Gardening Topic for May 2003
A Garden Design Challenge with a low-cost solution

By Judy Lochbrunner, Master Gardener

How to design around a wellhead (or other necessary outdoor piping) keeping it accessible but attractive?

Our current home is not our first attempt at landscaping; but, it has certainly been a “first” in some of the challenges we found in the yard. Perhaps my solution to the challenge in our backyard will provide you with some inspiration to tackle an equally difficult design to create a beautiful solution. 

I will begin by explaining my low-cost design solution and then add an additional section on crushed stone paths. This additional section will provide some “how-to” information to help you tackle a difficult feature in your own yard. 

A major obstacle to creating a design for the backyard is the location of the wellhead for the water well. The wellhead’s location in such a noticeable spot made the necessity for camouflage very important. The challenge was to accommodate the need for accessibility in case of repair, and the piping in the area that does not allow for any extensive plantings.  

A second obstacle is what at first appeared to be an overgrown gravel path. Some exploratory digging in the area confirmed that the gravel path is a French drain. The drain runs parallel to the house just a few feet from the wellhead area. My design requirements for the backyard grew to respect the accessibility AND drainage issues.

The solution was to work with what was present in the area, the gravel. I expanded the gravel area to create a clean and clear path. I used crushed stone because of its abundance and low cost in our area. I expanded the path near the wellhead into a circular shape. The circular shape breaks up the straight lines of the house and French drain. The wellhead sits near the “top” of the circle. A stone bunny (which is easily removed) sits atop it. The outside edges of the crushed stone circle have become herb beds. I have a selection of sages on one side and a selection of lavender on the other side (which is free of the water pipes) 

In the center of the crushed stone circle I placed 3 old tree stumps that I found in the yard. Tree-trimming companies are another source for stumps at little to no cost. Pieces of stone were placed on top of the stumps to provide a visual link with the stone on the ground. These stones were purchased at a quarry in their “cash and carry” pile. In the center of the stump area, plant hooks were placed. One of the plant hooks was actually found in the garage while the other two were used at one time or another at our previous house. Garage sales and thrift stores would be additional sources for low-cost plant hooks. 

A selection of scented geraniums, herbs and flowering plants were potted and placed around, on top of and hanging from the plant hooks. I found a selection of tin buckets and plant holders to which I punched holes for drainage and planted. The shiny silver color went well with the color in the stone and gravel. Of course I was not content to keep too much to one color as other pots were added for interest. Some terra cotta rabbits were added to match the bunny sitting on the wellhead. And finally one last stone was placed next to the wellhead and a sundial (a present from my Dad many years ago) was placed on it. 

The result is an attractive area easily disassembled, in case of maintenance or repair, for very little cost. A little creativity with found items, the use of locally available items and some searching in garages, attics; sales and thrift stores can reap excellent results. 

Crushed Stone Paths 

Crushed Stone is an excellent choice of material to use in your garden design. Because it consists of stone found in your local area, the colors look natural and pleasing. Beware of white stone or crushed marble that contrasts too sharply and looks too harsh against the natural landscaping. 

Texture is another wonderful feature of crushed stone. While the texture adds to the visual look, the sound of walking on stone adds another of the senses to the garden design. 

Use curves in your design whenever possible to create a soft and inviting look. Straight lines add a more formal look to your design. Balance your design goals with the limitations/challenges of your site for a successful solution. 

In order to reduce the need for edging, the use of fine-textured quarter inch minus stone for the wellhead area and for the topping on the path is suggested. It is made up of tiny angular bits that will eventually settle into a gravel foundation that stays put. Small river stones and peastones roll around and annoyingly scatter into the lawn if no edging is installed. 

I added a circular crushed stone area near the wellhead. This and all adjacent areas that contain piping or utility services should be treated with EXTREME care. (When in doubt contact your utility company or service professional for information on the depth and locations of lines and piping.) Loosen the topsoil with a shallow hand tool if possible. Remove only a shallow layer of soil or only the layer of sod, lay down some water permeable landscape fabric, and then pin or secure the fabric in place. Top with one inch of the quarter-inch minus crushed stone and tamp. Add more of this stone where needed or until you get the coverage you need. Stand back and take look from a distance to see if you have “visually” filled in the area. 

Excavated soil and sod can then be re-used in other parts of your yard. The sod can be used to fill in areas of the lawn in need of reseeding. Or the sod can be added to your compost pile. Be sure to keep a nice mix of materials in the pile. Store the excavated soil near your compost bin. Mix it with your compost to make a wonderful fill to add to a new flowerbed or low area of the lawn. 

If your design includes gravel paths to bring this ribbon of color through the yard, you must first note the drainage in the area. If the area drains poorly, you must address this now. A deeper excavation of 8-10 inches will be required. A layer of 1-2 inches of 1 ½ inch crushed stone is placed at the bottom. A 4-inch PVC perforated drainage pipe is placed holes down along or across the path. The highest end of the pipe is capped to prevent soil from clogging the pipe. This can be done with screening or water-permeable landscape fabric. An additional 4 inches of 1 ½ inch crushed stone is added on top of the pipe. A layer of the water-permeable landscape fabric is placed on top of this stone. A two-inch layer of crushed stone (you want something smaller than 1 ½ inch and larger than ¼ inch ) is placed on the fabric, the path is watered and then tamped. Finally the path is topped with a 1-inch layer of the quarter inch minus crushed stone. Tamp the area again. The final grade of the path should be one inch below the surrounding area. 

If drainage is not an issue in the area of the path, excavate to a depth of 4-5 inches. Apply 4 inches of crushed stone (you want something larger than ¼ inch stone ), wet, tamp and then apply a one inch topping of the quarter inch minus crushed stone. Tamp once again. 

Check your local phone book for suppliers of stone and gravel and don’t hesitate to ask for their suggestions. Since crushed stone is very heavy, consider having the stone delivered to your home. The cost of the stone is very small compared to the delivery charge so you want to take careful measurements to avoid ordering too little stone and have to pay another delivery charge. 

It is a good idea to also allow for a little extra stone. Keep a trashcan or other container to fill with extra stone. If any repairs are needed, you have the correct color and stone easily available.  

To determine the number of cubic yards needed, multiply the length of the path/area times the width (both in terms of feet), times the depth (expressed in a fraction of a foot). This will give you the cubic feet; divide this number by 27 (the number of cubic feet in a cubic yard) and you will have the cubic yards needed by the supplier. For example: a 45 foot long path 3 feet wide and six inches deep will be 45 x 3 x .5 = 67.5 which is divided by 27 = 2.5. Order 2 ½ cubic yards.  

If your supplier wants you to place the order in tons, divide cubic feet (repeat as in the other paragraph, multiply the length of the path/area times the width times the depth) by 27 times 1.5. To use our example, 67.5 is divided by 27 x 1.5 or 67.5 divided by 40.5 equals 1.67 tons.  

Reference: Garden Paths by Gordon Hayward, 1999, Firefly Books, Ltd