by AnneWareham on April 24, 2014

Post image for Gravel

I remember reading, many years ago, that one of the changes the death of Vita Sackville-West brought to Sissinghurst was that the paths had to be paved. The increase in visitors and wear and tear on – grass? – created the necessity. And changed the garden dramatically.  I was consoled at the time, by hearing that they had never had the money to do that themselves – their financial struggles sort of endorsed ours and made them respectable. And I wondered if the change was for the better.

And now we are changing some of our paths from grass to hard surface. The wet summer the year before last made the grass – thin in places because of the shade the hedges create – very scary and potentially slippery. This last winter has turned them into skating rinks. It is miserable not being able to walk round the garden without watching every step and sometimes skidding. And given that we are having to have some paths dug up to lay down drainage, we may as well mend the surface with gravel.

Drainage Veddw Copyright Anne Wareham

A drain.

Our chosen surface – principally because it is affordable, is gravel to dust, known as hoggin in some places. The dust sets hard, being clay based, I think. I have read of people doing a great deal of work hammering at it with machines to help solidify it, but we’ve not found this necessary. Jeff tamps it hard with his tamper (see below) so it ends up good and level and – tamped. He has added weight to the tamping by the ingenious method of wrapping a roll of lead around the handle. We have got this on very steep slopes, hardly tamped, (pre Jeff) and it has stayed in place through incredible downpours and lots of walking on it.

Though when we used hoggin at our car park entrance and it was then rained on relentlessly for months, it totally failed to set and I feared it never would. As soon as we had a long enough dry spell, it worked. (just as long as huge lorries don’t churn it up attempting to turn in the gateway after much rain..).

The gravel is from a local quarry and is the right colour for our pinkish red soil (see here) – when it’s wet. It sadly goes grey when it stops raining. Which it does sometimes.. And over time it gets less pink – not sure why.

Gravel Veddw Copyright Anne Wareham


Gravel Veddw Copyright Anne Wareham

With help from Billy..

We had our statuary row about whether to gravel the Yew Walk. Probably because it is such a dramatic and anxiety provoking change. And then there’s the question about whether to keep my strip at the edge. Last year I let a strip of the grass grow down the edge of the Yew Walk. Our paths are all made from the original pasture, so what emerged was a strip of meadow.

Yew Walk at Veddw with meadow edge Copyright Anne Wareham

My edge

Those of us who like symmetry think there should be a strip, if there is one, at both sides. (No)

Those of us who like more ordinary think there should be no strip at all.

Gravel edging Veddw Copyright Anne Wareham

Careful edging by Jeff..

Me – I love it. And if we decide it doesn’t go with gravel, easy to add extra gravel at the edge. Though given how carefully Jeff is doing my edge, he won’t be best pleased if we ask him to lose it.

Our first impression of the gravelled Yew Walk is positive – particularly because the contrast of the gravel to foliage accentuates the curve of the steps at the far end, up into the coppice…

Gravel Veddw Copyright Anne Wareham

Steps disappearing into Coppice beyond the dove..

And it has to be better than this:

 Veddw Copyright Anne Wareham


But the big question remains: will it change the character of the garden? Will we miss the grass paths?

Anne Wareham


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Charles April 24, 2014 at 12:03 pm

I’m liking it so far, though still not sure about the strip. But my other big question is whether the new paths will make the rain run off rather than allow it to soak into the drainage system?

AnneWareham April 24, 2014 at 12:39 pm

Does it matter if it runs away in the right direction? But even where it has had a lot of traffic – in the drive – it doesn’t puddle for long. Suggesting that it actually drains well.

Emily April 24, 2014 at 4:52 pm

I’m liking it so far! Use of the different material for the path brings out the geometry of the space and enhances your focal point at the end.

Your “hoggin” seems similar to what we call “quarter minus” or “#4 to dust”– 1/4 inch crushed rock (ours is granite or basalt, I think) including the fines. It is a common path-making material here, in Seattle. It does drain well. For drives or slopes or anywhere where it needs to knit together more strongly, we’d use 5/8 minus.

AnneWareham April 24, 2014 at 5:52 pm

You do have to talk the quarry’s language – and quarter minus would certainly get us some funny looks here. (so would hoggin, actually – it’s not a term used locally) But it does sound the same. 5/8 being of an inch? Our quarries are also metric….

I am glad you like it. It would be a right job to grub it all up again, so all reassurance extremely welcome.

Clare Paver April 24, 2014 at 5:37 pm

No, I don’t think the character of the garden will change – you’ve carefully perpetuated that by using local stone. It will just add another facet. I like it. I like the meadow strip too, it’ll look beautiful frothing over and softening the (one) edge, (sometimes symmetry jars). x

AnneWareham April 24, 2014 at 5:54 pm

O, I do agree! Wonderful to have someone on my side over the symmetry, and I do like the way it softens and counters the formality…

Paul Steer April 24, 2014 at 7:01 pm

I think I like it ! It gives a park like look to the avenue. When I say park, I mean as in parkland not public.

AnneWareham April 24, 2014 at 10:08 pm

That sounds posh. Xx

Jenny April 24, 2014 at 7:59 pm

Sometime we are driven to make improvements that are for the best in the long run. I’m sure your visitors will approve of the easier and safer footing and in the end it will be less work- I think.

AnneWareham April 24, 2014 at 10:09 pm

You are right about the visitors – and I hope about the work too..

Kjeld Slot April 25, 2014 at 12:00 am

Hi Anne
I have the same problem in my `Long Walk´. 100 meters of grasswalk in between high beechwalls. It´s in the contry, far away from the big cities, so it´s not a park all tough it has some `parking´ qualities. I cannot imagine this walk paved, but you have inspired me to consider gravel as a possible replacement to the thin gras.
But your pictures tell me that I´ll hope for some kind of weed in the deep shadow of the big hedges, soon after its done.

