By Jim Bishop, for Let's Talk Plants! March 2022.
Back in February 2018 and April 2018 I wrote two articles for the newsletter about making mosaic pavements and walkways in our garden. Since then I've continued making more mosaics and here's an update.
We enjoyed hosting the 86 members of the San Diego Horticultural Society in our garden on January 2. After so many months, it was great to see gardening friends in person. And equally exciting to show them all the projects I worked on during the shutdown.
I spent time last fall repairing and working on the many steps and mosaics in the garden which require periodic maintenance. Then, after the garden tour, I started working on adding mosaics to the remaining dirt paths at the bottom of the garden.
Here's what the large Mosaic at the bottom of the garden looked like in January. It's pretty much unchanged since we finished it several years ago. However, an Aloe 'Hercules' was added to the center 2 years ago and is slowly getting larger. Someday it should be a 30 foot tall focal point.
During the shutdown last year, I had the remaining Eucalyptus trees removed from the bottom of the garden which created a new area to plant and then I added some new mosaic pathways. A large part of the earlier mosaics where made from rocks on our property, but I was running out of rocks. We found a large pile of grey rocks that had been dumped below a storage unit at the hotel behind our house and collected and used many of those. We also started buying additional rocks at Southwestern Boulder. Luckily SWB gives a nice discount to San Diego Horticultural Society members. Also as done elsewhere in the garden, I used recycled bottles and red rooftile cut into strips.
I added a compass medallion where three paths meet. I wouldn't get back to making the path on the left in the photo below until a year later.
I'd long imagined adding a lizard mosaic below the cactus garden. It turned out to be the most challenging mosaic I've ever done. The idea seems so simple, but the execution turned out to be very complex. I laid the design out many times tweaking and changing things and even let it sit for a few months while thinking about it. Slowly it came together.
A year later though, I still was not completely satisfied and did some additional tweaking this year to better define the outline, eyes, tongue, and white stripes running down the length of the lizard.
The nice thing about laying rock into decomposed granite is that it can always be changed and edited later.
It turns out this is the warmest spot in the garden and gets very hot on sunny days even during the winter. So once the really warm weather hit last spring, I stopped working on the pathways until this January.
I also buy the decomposed granite that I use for pathways at Southwestern Boulder. We use a gate between our property and the hotel behind our house to unload the materials into the lower garden. The hotel parking lot behind our house has been almost completely empty for the last 2 years.
I layout designs in the decomposed granite to see if they will work. Sometimes I take photos of the designs and look at them later. This somehow gives me a better idea of changes that need to be made.
The design below didn't look right and wasn't used. The photos look neater than the actual process. There are bags of DG and rocks, plus buckets and cans full of rocks collected on the property. They still need lots of sorting by size and color before being set into decomposed granite.
Due to gophers, all of the paths are lined with plastic coated chicken wire. On top of that I place landscape fabric to keep the DG separated from the dirt below. This also mostly prevents the bulbous oxalis that is everywhere on our property from coming up through the finished path. And it helps a bit with the ancient seedbed in the ungraded dirt on property. Should I need to move or a redo a path, it makes it easier to reuse the materials. Some claim that the landscape fabric kills the soil below it, but I haven't found that to be the case. Roots will quickly colonize the area below the path which rain and irrigation water easily runs through.
After the pathway above, I wanted to put in a pathway that I call the Celestial Way. As usual, I just make it up as I am working, but envisioned a setting sun, some clouds, a dark night sky and full moon. I was trying to get it bit of Van Gogh feel.
Since the Celestial way path runs through an area of the garden with Australian plants, one of the stars was modified to look like the Southern Cross. With some imagination - you might be able to make it out.
And finally, the last pathway to be completed. If this one has a theme, it could best be described as "use up the materials that are left". It is a bit narrower and steeper than I like, many of the planting were already mature in this area. I had intended to put in some small steps, but I found roots of the nearby plants just below the surface and didn't want to disturb them for fear of harming the plants.
The final step was spray on DG stabilizer using a pump sprayer. I use a second pump sprayer filled with water to wash the stabilizer off the rocks.
Join me for a stroll along the new pathways:
So most of the major pathways in the garden except one are now complete. However, there is one 100 foot long one that cuts across the native plant area in the mid-garden. It's a long way to carry materials, either up or down, but luckily, mostly in the shade and gets a nice sea breeze, so there is no rush to complete it before summer.