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My house has an old pebble path that runs around about half of it. I am looking for the best way to extend the path in the same style.

The existing pebble path is made from packed dirt (which has a lot of clay where I live), that slopes gently away from the house. This seems to be effective for carrying heavy rain from around the house without ever becoming muddy/waterlogged, even after a week of rain. Weeds occasionally grow through, but are easily dealt with using glyphosate. The path is edged with bricks. The house is in a temperate climate (Sydney, so no freezing) and dates from about 1890. The house exhibits a lot of cracking due to movement in the clay soil so I want to ensure the path drains quickly.

Some of the less public areas used to have an asphalt covering, but most of this was recently destroyed when I had some sewer pipes replaced. The asphalt is not attractive and so I want to extend the pebble path to match.

I have had a look on the interweb for suggestions, but none suggest packed dirt as a base. Some suggest coarse aggregate (blue metal) as a base, but I think this will just hold water that runs off the house and is trapped behind the edge of the adjoining lawn. I also like that when pebbles are pushed away from the existing path that the dirt underneath is neither uncomfortable, no looks like a building site.

So I am planning to lay the path like this:

  • Break up the exiting lumpy surface. (Rotary hoe looks a bit too big for this, any other suggestions?)
  • Lay string to ensure the new path will fall away from the house and be flat.
  • Flatten and compact the dirt using a motorised compactor.
  • Install bricks as edging.
  • Lay pebbles about 10mm thick.

Will it work? Why? Why not?

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It will work as well as the previous path has. Building the slope into the path means you don't have to worry so much about the base - one of the main reasons for a good crushed rock base is to aid in draining. Also, this is not a large slab area - it's just a narrow path, so going with a packed dirt/clay base is fine.

In the worst case, you'll shovel it back into a mesh to separate the pebbles from the dirt, and re-lay it out later, but I expect if you follow the design of the existing path you'll be just fine. It'll match better as well.

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Seems to be working OK so far. I laid pebbles on top yesterday. Here is what I did: Laid string to set heights, with roughly 1/4" per foot drop. - Used a spade to cut overheight areas. - Brought in excess dirt to fill up to height. - Hired a soil compactor and found that the soil needs to be a bit damp for it to work. Too dump and it goes to mud. The best soil would probably be stuff recently dug out of the garden, because it would be malleable without being Adding a layer of dry soil on top helps avoid it sticking to compactor. –  Oliver Bock Jan 17 '11 at 22:24
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Path is still going fine. –  Oliver Bock Feb 28 '12 at 22:34
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