How to build a Magical Path
For starters let me emphasise that I am an artist not a paving expert or concrete trades-person! This could very well be a blog on what not to do… if I was to tackle this project again I would do a few things differently… and I certainly underestimated how long it would take! However, I am happy with the result and love the thought of inspiring others to embark on their own creations.
There were several difficulties with this project. For starters the path goes up a hill and has curves, but the harder part was that all the components are of different sizes and depths having been salvaged from peoples verges or the Balcatta Recycling Centre. This meant I could not simply compact a bed of yellow sand and lay pavers. Everything had to be done in stages. One paving expert who saw my path photo after it was finished decided it was not real and that the various components had been painted! This was based on the fact that you can’t pave with items of differing depth. I had not been advised that my project was crazy and impossible… and so I went for it thinking it would be a breeze!
I began by painting selected pebbles and the large flagstones. I then painted all the pavers that edge the path. That was not so hard; I scrubbed the pavers clean then laid them all together and painted them on mass with a large brush. I used acrylic paint sample pots and Jo Sonja’s artist’s acrylics. There is also a bit of copper metallic spray paint (Rustoleum brand).
I dug a foundation for the path, (wider than I wanted it) allowing for a yellow sand base. After that I placed the pavers along the edges to make sure I had enough. Because I had 11 flagstones and 12 glass bricks I needed to mark out and measure along the length of the path for placement and did this with gardening stakes.
I dug a shallow trench up the left had side and laid a row of pavers on a bed of mortar keeping them flat from one to the next with a piece of wood and tapping them down with a rubber mallet. I then made an outer edge of mortar sloping away from the pavers to help hold them in place but which would be covered up upon completion. I would have been better to use concrete for this as it is stronger. Concrete is basically the same as mortar but it has an aggregate added in the form of gravel for extra strength.
Now for the glass brick lights. Holes can be drilled in glass bricks using a diamond drill bit and with running water to stop the glass overheating.
Lengths of electrical conduit, long enough to extend past the path foundations and into the garden, were fitted snugly in the holes, then siliconed in place. The open ends of the conduit were taped over to prevent sand getting in as they were laid. I concreted the glass bricks into the pre marked positions up the centre line, using a spirit level across from the pavers I had already laid. After they were set I laid the pavers up right hand side in the same way as the left, measuring the distance across the width of the path and likewise using the spirit level to keep it all flat. The right hand pavers run over the electrical conduit for which I had to dig trenches. Glass bricks are deeper than pavers so this was not a problem.
Now for the centre. It really depends what you plan to use and if there is a repeated pattern or not. I laid yellow sand and compressed it as best I could, but with items of varying depth, some things had to be dug in whilst others were going to sit higher and so the sand had to be built up. I laid the giant flagstones first and then filled in the sections around them bit by bit, setting everything in mortar as I went. This was an undeniably awkward and difficult task. For the most part I had to spread and push mortar between things with an old kitchen knife.
Tips for using mortar (or concrete). It’s nasty stuff and the cement will burn your fingers if you don’t wear proper protective gloves. I wore thick gardening gloves. It burned through them and my fingertips were sore and numb for a week. Chemical resistant gloves are cumbersome but cheap.
If you want colourant for your mortar your options are limited from Bunnings but the powders they have do work well and give good mileage. I used the brick red colour in varying strengths from dark red to light pink. One pack did the whole path. I really wanted blue colourant but couldn’t find it in this country. If I’d have thought it through earlier I could have pre-ordered from the UK. Anyway, it’s worth researching that one. Food colour does not work – it fades out. Clothes dye powder (without salt) apparently does work but it’s expensive and unsuitable for big jobs.
Another thing I learned the hard way… don’t mix the sand and cement if you’re not going to use it straight away. It doesn’t keep and will not set properly even if you haven’t added water. I think it’s because of the moisture already in the sand. Use a kitchen or bathroom scales to measure out the proportions of sand and cement that you need, small amounts at a time. It’s time consuming but better than chipping out crumbly mortar that didn’t set!
Also, don’t mix the mortar too sloppy. It’s not as strong and slumps more as it is setting. Use the mortar quickly and put in any decorative pebbles etc as you go.
Once everything is laid you can go for it with paint. Spray paints will certainly work as do acrylics. The reason I use Jo Sonja’s brand is that they are a great consistency and very opaque. Some other brands are very thin or transparent. All my outdoor paintings and pebbles are sprayed with an acrylic sealant.
Want some sparkle? Paint your rocks with gloss outdoor varnish, sprinkle with glitter then varnish with a couple more coats after it’s dry.
After you have finished, if you have any cracks or slumped bits or holes, use grout as a filler. Don’t try to use mortar as it doesn’t stick and ends up cracking off. If any pebbles or stones come loose thay can be stuck down with liquid nails or Araldite for smaller decorations.
Once your path is laid you can finish the lights. Dig a trench up the side so that all your electrical conduit ends line up. We have a junction box at each join so that the led lights and wiring can be accessed. We found that it looked better with the globes positioned inside the conduit where the conduit meets the brick rather than in the centre of the brick. If you can see the LED lights directly through the brick, the light is too uneven and a bit harsh. Indirect light gives a much nicer glow. We also used warm (2700K) rather than cool coloured lights. All the lights are 12V and wired in parallel, with a join in each junction box, so if one ever needs replacing, it will just be a case of unearthing the junction box and puling the cable back through the conduit into the junction box. The first junction box has a conduit underground going across to an unobtrusive riser for the main power input. The transformer is under cover near the house about 20m away.
I hope this helps. Just make sure you allow plenty of time. My path is 12m long and took me about 2 months to complete. If you want to know how well it lasts before it needs touching up… ask me next year! Good luck!