Saturday, May 9, 2009

Shovel-Ready Project: Laying a Flagstone Path

Last weekend, Jack and I began the task of laying a flagstone path through the new garden in the front yard, buoyed by articles such as this article, which proclaimed, "Even for a novice do-it-yourselfer, installing a mortarless flagstone path is a practically foolproof project."

Plus, Roger Cook made it look so easy on the This Old House video...

This is how it looked before we got started. We’d already marked the edges of the path with stones. The grass and oxalis was already starting to make its way back in to the area we'd cleared.

We ordered two tons of native patio flagstone from Whittlesey Landscape on Thursday, which they delivered on Saturday.

I got started by digging a trench along the edges of the path, using a sidewalk scraper.

The next step was to dig out the path to a depth of 3 to 4 inches. Some of it we did with a shovel, but we needed a tiller for the bulk of it, to get through the tree roots and remaining grass.

Jack, wrestling the tiller he borrowed from a friend. Look at those calf muscles!

Even with the tiller, it was difficult digging through the Blackland Prairie clay.

Eventually, we gave up on the digging, even though the depth wasn’t even, and raked it smooth. We decided we'd use thinner flagstones in the shallow parts and thicker flagstones in the deeper sections.

Professionals would have laid the path before putting in plants. D’oh. I took the edging stones and put them around my little twigs to protect them from our feet and the tiller.

We started with a small section near the front door. Sand went in first (roughly an inch deep), followed by flagstones.

A mixture of dirt and sand went on top of the freshly-laid flagstones.

We smoothed the dirt with the flat end of a rigid garden rake.

Then we swept the dirt off the top of the stones. Here’s the path, half swept off.

Another angle:
We stopped here, exhausted, sweaty, dirty, stinky and so, so sore.

Jack finished up on Monday afternoon by fully sweeping off the path and replacing the edging stones. What a nice surprise to see when I arrived home from work!

For the next couple of weeks, we’ll be laying down more dirt, watering it in, letting it dry and sweeping it off. There are a few stones that are too low that need to be raised up a bit with more sand, and there are a couple of stones that are too high that need to be reset, but at least the truly back-breaking part is done. We both like the look of groundcover growing between the stones, so once the dirt settles, we may try growing some mazus reptans or creeping thyme to accompany the wild oxalis and horseherb that will surely crop up.


  1. That looks great! I so want to do something similar in my own yard. Maybe later this summer! Now I have inspiration!

  2. Hi Caroline... Interesting design, and the amount of work is alot. But getting what we want however difficult and tiring it maybe, is a pleasure.. Will there be garden chair somewhere?... Cheers! ~ bangchik

  3. I took several breaks in the shade under the larger oak tree and it did occur to me it would be a good place for a chair!

  4. Great post. I have been wanting to do some serious "hard scaping" at our place along those lines ... including jack-hammering up the boring cement walkway up to our house, but it always seems so daunting. Maybe this winter! Thanks for the info.

  5. Nice job--thanks for the scrape by scrape account. It ought to make you both proud :)

  6. Wow! I take off my hat! I am almost ashamed, since we hired someone to make a very narrow stepping stones path, last year. You did great job!

  7. That is a huge job. I put in a field stone patio at my parents place. Satisfying work- just a lot of it!

  8. I laid three short paths with paving stones last year and the sand that hardens when you spray it with water between the rocks. I remember the aches and pains in my back after doing it. Great job on this- it looks very nice and you guys must be pleased.

  9. Hello! I just discovered your blog. The flagstone path is just beautiful! All your hard work paid off. We would love to do the same thing--I think it has so much appeal to the over-all look.

  10. That's impressive work. I know what you mean about that feeling of accomplishment every time you look at it, what a great feeling. I'm glad to have found your blog.