Developing the Back Woodland Area

I know I continue to be slow on the blog posts, but life just isn’t slowing down enough for me to get to them like I used to! But with the cooler weather, I’m at least making sure to spend time outdoors, making progress on the garden when I can. Luckily, lots of wildlife and the dogs have been happily keeping me company. But this post isn’t about them!

Mulched woodland pathwayI’ve long wanted a pathway that winds around the back of the backyard. But a path 66 yards long — 200 feet — was a daunting endeavor. I worried about effort and cost and time, and as such kept putting it off, but as it turns out, the new pathway was a relative breeze.

Mulched woodland pathwayTo build the pathway, I used materials I had on hand. It was a perfect use of the remaining cubic yards of single-grind mulch I bought late last spring. I also took some cedar posts I’d intended for a different project and lined them up end-to-end to form the pathway borders.

Meadow sedge and woodland pathTo prep, the boys and I did a little weeding in the pathway area, taking the time to transplant precious natives we wanted to keep, including Meadow Sedges and an Alamo Vine that had sprung up on their own.

Meadow SedgeThe boys created little sedge gardens in areas formerly empty, and some earned names such as Sedge City and Sedge Metropolis.

Cardboard layer for mulched pathwayAs an added barrier to weeds, we made use of old brown cardboard boxes, one of the most useful materials ever for a sustainable garden. The boxes will break down easily over time, but they block light for a nice long time, and 3-4 inches of mulch on top is plenty to help keep weeds at bay.

The nice thing about finally having the pathway laid out is that I’ll be able to build the understory plants on either side, finally getting the attractive woodland walk I’ve always wanted. The birds and I already like it, of course, but now it’s going to get to grow even better!

Mulched pathwaySide note: I seem to be in the minority on this most of the time, but I consider scorpions to be garden friends. They play such an important role in the ecosystem — both as a very beneficial predator (keeping insect populations naturally in control) and as a food source for birds, lizards, and amphibians. I go so far these days as to gently escort any house visitor out to the backyard, but house scorpions are pretty rare these days given that they have a nice environment in the wildlife garden outside. Every once in a while, I see a scorpion under a rock while I’m gardening, but I just cover it back up and let it be. They are nocturnal, so I don’t usually run across them unless I’m turning over a rock, which I always try to lift carefully.

However, my friend Kelly doesn’t share the same feelings about scorpions. Quite the opposite, in fact. It’s become a bit of a running joke whenever the boys and I run across anything scorpion-related that we should get it for Kelly (but we don’t for fear that she never talks to us again). But yesterday Kelly delivered some spare boxes for me to use in the new pathway, and they came with a surprise. Our afternoon conversation went like this:

Meredith: This morning I was working with the boxes you dropped off. You were most likely unaware of it, but you delivered to us a big a–ed scorpion in those boxes.

Kelly: ok, that’s not funny
I’m going to assume it crawled in after I set them by the tree 

Meredith: Well, you can think that…. All I can say is that it seemed happy to get out of the box and crawl off into the back woods. 

Kelly: srsly – NOT FUNNY

Meredith: And it was definitely the largest scorpion I’ve seen in a long time. You grow them well, Kelly!

Kelly: now I have to go have Darin sterilize the van
nope nope nope nope nope

Meredith: On the plus side, your boxes helped me get to a great stopping spot on the back pathway. Just before the weeds got dense. Thanks again.


Meredith: hehe
If only I’d had my camera with me, I could have immortalized it for you!

Kelly: shudder
I’m never going into our garage again

Meredith: What’s funny is that as I went through them, I was thinking about how you have had Brown Recluses over there and wondered whether one would have been in the garage. So I was proceeding with caution as I opened the boxes, but when the scorpion came out, I was all “oh, hello, scorpion.”

Kelly: and I’d have been “oh hello brown recluse” and smash smash smash on the scorpion
ok, actually “RUN AWAY” on the scorpion…

Meredith: And yet the brown recluse is so much more dangerous! Your priorities, Kelly….

