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  • Neyir Urminsky

The path to the perfect Patio, a story in which I am accidentally environmental

Updated: Oct 18, 2022

The ORC is a wonderful event that anyone can participate in, the challenge lies in completing a space within 8 weeks. Please be sure to check out the other guest participants. See my earlier posts on our DIY patio week 1, week 2, and my other previous projects here; A boys room for 3, Family friendly beautiful vestibule.

So where were we? Right, we are creating a patio, but what kind of patio?

Where we live interlocking bricks, or pave uni as it is know here, is the most common material. Locally it is often the material of choice for front walkways, entry stairs, driveways, back patios and used to dress the front of retaining walls beside driveways.

I get it, I live in Montreal, Canada, it is cold here, the ground freezes and thaws and then freezes again and again!!! That frost/thaw cycle reeks havoc on pavement & poured concrete leading to cracks and fissures. Frankly in most parts of Canada, driving in the late Winter/early Spring is a game of dodge the pothole and drive around the buckled roadway! At a young age my Father, an engineer, asked me if I knew why sidewalks were poured in rectangles instead of long paths like roads. I didn’t. He explained that any trapped water below freezes and expands, the designed breaks between the pads of concrete minimizes the cracking and shifting of sidewalks. Which is the beauty of the many designed breaks in interlocking bricks of course!

But interlocking bricks were not our solution, any kind of brick, paver, or inset stone was out as a surface, too difficult to move dining chairs across, not to mention the maintenance! This past year we paid our eldest to engage in the local spring ritual of weeding, power washing and replacing the polymeric sand, besides we already have a LOT of pave uni in the front of our house.

The front of our house

In creating our patio our overarching purpose was to create a space we could all easily be in together, all 7 of us. A space that felt good, was easy to maintain, and easy to use. Space to lounge, space to dine, space to allow the kids to play. We wanted something for our family and for others as well. What material? No interlocking bricks, concrete was out for the above mentioned cracking issues so where did this leave u?

You know where this is all going to end, don’t you.

Pea Gravel

It seemed like the obvious solution. It was relatively easy to install, not expensive and gave a softer feel both visually and underfoot than bricks, pavers and concrete. But I didn’t love the idea of our dining table and chairs sinking into the pea gravel.

But then a beautiful thing happened! I had been following along a backyard reno of the unparalleled Daniel Kanter. I have watched Daniel transform many homes both for himself and for his community is an amazing local restoration initiative he is a part of and this is a guy who knows how to build and knows about materials! Daniel mentioned that for the pea gravel in his backyard he was going to put down decomposed granite/fines/stone dust and top it with pea gravel, all the info is saved in his IG stories FYI. This was a great solution and I was super psyched about it. We would have the look of pea gravel, some top layer movement, which I didn't love with all the kids, but much, much less because of the solid granite/fines base.

So then I was off looking for a local source of decomposed granite. Late one night as I researched I came upon this thread. It discussed the materials used for the pathways in Versailles, the Tuileries and, I realised, most of France’s Chateaux. And I was hooked! Immediately I was transported to memories of cafes and outdoor terrace, walks around French gardens. It may have been nostalgia for a younger and more bohemian me but I was convinced that this was it, the solution had been found! I knew exactly the type of material that was being referred to and it was exactly what I didn’t know I wanted. The original source talked about a mixture of pea gravel, whitewash and sand created by the famous landscape architect André Le Nôtre who designed the gardens of Versailles, Tuileries and many, many more. I started googling all the things, I was reading info in French and English but I just couldn’t find what I was looking for, not even in France but I knew that this material was currently in use. I follow the gorgeous French farmhouse Provence Poiriers on IG which had recently been renovated and from the photos the material used there was exactly what I needed.

Provence Poiriers, photo by Jaimie Beck

Eventually I tried a different tactic which was going back to the idea of decomposed granite, was researching this the key?? Yes! In fact there was a product already in existence in the UK called self binding gravel and surprise it was used for many of the pathways of historic homes and castles in the UK. Again a moment of recognition, memories came flooding back of pushing strollers across these paths in Scotland. But I found nothing in Canada, the US had a product which sounded right, crush & run, but the colour was wrong.

As I searched for a variety of decomposed granite locally using every name I could think of I came upon one company, about 40 mins outside of Montreal, they had a couple of different types of ‘screening’ (criblure) and I was super excited to see that they had a variety of colours. And then it was like the skies opened and the sun shone - there was a limestone screening. And suddenly I realised that that was what I was looking for - limestone!! All those french chateaux, many of them are made out of limestone. And I could imagine that in the quarries of France as they extracted the rock that leftover limestone dust would settle on the ground and be repeatedly walked on and driven over by carts and the hard surface was naturally created. Likely Le Notre took this and added other materials to make his stabalise. The product I sourced locally from Agrebec also had a natural binder added for long term stability.

I cannot tell you what an amazing product this is and how forgiving it is to install. I am going to post the full tutorial next week but here’s the best part in my mind. You don’t have to level any of the surfaces below the limestone. Once installed it is pretty hard with very minimal movement on the top but is still porous allowing water to drain. You don’t need to put down any landscaping fabric or cardboard, due to the alkalinity of the material weeds cannot grow. I am confident that you have walked on this type of surface, it is the same type of material used by municipalities for paths in parks and sports fields but usually in the less expensive grey gravel. The sky is the limit in terms of shape as you can see from this photo of the Jardins de Versailles.

Then after our decision was made and the product ordered I discovered another amazing property of the crushed limestone, it has an SRI of 50 as defined by the ASTM E 1980. Cool! No idea what that means!!! There is a LOT of info out there on this topic but here is a basic explanation as I understand it. Cities are hot, not least of all because the built environment creates heat islands. Most of the materials that we use on flat & sloped surfaces; roads, roofs, sidewalks, paths etc absorb rather than reflect heat. SRI is calculated using a materials’ solar reflectance and thermal emittance. The higher the SRI the more light that is reflected which decreases the heat island effect present in built environments, an SRI of 50 is great! It gets tricky trying to find a ton of info that allows for a comparison between the crushed limestone and other materials but from what I saw interlocking bricks have the potential of coming closest to the limestone depending on the paver colours chosen. All of which means that in addition to all the other properties that I love about this material it is also one of the most beneficial I could have chosen environmentally!

Still to do;

Install limestone

Restructure deck

Build deck stairs

Stain deck

Stain concrete retaining walls

Paint dining table & chairs

Clean up raised planters

Finish plantings

Style & photograph

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