Today I want to give our DIY Brick Garden Path some blog love.
But let me start by saying: After years of living in an apartment in Brooklyn, we are just so psyched to be in a house in Savannah with a yard — it provides us with outdoor space to relax and barbecue and entertain. And it’s especially great for Tilly, giving her much-needed freedom to do her own basset-thing sometimes. But on closing day, the backyard was, like the house in general, in serious need of TLC…
(When we put the offer in on our house, this is what the backyard looked like. Yeah, I know.)
Tilly in her yard now is a thing of beauty. She still prefers sleeping to most other pastimes, but she gets way more exercise because she can be off-leash. And because… SQUIRRELS. The squirrels were getting away with murder before she moved in, I’ll tell you. She now takes it upon herself to run around the yard bossing them about, even though they generally stick to the branches of the very tall oak you can see the bottom of below.
(A progress picture taken after we ripped out the bizarrely laid cement path. One positive in an otherwise dreadful image: notice the difference between the fence in this pic and the one above. I think a little mending and a good power wash go a long way, don’t you?)
One problem with the yard was the cement path. Poured at some point in the past, it forked into two separate mini-walkways: on the left, leading toward the gate to the back alley; on the right, to the large concrete slab.
Now, a concrete path doesn’t exactly scream charm!, of course. But the real problem was that there was a brick landing in front of the rear gate and the concrete path didn’t meet that landing. Instead it went… into the fence.
Anyway, my husband agreed with my *suggestion* that we get rid of the wonky cement walkway. And he did what any normal person would do. He bought an enormous sledgehammer.
Oh, wait. Did I say “normal person”? I must have misspoken because this sledgehammer is a total beast. I call it Big Boy. I also call it the Hammer of Thor, more or less in specific reference to Manny’s Scandinavian heritage.
He tells the story of going to our ‘home away from home,’ Home Depot, and asking for advice on buying a sledgehammer to break up the wonky concrete path. When the sales guy learned what Manny wanted to do with it, he responded, “Well, you could do it that way. Buuuuut…” Then he introduced Manny to another salesperson who laughed in his face. They then advised him to rent a jackhammer or hire someone to take it out, for crying out loud. Manny said the path seemed pretty small and bought a huge sledgehammer anyway. That’s my guy.
It took us four, maybe five weekends to knock this path project out. Ridiculous, I know. But the Home Depot people were laughing for good reason. That concrete owned us. Manny would swing Big Boy over his head and bring it down and the roughly four inches of poured concrete would break apart only hesitantly. They needed coaxing. They fought back. When big enough chunks broke off, after taking a real beating of repeated hammering, I would scamper over and grab them and carry them to… the back alley. Where I illegally dumped them for the time being since we hadn’t considered what the heck we’d do with the concrete before we started pulling it up.
Yeah, we’re real pros, you know.
(The debris pile that sat in the alley behind our house for a month or so.)
We really should have gotten a jackhammer. But live and learn, right? This was among our first large DIY projects, so I chalk this stupidity up to a combination of our novice-status and warrior spirits. After a whole lotta work, we got the path out and had our handyman make a clean cut where the right fork dead-ended at the large concrete slab, which we decided to keep on the assumption that we’ll be able to do something cool and outdoor-living-space-ish with it this summer. And because we’re lazy and it’s super big.
(Here you can see the corner of the azalea and camellia garden Manny planted where a wasp-infested bank of monster-ferns once stood.)
Then we began the task of replacing the path. By this point, a few months into our residency in the bungalow, we’d done a good deal of really basic landscaping — mostly of the ‘pulling out weeds and dead vines and picking up garbage’ variety. Not super sexy. But in the course of filling endless big brown paper Home Depot garden-debris bags, we’d discovered a treasure-trove of vintage and antique bricks on our property. I’m talking a good two hundred or so bricks, all picked up or dug up from the sides and back of our house. What they were from… I have no idea. But we decided we had to use them somehow and this seemed like a perfect project.
You can see in the photos that the bricks are varied in color and shape. Few of the bricks matched — they were also of uneven thickness — but they were so freaking cool. I’m talking old, beat up, pretty things those hipster-types in Brooklyn would die for. So since we are recovering hipster-types from Brooklyn, we basically died for them.
(I know these photos make it look like Manny had to do this whole entire project himself. He did A LOT. But I swear I helped him!)
We’d started by correcting the course of the left-fork of the path so that it ended at the gate and not the fence. We purchased a tamper (another big, heavy piece of equipment you use manually, but which people consider a reasonable and even necessary tool for this kind of project), and that helped us get the ground level. Then we continued by laying a base of leveling sand, followed by a layer of paving sand, both also from Home Depot (and I swear they do not pay me to name drop them so many times… this is just the reality of our lives… and Tilly’s as the photo below demonstrates).
(Tilly cheesing at the Home Depot.)
Finally, we started laying out bricks. There was little rhyme or reason to this; we just pretended we were playing Tetris and followed the outline of the path we had prepped. Incidentally, we had pretty much the exact number of old bricks we needed to complete the new path, though we did buy about a hundred or so new bricks from — you guessed it — Home Depot so we could create a border. In the images above, the border is laid out but not yet dug in. We felt it would help the path look more finished.
We did our best to level out the heights of the various kinds of brick for a pleasanter walking-experience. And we chose not to worry too much about things like stone cutters. When we got to the place where we needed to curve the path, we just used broken bricks and mosaic-ed them in. (Take that Byzantines!) We used extra paving sand to stabilize them and decided not to be fussy. It all turned out surprisingly well!
Perhaps this is because our inspiration photos were primarily of old British cottage paths. We tried to remember that the people who laid those paths — generations ago — didn’t hire a contractor to level and prep and sand and cut, etc, and they didn’t buy expensive paver rails or edging materials. They just dug the bricks and stones in and did it using what they had, and it looked okay. And then they walked on it a lot and over time everything sank down into the mud and moss grew on it and it became beautiful.
What I love about this project (now that it’s done and I’m no longer in physical pain) is that it cost just something like two hundred dollars for materials. It was a lot of labor, and admittedly we went about it a little stupidly, but it was good exercise. And now it looks like the path has always been here. Though I guess since we dug the bricks up from beside it, it really was.
(Here you can see the beginnings of the little garden Manny put in to replace the bank of monster ferns. You can also see that rye grass is a nice winter replacement for that massive dirt-patch-thing we had going on for a while there.)
PS: A quick note on the disposal of the concrete material… Because we do want to be good neighbors, we didn’t leave the debris in the alley for too long. My first step was to put an ad on Craigslist. I posted the same picture of the debris pile you saw above, which included the concrete chunks, large and small, as well as some of the bricks that were too damaged or irregular to use. A couple of people responded, looking for gardening materials and the like, and that lessened the pile considerably. I then paid someone with a truck about a hundred bucks to haul the rest away to be disposed of legally.