I have a fair amount of lawn in my garden, which is looking pretty ropey right now, but I'm working on it! However I'm intending to convert a lot of it to more intriguing beds and paths. This project details one little part of that grand plan. In the picture above, I've removed the turf from a corner, which originally had just a narrow bed at the back against the trellis.
My plan was to put a curving brick path through this new area, leaving an eye-shaped island that will probably host a small tree and other planting high enough and rumbustious enough to make the path a little voyage of discovery. A very little voyage, but adding much-needed intrigue.
I started by using the garden hose to experiment with the shape of the path, using some bricks to get the width right. What a beautiful shape!
Those bricks, and indeed all the bricks I will use, are from the rear chimney on the house, which was removed in a recent loft conversion (the chimney, not the house). They are a mix of old handmade red clay bricks and nasty moulded modern things, but they have some character, including sooty marks, and I think mixed up they're going to look the part.
I'm not sure how well they will survive the harsh winters that seem to be the new normal. I strongly suspect they will suffer from frost damage and it will be interesting to find out whether it's the old or new that perform better. I have plenty left to repair the damage. For the record, ideally you'd use engineering bricks, but I don't have any and I feel it would lack the charm of a crumbling old brick path.
Having established the basic shape and scored a mark in the soil with the edge of a spade along the hosepipe, I dug it out about a brick deep plus a couple of centimetres for the sand. I also added 5cm or so on either side to give room for manoeuvre.
Theoretically I should use pegs in the ground, string and spirit levels to establish a perfectly level, flat path, but that's just not my style, and the two ends are not at the same level anyway. I used a couple of bits of straight wood and my eye to make sure that the soil bed was basically level with no major local bumps or hollows. Again I invoke 'rustic' as an excuse for my slapdashery.
Do you know why sharp sand is called sharp sand? Because the individual grains are all knobbly and 'sharp', compared to non-sharp sand which has smooth, rounded grains. This helps them to lock together and form a firm base. I've used four bags of sharp sand and with the aid of a rake and a piece of wood the width of the path dragged over it, I've turned it into a smooth base ready for my bricks. I spent quite a while trying to get this right, as it will be reflected in the final result.
By the way, I bought six bags of sand from Wickes for the grand total of £10.86, and that was my entire spend on this project. The rest is bricks and tools I already had, and my own labour.
I figured it was best to lay one whole run the length of the path, to establish and tweak the basic curve. Then of course the subsequent runs are a bit longer each time around the curve, so we need half-bricks here and there to keep a good pattern going.
I used a bolster chisel and club hammer to cut the bricks by hand, which takes a bit of technique, a certain amount of practise and a lot of patience, especially when it's raining and you can't see through your goggles (you don't want brick chips in your eye). I think most people would find this the most challenging part of the project if they haven't done it before. You can get machines to do it nicely and with no effort on your part, which would be worthwhile if doing anything much bigger. A straight path would only require half-bricks at the ends of course.
Once I'd got all the bricks down it looked pretty good, but only then did I fork over the beds either side, being very careful not to disturb my new path. I had been agonising over whether to do that first or last. I feared that if I did it first I might loosen the firm bed for my path, compacted nicely as it was under the old lawn. Also, it would have made working around the path and seeing the edges a lot harder, so I'm glad I did it this way around.
Finally, I did that digging of the compacted soil, and packed it up to the edge of my bricks, ready to receive plants. Then I brushed more sharp sand into all of the cracks to finish off the path itself. That took a surprisingly long time and a few goes as the bricks settled and new holes opened up. Using very dry sand really helps it to fall down those cracks so I dried mine out in the sun before using it.
I'm very pleased with the result, but time will tell whether it's really any good. Next project is the planting either side of it.