This was my ‘seems like a good idea at the time’ phase, though I still have no idea what madness persuaded me to smother parts of my garden in plastic. (Actually yes, I do… see the next post).
During my first summer, before all the drought, we had a lot of rain and I couldn’t get to the back of the garden without looking like a mud wrestler. So I thought gravel would be a good way to solve that problem.
I laid a weed-mat pathway from the front of the house, round the side and into the back, and covered it with gravel – at huge cost to my back which is not great at the best of times. (Not wishing to add to the amount of quarrying in the world the gravel I bought was crushed recycled concrete, brick etc. and the good stuff was a second hand freebie which was retrieved bucket by heavy bucket from a friend who had just moved into a house with gravel he did not want.)
After three hot summers, made even hotter by the gravel, I am in the throes of serious gravel regret – especially as weeds love it! It does not even remotely stop them – they just happily germinate in the gravel. Never again. I have decided to pull up all the weed-mat underneath, allow the gravel to sink into the ground over time, and plant some groundcovers like Dichondra along the pathways.
But while shovelling barrowloads of gravel and transporting full buckets, I thought many times of the ‘minimum inputs’ philosophy of permaculture and cursed my capacity to somehow always make more work for myself. Being a person who tries to recycle, re-use and not waste anything, I often find myself trying to transport heavy or awkward things that would otherwise go to the tip. The whole gravel experience has taught me something very valuable, which is that if it seems too much like hard work, then it probably is and I should think of another way.
Based on the information and experience I had at the time, I thought gravel would be the better option. Having subsequently used cardboard and woodchip on other paths around the garden I have discovered that woodchip is a superb weed suppressant that breaks down into wonderful compost which can be used in the garden. Of course, depending on the level of decomposition, the woodchip may still become somewhat muddy in a monsoon, but its advantages far outweigh this inconvenience. A hard lesson, but a valuable one.