Kindly regards

AnneWareham April 25, 2014 at 8:57 am

We will celebrate our connection with strips of weeds! Thanks, Kjeld – what a delightful thought. And comment. Xx

detlev brinkschulte April 25, 2014 at 10:18 am

i love the sound of gravel!

AnneWareham April 25, 2014 at 10:38 am

Ah – me too. But this stuff sets solid and in the end has no crunch factor….

Cindy at enclos*ure April 25, 2014 at 11:04 am

Happy birthday! The path looks great to me, particularly with the meadow strip.

AnneWareham April 25, 2014 at 11:07 am

Thank you – for both. Anyone who loves that strip is a star in my book. Got taste….

hillwards April 25, 2014 at 11:31 am

I think it looks smart – much much smarter than the wet mud slide! If it encourages people to walk around the garden without fearing for their step, then it can only be a good thing, and gravel is quite ‘soft’ as far as hard landscaping goes – if you see what I mean – so not a jarring addition.
I love the look of your strip in full bloom, and its asymmetry. Will be interesting to see whether it compares against the gravel as it did against the mown path, but I suspect it will win out!


AnneWareham April 25, 2014 at 11:36 am

Yes – I know just what you mean about soft hard landscaping – it doesn’t look incongruous in a rural garden.

And I’m looking forward to seeing the strip against the gravel – it will be a very clear declaration. Might win approval elsewhere – but if not, do I care?!

AnneWareham April 25, 2014 at 11:37 am

O – and it will be safer for people with babies on board…!

John April 25, 2014 at 5:49 pm

I remember “Hoggin the Hog” on TV as a child ;). I don’t think the paths will change the nature of the garden but they may increase appreciation of it (are you treating the slope down from the bench through the parterre and thence to the conservatory?) as visitors can look up and/or around rather than down at their feet and are also free to think about the place rather than whether they will slip. Please keep the single strip (who wants symmetry?).

Though Charles may have a point – the compressed hoggin will allow light rain to soak through but heavy storms are more likely to run off so which way it slopes (or perhaps dips very slightly towards the centre of the pathway) might make a difference. That said, I’ve almost always had fun getting out of the car park – the front wheels stop in the muddy dip while I make sure no lunatic is zipping along the lane and I often slide a bit when starting again.

AnneWareham April 25, 2014 at 10:09 pm

O, John, some of those bits are not on the gravelling list. Not yet anyway. But the exit is being seriously reworked…. Hope that will help.

Round here they do Hoggin the Bridge…. Xx

christine April 26, 2014 at 5:54 pm

It looks good and will be much better for visitors especially those who wear inappropriate footwear. I would love to do some ‘hard’ paths at our garden, the mower compacts the ground and when its wet it is squelchy wet.

AnneWareham April 26, 2014 at 6:06 pm

Thanks. It won’t free us from the mower though – we can’t manage to gravel all our paths (yet!?) and we still have a lawn…But I am reassured – even excited – about the gravelling we can do this spring.

Ian Thorpe April 26, 2014 at 6:23 pm

I think the new finish looks very good – and I do like the strip (not just to have your approval!)

As a matter of interest, what thickness of the gravel mix is going down? And is there any special treatment of the ground below to prevent vegetation growing through?

AnneWareham April 26, 2014 at 6:52 pm

Thank you – you have great taste of course.. (just to win your approval!)

We did our paths originally with stuff (long story) underneath, but I have decided it doesn’t entirely make sense,(and adds enormously to the expense) since most of the weed comes from things seeding into it, not popping up from below.

But there is an issue of weed killing whatever you do, from above or below. Though this seems to have diminished – not vanished – as over time. (maybe it gets harder and less easy to seed into?)

The gravel is 14 to dust. Xxx

Gaynor Witchard May 4, 2014 at 7:22 am

Hi Anne

Glad to see you’ve written about this as a way of creating practicality in a natural environment. I think it works and has given me an idea for a very large woodland site I might be designing. I love reading technical details in construction so that I can understand how the materials work – so thanks! Love the border – it should stay. No border on the other side? Well, a strip on the other side would look contrived…be nice if there were some ‘clumps’ here and there though.

AnneWareham May 4, 2014 at 9:03 am

Thank you, Gaynor. Don’t you think clumps on the other side would tend to look rather weedy and (paradoxically) accidental? Ah! The finesse!

Annette May 16, 2014 at 8:30 am

Hi Anne, tough but necessary decision as lawn blends in a lot easier but the wild strip defintely softens the harshness of the hoggin – so well done for leaving it. I have a weak spot for wild things! In time the colour of it will change anyway…we’ve just done our drive and it is already starting to be less of an eye sore.

Julieanne Porter (@GwenfarsGarden) May 8, 2015 at 2:28 pm

As someone who thinks design needs to also have at least some functional elements, this appears to be a good compromise. Grass may be more elegant, but only if you never walked on it so it never got muddy and slippery; and that would mean a basic function, such as simply walking around the garden to enjoy the space, the vistas etc, would be lost. Which is surely pointless? And on another practical note, the gravel means less-abled visitors can enjoy more of the garden.

And yes, keep the strip. I guess because I like the wildflowers, but also because it will ‘soften’ the gravel in that straight walk. And the wild yellow and white flowers contrast beautifully against the shapped yew.

AnneWareham May 8, 2015 at 3:37 pm

After living with it for a year I am convinced you’re right and that we could probably do with more of it for the practicality when it’s wet. (don’t ask – cost…) And about the strip – but it leaves me bewildered and quite unable to ‘see’ why some people would choose to have it on both sides…looks so right to me as it is. Thanks, Julianne.