Paths

There is one kind of plant that really doesn’t belong in a forest garden, and that is grass. When I got my allotment, it had the traditional layout of bare soil beds with raised grass paths between them. The old boys actually seem to enjoy maintaining these structures, mowing the tops to perfection and deploying a range of implements that a hairdresser would be proud of to keep the sides in trim. If this is neglected for even a short while, the grass flops over the sides, first making a perfect habitat for slugs then starting to grow into the beds.

I decided that no matter how much work it took to replace the paths with something more sensible, it couldn’t be more work than keeping the things. The turves were dug up and piled, upside-down, to compost. I now have three main walking surfaces in the garden. The short stretch that bears the most traffic is slabbed. The other main paths are all woodchip and across some of the beds I have walking boards.

Woodchip is a great path material for several reasons. It is particularly high in carbon which makes it a very infertile medium. Woodchip should never be dug into the soil or, in my opinion, used as a mulch on top of beds, since the soil bacteria pull nitrogen out of the soil to help them break down the carbon, robbing your plants of essential fertiliser. Using it on paths turns its downside into a virtue. If plants do seed into a bed of woodchip, its soft, granular nature means that it is very easy to hoe them off. If you have ever tried to hoe gravel you will understand what a benefit this is. Finally, it is usually a cheap, easily available material. We just get the City Council, who produce mounds of the stuff and are delighted to get rid of it, to drop us off a heap every year. This year’s load turned up last week.

woodchip pile

To make the woodchip paths, I dug out about a foot of soil and used it to build up the beds. I lined the bottom of the trenches with any cardboard and bits of old board that I could scavenge, but didn’t worry about this where nothing came to hand. Then I simply filled them with as much woodchip as I could lay my hands on. They have to be hoed in the spring and topped up about once a year, but neither job is urgent and they can be done whenever there is time.

As well as being much less work, woodchip paths are far more robust than grass ones, something I’m appreciating in the current wet weather as the grass paths are trampled to mud while the woodchip ones show no ill effects at all.

Walking boards are even simpler. I only really use them in the annual parts of the garden as there is no problem in stepping on the soil in the perennial parts. They are simply boards laid down on top of the soil to make a path. They serve two main purposes: stopping soil compaction and acting as slug traps. If you turn over any piece of wood lying on the ground you’ll see what I mean: the slugs retire there during the day and can be collected easily. The boards also provide habitat for beetles and centipedes which eat slugs and their eggs, so the slimy molluscs get a double whammy.

DSCF0531

Here’s the end result. The forest garden has been thoroughly put to bed for the winter, with a mulch of leaves on the growing areas and a new layer of woodchip on the paths.

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4 thoughts on “Paths

  1. fabulous!!
    my mission over the next year or two (lifetime actually) is to get rid of the grass and replace with forest garden, more veg and fruit, useful plants (just bought 20 willow)
    who do I go to in the council for the woodchip..?
    Bryan

  2. We asked the tree care people as they do lots of chipping. It helps that we are a Council allotment site, I don’t know whether they would have been so helpful to an individual. It is also worth phoning round local tree surgeons, particularly if you can give them a spot where they can dump it without you having to be around. Good luck with the mission.

  3. Hi Alan

    Can’t find a working e-mail for you, so I hope you’ll accept my best wishes for any Midwinter Festival you are celebrating at the moment. Hope 2013 turns out lucky for you too. We’d love to see you if you are passing (still do open house for all-comers, no matter how hungry).

    Tracey (and co)

  4. Thanks. Best wishes for 2013 to all of you too. I’ve sent you an email, so hopefully you’ll get my address from that (still the same one it’s been for years).

    All the best

    Alan

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