Kelly: my phobias have their own priorities

Striped Bark ScorpionSomehow I think that is one lucky scorpion to have made it down to our garden…. Note: the above photo was taken earlier this year, at another location. Clearly I need to get a photo of one of our special backyard buddies!

New Cedar Log Path Creates Woodland Zen


Meet the wood path that cost us nothing but time and the purchase
of a $50 electric chainsaw.

Our side yard has long been a wild mix of large trees, understory trees and shrubs, brambles, and a set of plants I’ll just refer to as “miscellaneous.” I consider it woodland despite the fact that it sits between two houses, and in fact it serves as a small habitat corridor that is very popular with the wildlife. I’m quite fond of this area, and I intend to fill it in with many more wildlife-friendly native plants to serve as a habitat, visual screen, and sound barrier (we live near a highway).


We’ve attempted planting a bit here and there. However, the Oak sprouts mixed with the prickly vines of Dewberry and Greenbrier have been, if you’ll pardon the pun, a thorn in my side. I don’t actually want to get rid of them, but I do want to control them so that I can increase other plant diversity. It was clear that I needed a better plan of attack so that I could successfully manage the area. A pathway was in order. But I wanted it to be natural, cheap, and nature-friendly.

I thought about just using cedar mulch. But I wanted something that would be clearly defined and easy to maintain — mulch can spread beyond its original boundaries and will sometimes still let weeds through. Decomposed granite has its own issues. But thanks to a few cedar logs I had around from a previous project, I became inspired to slice them up to create mock flagstones. Of course, I needed a lot more logs, so I looked for free wood of various diameters on Craigslist. I think we used about three mini-van loads worth for this project (I’m so technical).


We realized pretty quick that it takes time to slice up a lot of logs. To make it easier, my husband built a little stand to hold the logs — what a difference that made. While he cut the logs into roughly 1.25″ slices, the rest of us cleared brambles and miscellaneous plants to create a pathway through the trees.

I had fun laying the path — it was like working on a giant jigsaw puzzle. Of course, it was pretty easy to fit the pieces together on this one. You can see the red color of the freshly cut logs mixed with older slices that had already turned brown.


And rather than lay them in sand, which I never like mixing with clay soil if I can help it, I just laid them directly on the dirt.

cedarpathj08-29-11.jpgThe log slices follow the natural ups and downs of the soil — I made no attempt to level the ground anywhere.  

cedarpathf08-29-11.jpgAfter laying the path, I spread leftover sawdust to fill the gaps between the slices, like mortar — except not like mortar.


A view of a longer portion of the path, still covered in a cushion of sawdust

I also added a few small limestone rocks gathered from around the yard to give a casual border to the path. The path defines the future planting areas for the tree-covered area. I envision an assortment of understory trees, shrubs, and perennials adding pleasant greenery to the already scenic wood path. 

To show off the cedar, I swept the wood path with a broom. The sawdust between the slices created a finished look. Here’s where I’ll admit that I actually like the path still fully covered in sawdust equally as well — the sawdust gives an extra cushion that lets you bounce a little along the path. But then you miss getting to see the log slices underneath, and they are just plain cool.



Cedar log slices with saw dust used to fill the gaps

I am obsessed with our new path. Everytime I look at it, I just sigh a peaceful sigh. Of course, it’s still too hot and dry to plant anything around the path right now, but the path is so pleasant in appearance that while inside I repeatedly walk over to the kitchen window to see it again. 

The advantages to this wood path are many, as I have discovered:

  • It’s natural and organic
  • It’s free (except the electric chainsaw, a small one that we spent $50 on)
  • The wood is locally obtained and grows readily in Central Texas
  • The space between the slices easily lets moisture penetrate the soil below
  • Ashe Juniper is naturally rot resistant
  • It’s comfortable to walk on
  • You can walk barefoot on it, too
  • Log slices can be easily moved around or replaced, not that we’ve had to
  • The path stays in place without shifting
  • The path can be swept with a broom or raked
  • It’s easy to create
  • I can use leftover wood bits in my closet to keep moths out. And the cedar smells great.


cedarpath08-29-11.jpgThe logs are staying nicely in place, human- and wildlife-tested. Were this path in our backyard, I’m certain that our big, rambunctious dogs might test it to its limits, though.

