We’ve devoted a lot of thought, discussion and investigation into how to pave around the planters.  In some respects, it would be nice to simply leave the grass that is growing there now.  It is attractive, feels good under the feet and, best of all, would require no additional effort to install.  On the other hand, it needs to be cut frequently during the growing season.  A lawn mower can only get so close to the sides of the planters and a weed whacker (or other power tool) would inevitably damage the wood (the pool fence posts are evidence of this).  Currently, we use a hedge trimmer (the manual kind, like a big pair of scissors) to cut the grass down.  Because it is not our favorite chore, we do it much less often than we should.  Aside from creating a maintenance issue, the lawn harbors potentially hostile insects and gets muddy when it rains.

Our original idea was to remove the sod and replace it with a recycled rubber material.  We have seen rolls of rubber matting in mail order catalogs and thought that the environmental aspect would be worth pursuing.  After reviewing the specifications, though, we decided that the matting looks flimsy and would require a lot of cutting and fitting.  Also, it is not clear how flat they would remain over time.  Based on my experience and observations, roll goods almost always curl up at the edges, a condition that creates a tripping hazard.  Eventually, the material tears or gets pulled out.  This is neither practical nor attractive.

Then, while browsing the garden section at the Home Depot, we came across a product called EnviroTile, thick tiles manufactured from recycled rubber.  The tiles are large—up to 24” square—and clip together on their undersides to form a stable mat (their dead weight keeps them flat).  We would still have to cut a lot of tiles in half (there is only a foot between the planters and the pool deck) but the product looked promising.  Unfortunately, as environmentally green as the tiles are, it would require a lot of green to use them.  We need 136 sq. ft. of coverage and at $3.50 per sq. ft., it would cost almost $500 in materials alone.  With tax and shipping added, the total cost would be greater than what we paid for the lumber.  It’s a great product but much too expensive.

We have also considered various loose materials such as gravel, cedar mulch and even rubber pellets (in keeping with the environmental theme).  Kaye Kittrell of the blog Late Bloomer (http://latebloomershow.com/) suggested decomposed granite (thank you!), a material I hadn’t thought about in ages.   It is what my parents used to pave their garden pathways when I was in high school (see March 28, 2012).  It is usually a beautiful dusty-rose color and always reminds me of the Sierra Nevada (itself a huge batholith of slowly decomposing granite).  However, we ruled it and other loose materials out over concerns that they would track beyond the garden and, worse, into the pool.

We next considered precast concrete pavers.  They come in a variety of sizes, the thinnest (and cheapest) of which is a 12” square.  They are still pricey—about $2.00 each—and they have what might charitably be described as a utilitarian look.  Also, we would still have to cut some of them or use bricks to make up for the 4’-3” width of the planters (when designing the planters, I did not take this into account).

Then we remembered a stockpile of stone pavers that is stacked near where we park our cars (they originally covered the outside area under our dining room, what we now call the back porch).  Over the last few years, the stones have gotten covered with fallen leaves and I had stopped noticing them even though I look at them almost every day.  Their coloring is a mixture of grey and grey-blue, which would complement the colors of the pool and deck (there are also some reddish ones, which we would not use).  There is easily enough material to cover the garden area.  And it is just sitting there, going to waste.

So that’s what we’ll use.  The catch (and there always seems to be a catch) is that the stones are irregularly shaped.  Most have at least one straight edge—a few have two or three—but they all have at least one jagged side.  Therefore, we will have to cut a lot of them and that means we will have to rent a stone saw.  Fortunately, this is a fairly common do-it-yourself project and we should be able to find one at the Home Depot or other local rental center.

It will be a big project:  We must remove the sod (my least favorite activity), lay down a weed barrier, level the ground surface with sand and then cut and fit the stones.  I suspect it will take the remainder of the summer to get it done.  It will be a lot of work but that has never stopped us before.  Often, the most difficult tasks give the richest rewards.  (If this sounds like I am trying to psyche myself up for the work ahead, that’s because I am.)