Why Pea Gravel Won in Our Trial of 7 Garden Pathways
Spoiler alert: after exploring seven ideas, and implementing three (yes, three!) comparative trials, we went with pea gravel. Choosing the right material for our garden pathways was like choosing a tattoo. It felt so permanent because the cost can be exorbitant and the permanence overwhelming. It was a journey, to say the least, but here are the details of it for you so that you can choose wisely. I wish I had read an article like this!
How To Choose A Garden Pathway
When considering garden pathways, there is a lot to think about. Here is what I find helpful to consider:
- The feeling under your feet (if you’re barefoot, this is crucial)
- The amount of potential mess that can be drug inside or about your yard
- The cost
- The amount of water needed (if at all)
- The aesthetic compared to your home style
- The overall feeling you’re trying to achieve with the space.
The Path to Pea Gravel Started with DG
After a lot of discussion and deliberation, we actually first chose and fully invested in Decomposed Granite (DG). We had it installed with flagstone stepping stones throughout to create a cute pathway. Immediately we regretted it because we didn’t realize how orange the color would look. We live in a bit of a desert climate and wanted to avoid more of that desolate look. Additionally, it was so so uncomfortable to walk on, which we had never tried out before (note that!).
Some of the photos look great, but it was just not the vibe we wanted after all. We were considering living with it until we had a contractor friend come out and explain how easy it would be to cover with something else.
After months of DG, a new backyard project was underway for us and we had old grass turf laying around. My husband loves the look of grass in a raised bed garden, so we thought we’d give it a try. My gut was a hard “no”, but compromise is in my blood.
We had the turf laid around the garden and it did look great, however, it felt horrible. Part of my resistance was to the microplastics that are sent into the soil with heat exposure and time, so I don’t like that. Also, it felt so much like carpet. That very night after it was laid out I woke up in a bit of an actual panic attack feeling like I couldn’t breathe. Around 3:15 am our backyard camera caught footage of me walking around barefoot on the turf, trying to convince myself that it was no big deal. I didn’t sleep the rest of the night and then explained to my husband (trying to not sound totally unhinged) how it was making me suffocate.
Enter The Pea Gravel
After the panic attack turf episode, I recommended we try pea gravel. It was my original instinct and love, and after pricing it out, realized that it was a $400 fix. We would keep the flagstone, spread that out, and could have some turf accents, especially by our doorway, to keep the mess down and add that green look my husband loves.
I went to a landscape supplier and brought home three bags of pea gravel – all smooth varieties with mixed tones that would complement some warmth, but not add to the desert vibe we were avoiding. We settled on ‘Yosemite’ 3/4 – 1/2″ stones.
The end result was INCREDIBLE. We literally said, “this is what it should feel like to love the way something looks and feels”. Gah, the process was turbulent, but we got there.
So, let’s dive into the details in case you want more background.
What We Compared
We explored seven pathway options, three of which we actually tried out, and some of which we had experience with. Eventually, and finally, we tried out pea gravel, getting three samples of rock, but the exploration process was what led us there.
Here is what we evaluated:
- Pea Gravel
- Turf/ Grass
I’ll break down each of these in detail, and then we can have a big symphony of excitement around why the pea gravel is so great!
- Mulch was the material pre-existing in the garden and though it can look tidy and be great for soil, it was messy and constantly drug into the house by way of the dog’s fur. We removed that early on in our garden renovation, never to be seen again.
- Moss is what I wanted initially, with flagstone pavers as stepping stones. I was picturing a centuries-old verdant Irish garden. However, we live in Southern California in a drought with zero soil health, so that would require a ton of irrigation, and we also have wooden raised beds, so that much water on the beds will rapidly increase rot.
- Decomposed granite (DG) is what I was most familiar with seeing and seemed the lowest maintenance. The only con relevant at the time seemed to be the mess when it rains, but it rarely rains here. Eventually, I realized the color was a no for us as well (you can see it pictured here looking less orange than it was in person. Another con that we realized was how dusty it was all the time, with little tiny rocks that stuck in your feet and scratched the floor when drug inside. It was more of a muddy mess whenever wet, and then turns into a sort of gluey orange headache. I have toddlers, so they explored the extent of muddy DG thrown onto walls – that was fun.
- Pea gravel is what I pinned the most on Pinterest (as cringe as that sounds) because it most resembles a french potager. However, we were worried (and ill-advised) that it would move a lot. We also had a hard time picturing the coloring working with the warm tones of our brick home. We also were worried about the barefoot effect, and then found that we can get different textures. Some pea gravel is smooth (which we chose).
- Grass was a big yes from my husband. He wanted Bermuda grass (like a gold course), but we realized quickly with research that that was too high maintenance and not water-wise at all. Again, the excessive watering around the raised beds was an issue too.
- Stone was a fun idea, as we have brick on the front of the house. But, that felt too hard-scape to me and it’s quite costly. Plus, that is really really permanent and takes away some of the life of the garden to me. We did add some flagstone pavers throughout, which we loved from the get-go.
- Turf was the last option, an alternative to grass, but still giving that green effect. It was much too stifling to me, unsustainable, and felt so so wrong beneath my feet in a space that is about life and nature.
Overall, as you read, pea gravel is what we chose. We love the look of it (there are dozens of options), the feel of the more polished stone (again, there are options on texture), and the look of something natural, yet still tidy. The rocks are not sliding, not being brought into the house (there is a buffer area by the door of turf and flagstone that keeps it at bay for us), and really look a good mixture of traditional, yet fresh.
I hope this breakdown is helpful, as we really went all-in on exploring this one with some failed attempts and wasted money. Good luck on your garden pathway adventure!