Hardscaping: Thoughts on Interlock
When hardscaping your property it is important to know what you can expect from the different materials available. We are gardeners and view the world of your yard through a lens that judges the maintenance requirements and how the materials work to help create the effect you want from your property. We know that in the end it is in the plant choices, the garden design and the the location and size of the hardscape that effect the atmosphere of your yard the most; not the material choice. This post deals with the maintenance expectations of the interlock only.
Let me give you an example. The quaintness of interlock, that feel of being more natural, is lost if there is no garden to help with the effect. Inversely a concrete walk can easily be softened and made to belong by good garden design. It is the garden design that makes the difference every time. Some more examples? The biggest mistake in walkway designs is making the shrub bed it borders too small. It looks right when initially installed but it does not take into account the growth of the shrubs. The walk becomes crowded and obscured, uncomfortable to walk on. To compensate the shrubs are pruned too close. They loose their natural softness and begin to brown. The perennials encroach. Had this walk had been properly placed there would have been a temporary loss of proportions but in time it would naturally fit; saving you time and money. Placement is more important that material.
Yes the point is to plan the garden first and to consult with experts. Yes we are expert. In fact we mostly use other companies to do the hardscape work for us as our capacity is limited. They are good. We may install a walk in the back yard, edge a garden with concrete or make repairs to hardscapes but we do not install a large project like drive or entrance way. We will get quotes, schedule work and over see the job.
In heavily trafficked areas we would shy away from interlock. The reason for this is simply that it is the hardest to maintain. It is in severe weather conditions that this becomes most evident. Interlock freezes first every time and the very nature of it makes it the most difficult to clear. The applied salt, when used, does not sit on the surface as well and as it dissolves and does its job it will sit in all those little cracks. Interlock is the hardest to shovel, at least when the weather is severe. The choice of equipment used is limited if one does not want it chipped or flawed in anyway. During the last freezing rain event we had to do the interlock areas first and, on several properties where all else was clear, there was still a need to schedule return visits. The thing about interlock, because of its density, is that it does not transmit heat from the sun well and it does not retain heat well. This includes transmitting the warmer ground temperature in the early winter, meaning snow accumulates on it first. The one joy of interlock for maintenance is the sound the shovel makes as it clears a light snow, the soft little percussions at each joint that, cobbled together, have a very unique effect on serenity.
Interlock is not a BAD choice despite all that. It does mean that of all drive materials it would be a good idea to have sand on hand to deal with ice. I was considering interlock in fact for our drive despite all these “fails” and the reason in the end I eliminated it as an option was not to do with winter maintenance. Interlock was not chosen because it is nearly impossible to make it safe with people with handicaps. It would work well in the drive or on a straight run of walk but at all the transitions in grade it is extremely difficult to eliminate trip hazards. I have yet to see a raised interlock/ retaining wall front stoop that does not have areas that sink and create little trip hazards over time. These occur at the edges where the joint between the retaining blocks and filler bricks meet. This happens to be the place where handicapped people rely on a smooth consistent walk, right at the railing.
Interlock is not a bad choice despite all that. Interlock can still work and I know companies that could do it right, even in my drive. The worst thing about interlock is not the fault of the material but the conceptions we have of it. The first one I will deal with is the connotation of easier. It is not easier to install…properly. Like with all hardscapes it is in the end the base material and the site preparation that matter more than what goes on top. Proper preparation is critical and though I am loath to say it, it is even more important with interlock. There is less forgiveness in details with interlock and any mistake matters. To be honest one of the reasons I was considering interlock for our home is that “it was something I could do well” This reasoning is flawed when you consider I would still need a back hoe to properly remove the existing drive and old base materials. It is no small task to bring in the right material either. Proper packing techniques are critical. Yes the actual laying of the bricks and perhaps the cost saving of supplying them would be something I could do but it will still take a different capacity than I offer to properly prepare the area. So, the flaw of interlock? Simply that it seems like a good DIY project but in fact it is not. It should not be seen as cheaper and easier.
The last flaw with interlock? The connotation of quaint. I have attached a link to a post about my aunts house in Holland. I have also included pictures of cobbled streets. North Americans do not get quaint is the end conclusion. It is ironic that a cobbled drive has a million cracks and all of those cracks are a petri dish for something. Moss and weeds. In my aunts house the “weeds” were Columbine growing up, they had a name and they were welcome. Likely she actually sowed them. If one truly understands quaint and unique they would take walks and be on the lookout for different mosses to propagate in the cracks. They would create a mosaic and, by propagating the moss, they would smother out dandelions and their ilk. We have a customer that is doing this. We have made a moss garden. (it is harder than laying the drive…just beware)
Stones and bricks put down as interlock are meant to tell a story. They discolour and weeds grow. If you do not want weeds and moss in your drive it will take more maintenance and perhaps concrete or asphalt is the better choice. In the end a perfect drive is a beautiful thing and I enjoy the look but a perfect faded interlock drive looks the same as asphalt or concrete. The bright colours or contrasting tones you chose will fade and that initial contrast and freshness will wane. Which brings us back to the first point about design and the ‘fit’ of your drive in the yard.
I always encourage people about a final consideration. It is in the lingering guests that a home truly pops. You know the feel. The long good byes on the front stoop. A porch light left on to help visitors see. I have yet to see hardscape or gardens make difference in a good conversation or the warmth of a hug. Interlock or any change in your yard should be to make relationships happen better. Relationships by the way mean spilled wine and sometimes even puddling oil and recognizing this truth may also help influence what clothes you put on your house when guests arrive.
We are always on the lookout for garden makeovers. Yes we will undertake the whole yard and yes we are very good.