Category Archives: Landscapes

Advice on landscape planting, maintenance and design

Building a Flagstone Patio

A gardening client asked me to build her a flagstone patio this July to help prevent her three Cairn Terriers and a Chihuahua from carrying mud into the house. Sixteen little paws were doing a number on their lawn and the grass refused to survive.

I had just finished laying a flagstone walkway for another woman and seemed to be on a rock and roll. I taught my grandson how to lay stone  on the last job and this time I was going to teach the handyman.

The first step was to lay out and measure the site so we could order materials. We needed one pallet of flagstone to cover 220 square feet, 3 tons of fine drainage gravel 4 inches deep, a 40 foot x 6 foot roll of heavy weed barrier cloth, 10 forty# bags of pea gravel to fill the joints, and one gallon of Gravel Lok to seal the gravel in place.

I suggested using the polymer to seal the joints so no loose pebbles would hurt bare feet or paws and no weeds will grow in the cracks.

Gravel Lok Joint Details

We went looking for the right pallet of rock at landscape nurseries and a brick and rock layers yard. I would have preferred 1 1/2 – 2 inch thick slabs but we ended up with 1+ inch pieces. The thicker pieces are stronger and handle weight better with less potential for cracking. With a good base they should be fine, especially since there  be no equipment driving over them.

Leveling the site using flat shovels and then tapering the grade away from the house was time consuming. We started with a level taped to a 2×4 and progressed to a line level on crisscrossing strings. This step is important to keep rainwater from flooding the basement.

Once we were satisfied with the grade we shoveled in 3 inches of the fine gravel. This provides drainage as well as a solid base for the flat rocks. We rented a gasoline powered tamper to settle it all in and prevent air pockets. The layer of landscape fabric was laid on top and held down with the last inch of gravel. A thunderstorm rolled in and the whole area got covered with 6 ml plastic, held down with rocks along the edges.

The slabs of rock had to be laid on edge in the yard so the size and shape of each one was visible. Look at the space, look at the rocks, look at the space, measure, pick the most suitable. One edge was straight, up against a raised concrete pad, so the straightest pieces went there. There were a good many big pieces with a nice curved edge and they went for the outside edges. Then we filled the middle, chipping off some difficult angles as needed. It is like putting together a giant jigsaw puzzle, except it takes two people to move each rock.

We leveled each rock (slightly down hill), dropping them on their cushion of fine gravel, picking them up to check for air pockets, resetting them…Adjusted each to lay flush with it’s neighbor, reset it…Stomped on them and tried to rock them. Reset them…It is tedious work down on your knees but satisfying when you finally get it right.

Once all the rocks were laid in, I vacuumed out the loose gravel between the stones so that the pea gravel would fill the entire gap between each one. Then I washed the pea gravel a bag at a time by swishing it around with water in the wheelbarrow and scooping it up with a plastic sieve and spreading it out on landscape fabric to drain and dry. It was hot in the afternoons so it dried fast.

Draining the Pea Gravel

The next step was to mix in the liquid GravelLok with the pea gravel in a plastic mortar pan and start troweling it in the joints. After the first batch I decided to lay painters tape on all the edges to keep the polymer from dripping on the rocks and then having to quickly wipe it off with Acetone. It was much cleaner and faster with the tape.

Painters Tape on Rock Edges

The gravel mixture was pressed in to each joint and it solidified quickly. You can sweep or blow off the patio and hose it off without worrying about dislodging the joint material, which is quite nice.

Finished Patio

I think the project turned out well and the dogs love it too.

-Wendy lee, writing at Edgewisewoods, Gardens and Critters




Nelson County Virginia-Spy Rock Hike

While visiting friends recently in Nelson County Virginia, I drove up Rt 56 towards Montebello at night. It is a paved road, full of curves, and once past Tyro, it climbs all the way to the top of the mountain,  crosses the Blue Ridge Parkway and winds back down the west side into Raphine. As I started the climb fog pressed in around me and the headlights did little to penetrate the soup. I took it slow and was glad I was one of the few on the road.

Montebello sits below the ridge and the fog stopped right there. It was clear the rest of the way up. I spent the evening visiting, sipping wine,  and soaking in my friends hotub followed by a nice relaxing sleep.

