/ Gardener/Landscaper advice: Gravel Areas

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Taurig on 13 Nov 2017
Evening All, wondering if there are keen gardeners/landscapers on here that could offer me some advice on a project for next spring?

Current situation with my back garden is that I've got a square of lawn nearest the house, then further back covering almost the same area is a rose bed; just some bare soil with 5 or 6 rose bushes really. Running away from the house up the side of both areas is a tarmac path, leading towards a back gate. This is the set up from when I bought the house recently.

I don't particularly like roses, and the tarmac path is ugly, so my idea is to convert both the path and the rose bed to a gravelled area where I can put some raised beds, a table, BBQ etc. I know enough that I can't just cover the lot in gravel, but I'm a bit unsure what sublayers I need to put down? I've knocked away one of the concrete bordering sleepers from the path to see the strata, and I can see about 6" of tarmac over a messy concrete/rubble base. With a fairly solid base, my plan was to smash out the tarmac, smooth a layer of sand over the concrete/rubble, membrane over the sand, then gravel on that.

I'm less sure over the rose bed/soil, which if it is of relevance is heavily clay based. I initially thought the same as the path; layer of sand, membrane gravel. However, I'm not sure if that will be solid enough to stop dips and troughs forming over time. Should I put a layer of hardcore/rubble and get a plate compactor on that, before putting any sand down?

Any advice on the above much appreciated. I'm used to living in flats so the garden has been a steep learning curve!
Jenny C on 13 Nov 2017
In reply to Taurig:

Lovely, a cat toilet.

Make sure you go for a chunky gravel if you want to minimise this.
Pursued by a bear - on 13 Nov 2017
In reply to Taurig:

I'm no expert, but here's a few thoughts based on related experience.

Our back garden was, when we moved in, lawn and two large patches of gravel. The soil is heavy Mendip clay. I've removed one of the gravel patches, a quarter circle about 8 feet in radius. This was gravel on a membrane laid directly on clay. Whilst the surface of the clay had a few lumps and dips, these were only noticeable once I'd exposed it; otherwise, the gravel stopped you seeing them. Nevertheless, trying to get it as reasonably level as you can is a good idea. Scheduling the time of year to do this will be key as clay is hard to work with when it's wet and damn near impossible to work with when it's dry and rock hard. But based on what I found here, membrane on clay and gravel on top works.

But you're going to have to work out how much gravel you need, and it will probably be more than you think. What's the size of the area in question, how deep do you want the gravel to be, what weight of gravel does that come to and how are you going to get that into your garden?

Raised beds are a good idea, but you're going to have to put a deal of compost into them. Again, do the maths to be sure you aren't being overambitious.

If I think of more I'll add it, but good luck!

alx - on 13 Nov 2017
In reply to Taurig:

Depends on how much traffic you expect this area to get as to how much prep you think it needs. At a minimum compacted soil covered in a membrane then gravel.

I would also go with Jenny’s advice on chunky gravel to avoid the area becoming a cat latrine.

Had you thought of replacing the roses and path with a better garden boarder? Plants will encourage more wildlife
Sean Kelly - on 13 Nov 2017
In reply to Taurig:
1. Draw a plan: Decide what is the purpose behind the design. A plan is so important as you can quickly chop and change ideas as you think of improvements to the original idea.
2. Look at other gardens in your area so you can see what suits your soil type. If there are professional gardens, pinch some of their ideas. What aspect is the garden, is it shady, wet, dry etc. All this effects what you can plant.
3. Think of all year colour, and plants although initially expensive, don't have to be mowed every week= more time for climbing.
4. If thinking of using gravel, put a weed barrier underneath to save time weeding. Plant into improved pockets of soil. Alpines can go in small gravel close to the path area.
5. Beware when planting as some plants can dominate and take over so thin or prune back, and move any plant that is covered by another in time.
6. where planting a gravel path I dug out a trench and placed plastic infill support( similar to what some uses under drives that you can plant into, or then cover with gravel. This ensures that the gravel doesn't sink into the clay when wet.
7. I also laid out a patio of pavours but this was quite backbreaking as the hole was the size of the patio and over a foot deep. Then fill with scalpings and bash down flat with a vibrator (no joking please). finally a layer of kiln-dried sand and lay slabs/pavours on top brush over more sand to fill in gaps.
I did all the above about 3 years ago and never got around to working out the cost, but the garden looks wonderful, and every visitor always stand and stare. However I still have a lawn that has to be mowed every week. Grrrrr!
Hope this helps.
ps. I have designed and laid out about 5 gardens over the years, but my best is a woodland garden in Nant Peris, next to the camp site. Some of the trees are now over 50ft high and the rowans in autumn are awesome. I actually started by rebuilding all the stone walls to keep the sheep out!
Post edited at 21:22
Dave Perry - on 13 Nov 2017
In reply to Taurig:

6" of tarmac is an awful lot of material to remove. You could as an alternative cover the tarmac with something more attractive such as patterns of bricks, or tiles or even small stones.. But otherwise you're correct you only need cover the rubble up. You actually don't, or shouldn't need to use the sand. Any membrane you put down is only there to prevent weeds coming up and is porous. However, you do need to ensure that there are no 'high' spots as these may eventually appear slightly proud of the gravel if it gets heavy use.

As for the rose bed. It would be entirely possible to put a membrane directly on top of the top soil. However, you'd need some kind of edge to stop the gravel from spreading off the membrane. If this isn't possible (the raised edge), then you need to remove a few inches of the top soil (whichy you'd keep and use in your raised beds). Any dips if you don't level the bed out properly can be easily pounded down later on, and any dips can simply be filled later by an additional bag or two of gravel. Putting any kind of hardcore/rubble down and compacting it is in my view a waste of time, effort and money, unless you intend to drive vehicles over the lot.

Weed supression membrane is fine and relatively cheep. Much, much better at weed supression is cheeper plastic . Dont worry about lack of holes. By the time you've stood on it a few times when it's got gravel on it, it will soon have holes!! Unlike weed supression membrane weeds cannot get hold of the fabric of the membrane and become slightly harder to remove. I used to get old silage cover from my next door neighbours - who were farmers and only used it for a season or two. Builders often use = and throw out old or unwanted DPM. It works a treat.

Any exposed plastic just burn it off after you've covered it with gravel. (buy the gravel in a dumpy bag - its, much, much cheaper, and they'll deliver.
ian caton on 14 Nov 2017
In reply to Taurig:

The top soil needs to come out. Compact able hardcore to provide firm base and bring up to level required less 25mm or so.

Use a 10mm chipping or similar, not rounded pebbles.

If you have taken out the top soil, the only weeds will be from seeds that land on top, so no point in putting fabric down.

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