Wood in the garden is a special effect. It’s warm and rustic, and has a quality unlike any other material. Everyone is familiar with the good looks of a wooden deck, but have you ever considered laying wood directly on the ground?
The downside is that, unfortunately, wood won’t last as long as brick, flagstone or concrete. Wood can be attacked by insects and damaged by dry-rot. So you need to choose a resistant kind of wood, and it might need to be preserved.
The Best Woods for Outdoor Paving
The best woods for outdoor paving are heart redwood, heart cedar, cypress and seasoned black locust. These woods are so resistant to rot that they can often be used as is, with no additional treatment. Now, it’s also possible to use Douglas fir and pine for paving, but if you do, they must be pressure-treated, or it’s no use going to the trouble.
For any wood that’s going directly on the ground, a brushed-on preservative is temporary at best, because it won’t soak deeply enough into the wood to be of any long–term use. If your choice is Douglas fir or pine, save yourself the grief, and go with pressure-treated.
Pressure-treated or not, termites could be a problem, so plan to keep your wooden path or patio from direct contact with your house.
Paving with Railroad Ties
Railroad ties, when you can get them, make excellent garden paving. When making your selection, choose pieces with fairly square edges, so you won’t wind up with large cracks between them once they’re down. Lay the railroad ties with the eight-inch side up, on a sand base, or directly in the ground if you want. You can either butt the ties up against each other, or space them several inches apart and fill in with gravel or lawn.
Paving with Wood Rounds (Log Cuts)
Wood rounds are cross-cut sections of a tree trunk, ideally about three inches thick. Just dig out a space, loosen the soil in the bottom, and drop the rounds in place.
The size of each wood round will naturally vary. Individually, each wood round can be as small as twelve inches across, or as large as thirty-six, and however you lay them, you’re going to be left with large between them. The best way to minimize these in-between spaces is to mix up the sizes as you lay them. The spaces can be filled in later with lawn, moss, creeping thyme or sedum.
Paving with Wood Blocks
You can cut wood blocks yourself from the ends of lumber at least 4″ x 4″, or larger, if possible. Try to use the largest lumber you can find, because anything smaller than 4″ x 4″, and your paving blocks will never stay put. The blocks should be cut about 3 1/2 inches thick, and laid on a base of sand. You’ll need to pack them tightly together to keep them from wobbling about, and may need to build a framework around them, to hold them all in place..
Paving with Two-by-Fours on Stringers
With the stringer method, you can use two by fours and still get the appearance of wood paving. First dig out an area about six inches deep, and lay 2″x4″ or 4″x4″ stringers directly on the ground. Add an inch or two of gravel between them for drainage, then nail your two-by-fours directly to the stringers. The beauty of this method is that, If you want to save your back, you can actually build these ahead of time in your workshop, and lay them out later.
Let one of these wood paving ideas bring a warm and homey touch to your outdoor living space this summer.
“Do It Yourself Garden Construction Know-How,” Ortho Books