This section is from "The Horticulturist, And Journal Of Rural Art And Rural Taste", by P. Barry, A. J. Downing, J. Jay Smith, Peter B. Mead, F. W. Woodward, Henry T. Williams. Also available from Amazon: Horticulturist and Journal of Rural Art and Rural Taste.
THE proper introduction of walks and carriage roads is a matter of great importance in the general arrangement of rural residences, and although few subjects in this connection have been more frequently dwelt upon by garden authors, there is still much room for improvement. We ignore all exaggerated imaginary examples either in the exposure of error, or the promulgation of truth, and endeavor to give all our statements a tangible basis, in order to render them of direct practical application to the subject under investigation. This much is mentioned that we may not be accused of "making a case," in stating that we have seen a path leading to a house only a few rods distant from the street, forming a series of short curves, although the boundary gate and the entrance door of the house were exactly opposite. It is, however, much more common, and equally a perversion of good taste, in such cases, to find a circular grass plat, or flower bed, which has to be circumambulated before reaching the house. Similar unmeaning routes are frequently taken with carriage drives.
The furthest point from the house being selected for an entrance, the road traverses the whole extent of the place before reaching the mansion, cutting up what would otherwise form a pleasant lawn, and preventing the introduction of private, secluded shade walks, so desirable in country residences. It is not intended in this number to treat on the present head with regard to picturesque effect, but rather to offer a few practical remarks on the construction of good, serviceable roads.
A smooth, firm, dry walk is one of the greatest conveniences, as a soft, muddy, damp walk is one of the greatest annoyances; and although much personal comfort, and enjoyment of pleasure grounds, depends upon good walks, there is much need of information on their management, judging from what we daily see, and the many complaints that reach us relative to their expense and inefficiency. In this, as well as in many other operations connected with rural improvements, we shall be much mistaken in the true value of a result, by a knowledge of its cost. There are roads of the worst description that have been made so at great expense, while others of great efficiency have cost a comparative trifle. There are principles to be recognised in road making as well as in every other operation, and when these are not attended to by the constructor, a good road is as much a work of accident as design. The construction of a road will of course depend, to a certain extent, upon the amount and kind of travel for which it is to be used. We frequently see a narrow walk made as strong and heavy as a public highway; without advising superficial workmanship of any description, we would guard against unnecessary expense.
A road to be traversed by light carriages will not require so strong a foundation as one for the passage of heavy wagons; again, those for foot passengers may be of a different character. As coming more directly within the scope of the "Horticulturist," the first and last mentioned varieties are those to which our remarks will be chiefly directed.
The chief object to be kept in view to maintain a good road is to keep it dry; no road can be kept in good order, or prove entirely satisfactory in all seasons, unless carefully protected from water. This is best secured by leaving the surface slightly convex, and keeping it rather above the adjoining ground level. Our remarks will probably be better understood by reference to the following cross sections, Fig. 1 being the most general method of forming carriage roads, and Fig. 2 the mode that we recommend above.
All the rain that falls on a road formed similar to Fig. 1 either sinks into the road or accumulates at the sides, washing the surface material, unless intercepted at short intervals with cross gutters on the road and deep notches in the edgings, both of which are unsightly and inadmissable in a well kept carriage drive. Expedients in the way of underground drains running parallell with and having occasional inlets from the road, are frequently resorted to, with a view of modifying these defects. But we would promulgate as a dogma, that covered drains for the removal of surface water will never prove satisfactory in this climate. We doubt not that all who have had experience in these matters will willingly endorse this opinion.
Objections have been urged against rounding the centre of roads, on account of the inconvenience of travelling on any portion of their surface unless in the middle. When a road is rounded in an extreme degree this objection is very just, not only on account of the inconvenience, but also from the injury to the road by the travel being mostly confined to the centre, where, indeed, is the only place a vehicle can run upright. A rise towards the centre of one inch to the yard will be found sufficient to carry off water, and form no impediment to travel over any portion of the surface.
