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.
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.
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.
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.
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…
And it has to be better than this:
But the big question remains: will it change the character of the garden? Will we miss the grass paths?