In the morning I had time for a hike before my next visit and was steered towards the nearby Spy Rock Trail. You get to this by driving into Montebello (a small store and a few houses) and turning onto the Fish Hatchery road. Follow the signs past the hatchery for the designated parking area to access the Appalachian Trail.

Spy Rock Trailhead Map

It is a short but fairly steep one mile hike through privately owned woods on a gated forest road to the AT. You will notice a few spiffy looking cabins near the beginning of the trail and then it is just quiet woods.

When you reach the signpost at the trail intersection on the ridge  a sign points you 1/2 mile  North for Spy Rock. The ridge is much easier to walk on and one this way up takes about 45 minutes.

It was beginning to look like a storm was blowing in from the southwest and I was hoping to not get drenched. Three sets of people passed by heading down. It was such a beautifully comfortable Fall day.

When I got to the rock outcropping there was a woman standing there looking perplexed. She asked me if I knew the way to the top of the rock and was hoping to find her husband up there. It was not difficult  to find the trail off to the left around the base and she followed me up. She was worried it was going to get dark before they managed to get back to their car, They had walked in from the top of Crabtree Falls, parking in the Meadows up top and it had taken them more than 2 hours. I suggested they walk back on my shorter route and offered to give them a ride back to their car.

Looking West From Spy Rock

The view was spectacular and the slanting light through the storm clouds intensified the colors.                                                                                There was still no sign of the husband so I gave a good holler, which traveled out over the mountains ahead of me.

We walked around the bald granite rock but did not linger long with the storm clouds looking so ominous.

North View From Spy Rock

Back down at the rocks base we saw her husband who had done a clockwise loop emerge from the Rhododendrons. He was glad to see us and was relieved to find there was a way to get back before dark or the storm.East of Spy Rock

We only got sprinkled on a little as we quickly hiked down the forest road and my little Honda Fit negotiated the 2 small creek crossings on the Crabtree Meadow Road with no problems. Sometimes that road is impassable without 4-wheel drive and better clearance, so I was glad it was in such good shape.

It was the tail end of a sunny evening down on the East side of the mountain and I continued  towards Arrington and Freshwater Cove for my next visits of this trip. Nelson County was home to me for 12 years and it still holds me tight.

Wendy lee, writing at Edgewisewoods, Gardens and Critters


Fall Foliage in West Virginia-October 14, 2017

Usually the leaves in Pendleton County WV reach peak fall color around October 14-21, but  the whole month of September into October was so dry this year that many leaves have dried up and fallen before obtaining their normal vibrant colors. There are still pockets of color to be found though, especially in the valleys, so you  still catch some color, if you don’t wait too long.

On October 14th, at Spruce Knob Lake, the usual magnificent reflections of color on the water were not to be had, but with the sky such a beautiful, clear blue and the temperature at 70 plus degrees,  there were no complaints from us.

Clear Blue October Sky

We have never seen so many folks fishing at the lake as we did this past Saturday, as we walked the easy, level trail around the lake, taking photos and enjoying the balmy weather.

Spruce Knob Lake from South Shore






I found that the lack of leaf colors caused me to look more closely at everything else as we walked.

Milkweed at East End of Spruce Knob Lake

Interesting textures and the odors of warm fall earth, still water and decaying plants  became more important.


After leaving the lake we drove up the partly gravel road to Spruce Knob, the highest point in the state. We were a little sad to see that most of the trees towards the west  had already lost their leaves. The wind was not bad and it was a gorgeous view of the West Virginia hills, regardless.

Looking West from Spruce Knob

We followed a trail down  from the lookout tower that goes through some loose rocks onto a small  level meadow. The views to the east and South were excellent from there.

Eastern View from Spruce Knob

A few huge boulders you can climb on walked the meadow.

Stone Age Monster Rock

I thought this one looked like a lumbering short legged creature from the stone age. I did climb up and sit on top pretending  it was a horse sort of thing.

There were Mountain Ash on top of the mountain, with brilliant scarlet berries, dark green Spruce trees leaning out of the constant western wind, and the wonderfully textured sandstone aggregate rocks to admire.