It will be observed in Fig. 2, that the excavated surface upon which the road is to be formed, is rounded in the same degree as the exterior surface of the finished road. This form of excavation has often been recommended as a means of directing the water that sinks into the road to the sides. A slight reflection will show that no benefit of the kind can be obtained, since the water that finds its way through the hard and compact material of which the road is formed, will not be arrested in its downward progress by the soft soil. This supposes a state of things which the chief aim is to prevent, for a road must be in a bad state when water finds a passage thus freely through it. But we would give the foundation of the road this form to allow an equal depth of material over the whole, that it may be equally strong throughout. The outline of the road having been resolved upon the edgings should be brought to the desired heights and level. As already observed, the depth of material required will depend upon the intended use. Twelve inches of material will form a road sufficiently strong for all purposes required on a private residence.
To secure a solid foundation a layer of unbroken flat stones, averaging six inches in thickness, should be laid with their broadest faces downwards, as close together as practicable, and all interstices well rammed up with smaller pieces. This foundation will form a compact pavement through which the under soil will never penetrate, as is the case where small stones are used, the soil being pressed up between them alternately mixing with the outer covering of the road. This understratum may in fact be considered the actual road, but in order to keep it from derangement it is necessary to form a compact homogeneous surface as a protection, for if the wheel of a wagon or the foot of a heavy quadruped were to press on one extremity of a large stone, the other end would be raised, and the whole disturbed. Hence firmness is necessary, and to secure it we must reduce the surface material to a size below that of the pressing point, that no disarrangement may occur from leverage or compound action. To secure such a surface a layer of broken stone should be spread over the foundation, and this in turn covered with gravel or something similar. These broken stones should be procured of a tough as well as a hard nature. Many hard stones are brittle, and by pressure are easily reduced to powder.
A thickness of four inches of small angular stones will be sufficient; these would in time of themselves become solid and compact, but to render the road more immediately agreeable, both with respect to convenience and appearance, a further covering of gravel may be applied to bind and solidify the whole.
Much depends upon the quality of the gravel; rounded pebbles are by themselves the worst description of material for road making. Independent of the facilities which their interstices afford for the lodgement of water, there is a constant tendency of their rising upwards. When pressed upon any point of their circumference they move, and the smaller particles falling in around them they become edged, and in time get to the surface. The best gravel for road making, therefore, is that which contains a proper quantity of clayey loam as a binding property, forming a close, compact, even surface.
A newly formed road will require occasional attention to prevent ruts until it becomes firm. When ruts are once formed, they define a tract which carriages follow; and are thus continually widened and increased. They become filled with water during rains, which not being able to escape softens the material and hastens its destruction by each succeeding carriage, involving a greater outlay in repairs than would have been required to prevent its occurrence, besides the inconvenience of travelling on a road in such a condition.
The same general principles are applicable in the formation of walks for foot passengers. The depth of material, however, need not in many soils exceed a few inches. A porous, gravelly, or sandy soil is in itself a good walk if properly shaped. Such walks admit of greater convexity than carriage roads, which is equivalent to a saving of material. A gravelled walk is as apparently a work of art as a building, its outline should therefore be accurately defined. It should appear brimfull of gravel; there is nothing disfigures a walk or conveys so meagre an expression as deep raw edgings, looking as if they had been cut with a plough. Attention to this point would improve many places where the paths look more like water-courses than comfortable foot paths.
Allusion has already been made to the fact that gravel should possess a binding property to form a good walk. Much inconvenience arises from gravel of a clayey nature in wet weather, although it forms a hard and durable walk when it is dry. To remedy this a thin coating of sand should be thinly spread over it, which not only makes it smooth and agreeable to walk upon by the wearer of the thinnest shoe, but renders it passable immediately after the heaviest shower, and besides, gives a more agreeable effect, the neutral tint of the sand harmonizing better with the grass than the yellow and red gravel so commonly employed, which appears intrusive, and as Gilpin said of a red brick house, "sets a landscape on fire".