OK, so I’m a bit thrifty. I don’t like shelling out hard-won cash on paving slabs, and I’m not keen on the environmental cost of them. So I have evolved a rather unorthodox approach to ‘paths’. Clearly, I do need to be able to access the raised beds. My feet have to go somewhere. So I had to come up with some sort of path covering solution.
There are two permaculture principles that I apply regularly to help me solve problems. The first is ‘the problem is the solution’. The second is to ‘keep everything in the system’. I hate waste. So when we had some trees cut back at the boundary of our property, we asked if we could keep the wood chips – keeping them in the system. The tree surgeons left them in a pile, and we bagged them up and tipped them out onto our ‘path’ area in the back garden. So far, so tidy.
As time went by, of course, we found ourselves wading through our ‘paths’ in wellies in the wet winters. The wood chips had turned into a beautiful growing medium. And underneath the surface was a wonderful woody mulch which we can excavate and use on borders. In the summer months when we need to access the beds, this mulch dries out and becomes perfectly useable as a path. It also grows a few edible greens on the side.
I maintain the path by throwing down any of our woody cuttings – bits of trees, shrubs, and even woody cabbage stalks. These are things that don’t compost easily, but they do eventually break down on the path, after doing their job as a walking surface. The problem – hard-to-compost ‘waste’ – becomes the solution.
The front path alongside the boundary hedge is something else again. We started by putting down some leylandii trimmings from our friendly tree surgeon. These came from a neighbour’s property, and the tree surgeons wheeled them to our property in our wheelie bin. It is not a good idea to leave them in the bin too long, as they actually start to steam as they heat up. We hurriedly laid the ‘path’. This did its job as a path for a while. After a surprisingly short space of time, things changed. In the bed beside this path I had lambs lettuce. This self-seeded prolifically into the leylandii trimmings, and seemed to rather like it there. Before long, we had a bed of winter salad. And in winter, of course, we don’t really need to use the path for access.
By spring and early summer, the lambs lettuce flowered, and we had a beautiful wildlife space …
then it set seed …
Lambs lettuce seeding on front path
Soon it had dried to a nice, walkable mulch. All summer I had access down the side of the garden.
Lambs lettuce dried mulch
When the rains came again in early Autumn, the winter salads started to reappear, ready-mulched by last year’s growth.
Lambs lettuce seedlings
A third permaculture principle is to ‘obtain a yield’. These two path systems yield:
- a walking surface for the time of the year when I need one;
- a long-term compost system for woody, hard-to-compost trimmings;
- a mulch that can be excavated when required, simply by removing the top layer;
- a growing medium for additional edible greens, which can be weeded and eaten to reclaim the path.
Magic. Just magic.