Mountain Ash Berries

You can never go wrong with a trip up to Spruce Knob and the drive back down on the east side is paved. Route 33 East to Franklin has the Germany Valley overlook as another highlight.

Germany Valley Overlook on Rt 33

This maple was one of the few colorful trees we saw up close and it looks great with the sumac and Germany Valley beyond.

The Potomac Valley and other lower elevations should be pretty in the next week, especially since we finally got a rain last week. Even after the leaves fall, Spruce Knob, in Pendleton County, West Virginia is a magical place to visit. (Click on the Link for photos from 2016)

-Wendy lee, writing at





Spruce Knob West Virginia

For our 24th wedding anniversary we stuck with tradition and headed out to the mountains and Spruce Knob, the highest point in West Virginia. We have a cabin not too far away in the same county of Pendleton and stayed there for the long Columbus Day weekend.

The weather started out dreary, drizzly and cold and we were glad to warm up by our wood stove and the first fire of the season. A hurricane was pounding the southern states with rain and wind and we were glad to have it only bring a few heavy showers our way.

By Sunday, the skies were clear and blue with a cold, brisk wind blowing any lingering thoughts of summer far away. It was definitely Fall with all the rich smells and colors to go with it. October is such a beautiful month in the mountains.

We drove out past Franklin on Route 33 west and stopped at the Germany Valley Overlook, which is pretty no matter what time of year it is.

Germany Valley
Germany Valley

The road to the top of the mountain is paved these days, which has made it less of a dusty chore than it used to be. It is still narrow though, and we had to pull way to the edge to let those coming down pass by. Every now and then we glimpsed a flash of color, from a Sugar Maple or a tree harboring a bright red Virginia Creeper vine.

We drove on by the turn to the top and made our way over to Spruce Knob Lake to see how much color might be there.

Spruce Knob lake
Spruce Knob lake

It was gorgeous and the trees were further along than they had been in the valley below. It was so cold and windy that I needed to put my ear warmers and fleece on as soon as we got out of the car. We did not stay long because we wanted to get a hike in and had gotten a late start.

Backtracking towards the trail head we stopped at the campground to check it out, just because we  never had . There are 42 primitive campsites-with outhouses, picnic tables and fire rings- on a one way loop in the woods. No views but still nice looking, fairly private sites.

There were only a couple of cars parked at the Allegheny trail head as we loaded our day packs and adjusted our boots.


We had hopes of finding some good views from the main Allegheny Ridge trail but were disappointed in that, and also because the gated trail had been recently traveled on by some huge vehicle that left mud and water filled ruts. It was difficult to get around some of the deep mud and I had it go over the top of my boots at one point. We decided to leave the main trail and take a side shoot instead, turning onto North Prong Trail and following it down into a quiet open valley.

North Prong Valley Trail
North Prong Valley Trail
Creeping Cedar

Crossing the shallow creek numerous times, the trail became almost to narrow to find, through high summer weeds and amazingly thornless brambles. We eventually came out to an intersection with the Gandy Run Trail and followed that back towards our starting place. We saw hardly any wildlife and only two people the whole 3 1/2 hours we spent on the trail. Still, it was a beautiful day and much warmer and less windy down on the lower trails.

We got back in the car and drove up to the Spruce Knob viewing platform, the highest point in the state.

Spruce Knob Sign
Spruce Knob Sign

It was only 42 degrees F and the wind was blowing, as it always is up this high. Looking out from the top of the platform there is nothing but mountains and more mountains as far as you can see.

Spruce Knob View
Spruce Knob View

The Spruce trees sound like the ocean as the wind blows through them. Sometime, I hope to be up here to watch the sun set. Not today though.

View From Spruce Knob
View From Spruce Knob

Fall color is just starting and should be gorgeous in another week.

Fall Color
Fall Color

You can catch a tiny glimpse of the lake in the top left of this zoomed photo and the most color we have seen all day.

On the way down the mountain, we stopped for another great view to the East.p1030997It is always invigorating to experience Spruce Knob and we had another good day.

Back to our little cabin for dinner and warmth by the woodstove.

-wendy lee, writing at Edgewisewoods, Gardens and Critters