This is our stone path. It is 55 feet and 9 inches long and seven feet wide and follows a gentle curve from the picket fence gate to the back steps of our house. The picket fence and the large hosta gardens on both sides of the path create a “courtyard” area that we absolutely love.
My husband and I built this stone path ourselves, using ordinary rocks that we had previously dug from our property. None of the rocks we used are pavers… in fact, almost all of them are boulders that are at least a foot thick. Many of the rocks are even larger… as we gained experience we realized that as long as a rock had one flat side and an interesting surface, it probably was a good candidate for the path.
Before we began, we had no idea of what we were getting ourselves into, and that is probably a good thing. We tried to keep the project manageable by building the path in eight to ten foot segments but still it was a formidable task. We already knew the digging was going to be difficult because of our rocky soil, but we soon found that there were several rocks just beneath the surface of the soil that were heavier than we could pull out, even with the help of the winch. However, the winch COULD raise these rocks up to the level of the path so we could maneuver them into position with the flat side up. This meant we had to dig deep to get under the rock… most of the path was dug more than two feet deep, but in these areas we had to go even deeper. We would stand in the nearly hip deep “hole” working as fast as we could to pack dirt under these bigger rocks while they were being held in place by the winch… all the while hoping the winch would hold and the rock wouldn’t shift until we had it stabilized. We dug and we packed dirt and we moved rocks… week after week. It was hard, slow work, but we finally reached the porch steps and the end of the path. It was done!
A few weeks later, my husband and I were outside working in one of the gardens when a large landscaping truck stopped in the road in front of our house. The driver walked over to us and started to ask for directions to the house he was trying to find but he kept looking towards the path and moving nearer and nearer to it as he talked. Eventually he got around to introducing himself as a landscaper who specializes in stone work and asked if he could look at the path more closely. When my husband told him to go ahead, the man walked back and forth along the length of the path several times, a couple of times kneeling down to look at some of the stones more closely.
He said we had a beautiful path and that he was especially impressed with the quality of the workmanship. And then he asked if we would mind telling him which of his competitors had done the work and what they had charged.
My husband told him that we had built the path ourselves… out of boulders… and that the only cost was some very hard work and a lot of our time. The man couldn’t seem to understand how the “pavers” could actually be the flat sides of large boulders until my husband showed him how deeply one was embedded in the ground. We were stunned when the man said his company would charge several thousand dollars to build a comparable path.
That was fourteen summers ago and despite our inexperience in path building we seem to have done something right. All of the rocks have stayed perfectly in place with none of the frost heaving or sinking we expected to see. We thought we might have a problem with drainage because the path only has a soil base, but any rain soaks into the ground quickly and we have never had water collecting or ice on the path.
We talk sometimes about building another stone path in front of our house. This one would start at the front porch steps and curve all the way across a large expanse of lawn to the other gate. I don’t even want to think about how long this path would be! So far, we have no definite plans… although we do keep adding any appropriate rocks to the special pile of “path rocks” we have set aside for that eventuality.
Just in case!