Is this a weekend project? Yes. Did it take us months because we are lazy slowpokes? Yes. But do we love it? YES!

Go Orange

Purely by accident, my photos of the day are showing off the warm colors of the season. How perfect as we transition from late summer to fall. I might as well confess that I’m a Longhorn fan, too — so “Go Orange” has multiple meanings this time around. But red and yellow, count, too. They, after all, combine to make orange. All in the realm of warm!

I’ve been waiting all year for my Exotic Love Vine to bloom, a plant I… ahem… fell in love with during my trip to Mexico last fall.

lovevine09-09-10.jpgJust before the rains from Hermine arrived this past week, evidence of blooms first appeared on a vine stem, and happily the steady downpours did not hurt the blossoms before I could get a picture. I do hope that soon our wonderful plant will be covered in these vibrant flowers.

The plentiful rains have encouraged other freshly-hydrated plants to bloom, and the garden is filled with new buds all over. The Texas Lantana is bright with color, and the butterflies are flocking back to it. Here’s a Gulf Fritillary, blending in so nicely with the orange and yellow flowers.


Our young pomegranate tree has three lovely fruit on it. Though I might wish for more, I’m thrilled that we’d have even three fruit in our first year of having the tree. I can’t wait for them to ripen.

At the pond, a fiery Flame Skimmer stands out against the green bog-loving plants.

And the Blackfoot Daisies have revived along the garden path. I like the way they provide a nice look against the decomposed granite.

It occurs to me that this time last year I was eagerly watching our pumpkins turn from green to orange. Clearly this is not a new theme. But it certainly is a mood-boosting one!

And just to mention it, our new decomposed-granite (and orange-ish!) garden path held up quite well in the heavy rains. No mush! The only area that we’ll need to touch up is a portion of the upper pathway, where compaction was at a minimum, and that’s our fault for not giving it the equal time that we did to the rest of the garden path. That the overall pathway stood the test of a major flood-causing rain lets me know that we made a good choice on our plan. Still, we’ll make the minor repairs to the upper pathway and determine how best to guide waterflow just off to the side a bit, where the garden itself can absorb the excess water.

Go orange!

Changes Afoot — A New Garden Path

pathwayh08-21-10.jpgOne might think that August in Texas is not the best month to create a large garden path in the full sun, and that person would be right. But there are some plus sides to creating a new path in August, even in the 100+ weather. One, hiring for some of the work we couldn’t do meant helping out other families in need of some income during what is a slow month for many workers. Two, landscape supply companies were very open in terms of delivery availability and quite eager for business. Three, the heat certainly wasn’t slowing down the growth of Bermuda grass and Nut Sedge, so why let the weeds continue their world takeover by waiting until autumn to work on the path? And four, if we went ahead and tackled the path in August, then come fall we could actually focus on enjoying the garden, instead of crying about the weeds and miserably wishing we had a real garden path.

As lovely as a flagstone path would have been, we couldn’t afford all the necessary stone for our large garden, so we opted instead for a decomposed granite path. The advantages were many — we could always add stone later if we chose, and because no cement of any kind was involved, it would be easy to make changes to the shape whenever we wanted. I knew that I wanted to add an artistic flair to the path later, at the very least, and going ahead with the granite would give me time to figure out what I wanted to do. And the difference in cost was tremendous.


I spent a lot of time doing research on how to create a weed-free, chemical free garden path. According to sources online, the key to keeping a path as weed free as possible is to dig out all the grass and soil about 6 inches deep, then adding in 3-4 inches of compacted road base, followed by a good 2-inches of compacted decomposed granite. The compaction is necessary to keep weeds from growing, but it still allows plenty of drainage after a rain. Note that there is no need for any sort of weed barrier, which is good because weed barrier is notoriously ineffective.

