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Flagstone Paths and Patios

When creating an outdoor recreation or relaxation area, start from the ground up. Flagstones are natural alternatives to hard surfaces like exposed aggregate and add color and texture to your home's surroundings. Mingled with herbs, mosses and ground covers, flagstones add a touch of understated elegance.

Mined throughout the world, flagstones are "flat, walk able stones, split at the quarry and cut into shapes. With their smooth surface, they've got wide applications for home landscaping," says Medford landscape architect Bonnie Bayard. Leading the eye across the garden, lining sides and surroundings of water features, their muted hues are easy to add to existing landscaping.

Randy McIntosh, salesman at Cascade Block in Grants Pass says, "People love the color and the look of flagstone. It's dazzling to the eye." The purple-hued stone from Idaho has tiny fossils in it. Arizona produces pink, buckskin and tan tones while Pennsylvania quarries have greenish-blue stone. Bulk-mined quartzite is less expensive, glistens with gold and silver mica and is brilliant without sealer. "It's great for front steps, and areas you want to look bright and shiny," says McIntosh.

Typically set in sand with gravel or decomposed granite between them, they have up to two-inch joint lines. Use this feature to your advantage by planting low-growing plants in the spaces between them. Ground covers give beauty, unity, and soften visual features, but need appropriate soil to perform well. With the flags set in sand, the plants have good drainage. Add soil rich in organic matter to hold moisture and prevent the roots from overheating during our hot summer days.

With a weekly spray from the hose, low-growing, drought-tolerant plants will soon spread between the stones. For plants requiring more water, consider running "a drip system with a little sprayer or a drip hose through the project. Cover it with pea gravel, soil, or moss," says McIntosh. Marginal areas, like shady spots with acidic, compact soil, are great for mosses that take their nutrients and water directly from the air. Jennifer Loizeaux, assistant grower at Ashland Greenhouses, says they'll be stocking Irish and Scotch moss for the upcoming season.

Consider thyme for sunnier spots. "There are many different low-growing thymes. I like woolly thyme, Thymus pseudolanuginosus," says Bayard. Although this thyme isn't fragrant, it's soft, furry leaves contrast with deep-hued flagstones. Like all thymes, it's attractive to butterflies and bees. "Thymus minus is the lowest, flattest of the thymes," says Loizeaux. If you're looking to add a little color Thymus serpyllum coccineus 'Pink Chintz' gives months of deep pink flowers.

In full sun, Bayard suggests planting blue star creeper and low-growing sedums. Sedums are drought-tolerant succulents with attractive flowers and full, green leaves. Popular between stepping stones, Sedum spurium 'Dragon's Blood' forms a mat with red flower spikes during the summer. Blue star creeper, Laurentia fulviatilis, 'Blue' is dotted with small sky blue, star-shaped blooms from late spring to early fall. Growing a few inches tall, it tolerates light foot traffic. For fragrance, Bayard likes Corsican mint Mentha requienii. Used to flavor crème de menthe liqueur, its cool, refreshing fragrance is released by walking across its leaves. It's easy to care for, growing to one-inch with bright green leaves and tiny pale purple summer blooms.

Creating an oasis with colorful flagstone and ground covers adds beauty and permanence to your yard. "It's something that people have a lot of fun with," McIntosh says. "It's a little project that's good for your soul, your artistic expression and to flex your muscles. When you look at your project, you can always say, 'I did that.'"

Flagstone Paths and Patios