It is just another world.
Okay, first things first. I am not a professional. I have not even taken a class at Home Depot. I am just a girl with very few dollars to rub together who dreams of a sunny, gravel patio and glasses of strawberry lemonade. My way is not the only way. But it has worked for me. And I have just about completed and made pretty a gravel patio that cost right at $20. Here's how:
STEP ONE: HAVE AN IDEA. PICK A LOCATION.
Maybe you want a patio. Or a weed-free flower bed. Or a circle bed around a tree. Or a nice place to put a bench. Maybe you want a grass-free area for a kiddie pool. Whatever you're after, this method should work. Get an idea and then choose your location. Mine began here, at this... um... not appealing spot behind Freeman House.
STEP TWO: MARK YOUR SPACE AND REMOVE VEGETATION. It helps to measure off your space and then draw out your boundaries. String helps, especially if you're doing circles. Once you've delineated your space, clear it out. You may need to transplant some things. You may just need to hack at some things with a hoe. But you need to start with a dirt foundation. Remove any large stones, debris, etc. Trust me, it's worth the effort to start with a clean slate. (By the way, this is the point where many people will bring out the Round-Up. If that's what you like, go for it here. Since I grow a lot of my own food and flowers, I'm anti-chemicals. Do what works for you.) STEP THREE: SUPPLY UP! For my patio, I wanted to use brick reclaimed from around Freeman House. I also wanted to use gravel. Pretty basic, but I wanted visual focus to be on my container garden and outdoor furniture. Gravel and bricks may not be in keeping with your house or garden. You may want to use landscaping edging or stone... or a flower or herb border. And for your base, you don't have to use gravel. There are so many cool options out there. You can use tumbled sea shells. You can use flattened-looking marbles from Mega Glass. You could even use landscaping glass. American Specialty Glass sells it in all colors. No matter what you decide to use, ask around. I went to my local hardware store and asked for leftover and broken bags of pea gravel. I got 800 pounds of it for $16.99.
Secondly, round up all your family's, neighbors', and friends' discarded newspapers. Depending on the size of your project, you may need quite a few.
STEP FOUR: EDGE AND PAPER IT. If you're adding an edging to your space, install it here. Place your stones, dig in your edging, plant your border plants. Once you have your outer perimeter defined, unfold your newspaper. Using stacks of approximately 8-10 black newsprint sheets (no color ads or glossy American Profiles, please), lay it out over your space. Watch for any rocks or sticks that could perforate the paper; you don't want that. The newspaper acts as an organic and inexpensive weed smother/barrier under your gravel. Sure, you could buy the black landscaping cloth, but quite frankly, why would you want to spend money on the stuff when you can reuse something everyone throws out anyway? It's the week of Earth Day, people. (Plus, it works. My mother uses this method in her garden and layers several inches of mulch over the paper. She calls it "lasagna gardening". No weeds. Little money.)
STEP FIVE: GRAVEL TIME. Instead of the "bend and snap" (remember Legally Blonde?), we'll call this the "dump and spread". Now's the time to lay your gravel, taking care that you spread it liberally enough to cover the area. As you rake, check for any holes or large rips in your newspaper and fix it before adding gravel. When you're finished spreading the gravel you may want to lightly water to help it all settle.
STEP SIX: PATIO PARTY. You've done it! You've created an inexpensive place for you and yours to relax. Go ahead and add your plants, your table, your bench, your hammock, your kiddie pool, your fire pit... whatever... and enjoy your new space!
By the way, if you're looking for a little inspiration for your patio, there's a great one in May's edition of Cottage Living. And as soon as I get mine finished, I'll proudly display it everyday (for a year, probably).
Happy patio creating! I hope you enjoy your space as much as I'm already loving my (half-finished) one!