I couldn’t bear to take many pictures of the Before Path. It was so overgrown and too ugly to share, so here’s all you’re getting. Yeah, not pretty, and really embarrassing.

pathwaya08-21-10.jpgMowing had become a joke, and the fact that mowing was even required made me all the more annoyed. You can see why we needed to do something drastic.

The first step was to scrape out all the weeds. Hey, look — something like a path was under all that grass!

pathwayb08-21-10.jpgAnd then the real digging began (this part we had to hire out). I am not even going to pretend that this was easy. Six inches of compacted clay- and rock-filled soil, thick with Bermuda and other roots, does not come out willingly. All that topsoil is now a big hill in the back of our yard, ready for a nice groundcover or vine to take it over — or perhaps we will find another use for it later. Right now it serves as a visual barrier to our wildlife-friendly brush pile. 

pathwayc08-21-10.jpgDuring all of this work, the first round of material arrived. We ordered 3/8″ limestone dust, a fine aggregate base. The scary part was whether we’d accurately calculated the number of yards we needed. Fortunately, we were well on target.


pathwayd08-21-10.jpgThe first layer of aggregate base further helped us to visualize the path to come.

pathwaye08-21-10.jpgWe compacted the dust in thin layers as we went along, until we had about 4 inches of good base. There are different ways one can go about compaction — a tamper or a water-filled roller is an inexpensive option. However, we decided after much discussion that we would go ahead and rent a vibrating plate compactor to help us with our large garden path. It was unfortunately gas-powered, but it gave such amazing results that I don’t regret it. We did use a tamper from time to time as well.


Along the lawn side, we decided that we’d feel better about having some low edging in place. I purchased from Amazon some Master Mark brown composite edging — made of nearly 100% recycled materials. Not only was it SO much cheaper than edging found at the box stores, it is available in 5-inch by 40 feet lengths, and very easy to use. I did, however, get brown metal stakes from a box store, on recommendation from a reviewer. Good call. We’re very pleased. You can see it on the final shots.

If one plans on laying down flagstone, the next step would be to put in 1-2 inches of sand. We had decided against the stone, so we went straight to decomposed granite, aiming for about 2 inches of compacted material. Again, we compacted the layers in 1/2-inch increments, creating a very solid base.

decomposedgranite08-21-10.jpgCompacting in small increments is so very necessary. The reason is three-fold — it keeps the weeds out, it keeps the decomposed granite tight and in place, and it minimizes potential mushiness after a rain.

pathwayg08-21-10.jpgAnd finally, we lined the beds with limestone, most salvaged from our own yard.

pathwaym08-21-10.jpgWe LOVE the results.

What a breeze it will be to take care of the garden compared to how it used to be. And we have had a major reduction in the size of the lawn, so less mowing.

pathwayn08-21-10.jpgThe veggie garden will be a much more pleasant place to work this fall. Excuse the lack of green activity while we wait for cooler temperatures.

pathwayk08-21-10.jpgAnd there you have it. Would I recommend this pathway technique? Yes and no. If you are determined to stay weed free and don’t mind the work and extra materials, then absolutely, this is the way to go. But many kinds of casual pathways don’t need this kind of detail, especially if the area isn’t heavily prone to invasive plants. We, on the other hand, were in a war against major weeds in our full-sun garden, and we wanted to WIN.

Do I wish the pathway was fully flagstone or another kind of stone? Sure, a little bit, but there is a casualness to our limestone ranch house that doesn’t warrant so much “luxury,” though we do use a little flagstone in various locations. The way we went about creating the path adds to its pseudo element of formality. It is clean and defined, and mess has been minimized.

One very nice thing about our large pathways is getting to walk side-by-side with my hubby through our garden (and the dogs not tripping us as they run by).

And Grimm is happy, too — our garden guardian, seen here in his new pathway spot.