more gravel. 

so we sprinkled another bag of gravel onto the sand. and then added more sand. checked the bricks and we were just right. 

we compacted the layers down. mainly by stomping and jumping on it - we're nothing if not professional : ) we also ran a scrap piece of lumber along the length of it to make sure it was (relatively) even. 

then we started placing our bricks. there was some discussion about which pattern to use. we couldn't cut any of the bricks, so traditional running bond was out. we tried a simple stack bond first, but had a hard time getting our lines 100% straight. so we decided on a basketweave, so no cutting bricks as well as some visual interest. and the bricks started to interlock a little, which we hope makes the path last longer. 

we laid them very close together and then stepped on them to make sure they were tight. we adjusted as we went - kicking them to the side a bit to keep it perpendicular, using our heels to kick them snug. the sand really gave a level field for the bricks, they went down easily. we did find that it was better to lay them directly down as close as possible to the adjacent brick. if you set and slid, the sand got in the way and the basketweave wasn't as tight. 

amazingly, it was a really good fit - even rows with little extra space. we filled the ends with gravel where there were small gaps. phil was really worried about the path "spreading" out over time, so we added some edging. we used a plastic edging that could be cut with our clippers. 

we ran it tightly along the edges, and hammered in the stakes that came in the package. it did make the path seem more stable. 

finally in the home stretch! we poured another half a bag of the sand over the top and swept it in. i swept back and forth and back and forth, to make sure it got in every little joint. 

we sprayed it down with the house and swept some more. we repeated the spray, sweep ritual several times. the sand started to get harder to sweep, but it filled the joints very well. we used the jet on the hose nozzle to get the rest of it. 

please ignore my super-pale legs!
then we put soil all the way to the edge. it would be great if the edging wasn't visible, but i'm not sure it will stay hidden. hopefully, the plants grow up over the edge and cover it.

we're pretty happy with the final product. i'm so glad phil forced me to do it correctly! i was ready to just lay bricks without all the base steps. but you can definitely tell the difference in quality and evenness with the proper preparation. 

i also planted some more monkey grass / liriope in the tree box. we have some variegated already and when we lost the big tree last year after hurricane sandy, the weeds moved in. must be all that extra sunlight. it has become a big annoyance - go a couple weeks between major weeding-pulling and you're in for an ugly few hours. so we decided to fill in a few gaps with more of the same type of grass, in the hopes that it will fill in and choke out the weeds. 

pretty successful project! hoping that it lasts longer than the last path. and good to know we can work together on a multi-step project without screaming at each other... i will say phil is more patient than i am. and while we couldn't spend father's day with our dads, we honored them the best way we can - by working hard, just like they taught us : )