Paths are an essential part to any garden. They help improve access to plants, invite visitors to enter and provide an aesthetic improvement as well. Brick paths can be an elegant addition to any garden, but starting from scratch with new brick can be cost-prohibitive. If you want the elegance of brick without the sticker shock, look into salvaged bricks. They bring both elegance and an historic element to your garden.
In my own garden, I decided I wanted a series of elegant brick walks to divide my front lawn and echo the charming brick columns on the front porch. During my research I feasted my eyes on photos of brick walks with subtle geometric designs. Then I began to look at the price tag for pallets of fresh, identical red brick, and I decided to change direction slightly.
My eyes turned to the bricks I’d gathered from my property and the neighbors’. My new plan became creating a brick-lined, gravel path that connects the driveway to the front walk in a manner perfectly in tune with my historic neighborhood. The final result was a unique and more satisfying walkway than any new materials could have created. And the price tag was perfect: less than $100 in rock and landscape fabric.
Garden designer Frank Hyman has used salvaged brick to create dry-stack walls on his own property as well as to install a Charleston-type garden pathway for a client. For the pathway he used leftover brick from a dismantled chimney at his client’s historic home. One reason he chose salvaged brick was for the patina of age that comes with the older materials. “I just love the color, you can’t beat it,” Hyman said.
With new brick, one can wait years for interesting textures to develop. Salvaged bricks add immediate interest through their rich colors, worn and moss-covered surfaces and unusual stamps. The size, texture, and color of each brick is customary to the manufacturer and the time period in which it was formed and baked. One brick in my walkway is stamped by “Borden Brick & Tile Co.,” a brick manufacturer from the early 20th century. So now what would have been an ordinary brick path is a conversation piece.
Recycling those bricks also saved a trip to the dump and kept them out of the landfill. The EPA estimates there are 1,900 landfills in this country used for construction and demolition materials. I used excess bricks to create a border for the garden beds, unifying the entire landscape. And installation is just as simple with recycled materials.
Collecting the Brick
If you’re looking to collect bricks for a path or a wall, first you need to know the amount of brick you’ll need for your project. Design your path and with stakes or a garden hose mark off the area you want to pave. To create a brick-lined path, measure the length of the path to estimate how much material you will need – a standard brick is 8 inches long, so calculate the length of your path, multiply by 2, and divide by 2/3 for the total number of bricks needed. For a full brick path, you can calculate square footage and use a materials calculator online.
Second, start a treasure hunt. Hunting for the right bricks for your project can require patience. I spent several months collecting bricks, but it was worth it for the price tag. Start with your backyard; what could be more authentic than bricks from your own homestead? Then ask your neighbors for permission to hunt around their yard. Older properties can hide a treasure trove of bricks that served as a foundation, a walkway or a chimney in a former life.
You can also try commercial listings like Craigslist, local businesses under renovation or used building supply companies. These bricks aren’t free, but they’re a better price than new and sometimes it’s the best way to get what you need.
If you collect from multiple sources, you’re bound to end up with bricks of different sizes and shapes. That can make the project tricky, but it also adds variation for those who appreciate an eclectic look.
Building Your Path
Once you have enough brick, gather the necessary materials: rock screenings, gravel and landscape fabric. To determine how much screenings and gravel you will need, multiply the width and length of your project for square footage. You will need about a 2-inch depth of screenings and 2 to 3 inches of gravel. The easiest way to determine how much you need to buy in yards is to use a materials calculator easily found online.
Use a spade to dig out the path to a depth of at least 4 inches, cutting the sides as vertically as possible. Cover the base of trench with landscape fabric. Fill the trench halfway with screenings or coarse sand and rake it even. Tamp the screenings down if the underlying soil is soft.
Lay out bricks along each side of the path. This will require extra care if they are different shapes and sizes. Line up the outer edges of the bricks, rather than the inner edges, for a neater appearance. Any eroded or broken sides should face inward to be filled in with gravel.
If you have bricks of different sizes, use extra screenings where needed to bring thinner bricks up to height. A mallet or board can be used to gently tap out-of-line bricks into place. Be careful, because bricks can be rather brittle and break easily. Finally, fill in the path with gravel and rake.
The extra work of finding salvaged brick is all worth it for the lived-in charm. Through investing a bit of time and patience, you’ve created a beautiful brick path that complements any garden.
With reclaimed brick, you don’t have to wait for weather and nature to produce interesting textures. Salvaged bricks add immediate interest with their rich colors, worn and moss-covered surfaces, and unusual stamps.
A brick-lined path complements the front-porch columns of this historic home. Salvaged brick can also add immediate “lived-in” charm for newer homes.
Reclaimed brick also works well for garden borders. This project made good use of hollow brick deemed unusable for a pathway. Each brick was installed on its side to hide the holes.
Look for interesting stamps and textures for your salvaged brick projects. This stamp from Borden Brick & Tile Co. accents an eclectic collection of bricks of many sizes and colors.
Even busted and broken bricks serve a purpose, adding a whimsical touch to the herb garden.
This gardener collected brick from torn-down buildings and chimneys to construct a series of paths and dry stack walls around her home.
She also incorporated salvaged brick in the steps leading up to her home. The mixture of stone and brick give the garden an eclectic and one-of-a-kind feel.