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Gravel Shopping for Our Urban Garden

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Our red brick patio pavers were laid atop 1-2″ of find sand, and underneath that is several inches of crushed limestone. The limestone layer extends under our DIY planter boxes, which will help with drainage and still allow for any powerful plants to root their way into earth – well, fingers crossed! In any case, the sorta grey, sorta taupe rocky layer isn’t the most attractive, so we were on the hunt for a thick 2″ gravel layer to use under the staircase and around the planters.

We learned quickly that purchasing bags of decorative gravel from any local hardware store would be extremely cost prohibitive. Those little (yet heavy!) bags are better suited for smaller garden projects, and we also realized that the amount we’d need wouldn’t be safe to haul away in our wagon due to weight. Last summer, our friend and neighbor (hi, Angela!) laid a garden path in her pretty front yard using gravel from Lake Street Supply, a Chicago landscaping supply yard, and we’ve kept that name on the back of our brains ever since.

I used to drive past Lake Street Supply several times a week for work, and I never realized it was there! (Locals: It’s just east of Damen on, obviously, Lake!) It’s more affordable than we would have thought – with the potential to be very, very expensive, of course – and although they typically cater to professionals, homeowners are more than welcome to utilize their products and services as well.

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Being completely new to the urban garden world has required a bit of a learning curve, and the first tip we picked up is that everyone wants measurements in cubic yards. Using this calculator has been our saving grace, and because our backyard has so many different zones – the fireplace, the bench, the doggie pee pit – we found it was easiest to input our calculations for each section and add it all up.  Our tally brought us to 1 lonely cubic yard of gravel for a 2″ thick surface.

The first morning we were able to go was a rainy one (they’re only open until noon on Saturdays, just a heads up!), but we pulled on our boots and grabbed the umbrella on our way out. As a result of the gloomy day, we had the yard 100% to ourselves! We welcomed this; there was so much to look at:

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We’re trying to forget that we ever saw their red brick selection. Our hearts stopped when we saw these! I found a reason to walk past them at least three times. (Okay, four.)

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But! We were there for gravel, and there was a lot of it:

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The trickiest part was trying to imagine how any of our top contenders would look when dry. We know from our red brick paver patio that the deep red color we get on a stormy days have the potential to lighten all the way to soft, faded pinks in the sun. With this in mind, we brought along a scrap of stained wood from our planter boxes and a leftover paver from our yard. We held them up to this tray of gravel and that, we squinted, and we dipped our paver in rainwater to get a better comparison.

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After a lot of back and forth, we had two top contenders. The first was their Vancouver Shiny Pebbles, which leaned towards a very warm grey:

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The second was Neptune Chip, which was the exact opposite – a cool, slightly green grey:

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Scott and I were split right down the middle (with his vote for Vancouver and mine for Neptune), although we admitted we’d each be happy with either. Luckily, the verdict was made for us when we went inside to get a quote; Vancouver was four times the cost, so Neptune it was! In the end, our gravel order came to $180, and the cost of delivery was another $100. (Another thing we learned in our garden adventures? $100 was a pretty standard delivery fee across the board to haul All. That. Weight.)

They were able to show us a dry sample of Neptune, which was a much lighter grey, and we agreed that despite this massive shift, it still looked so pretty with our brick. The cool undertones made our more traditional brick choice feel slightly modern, and we liked that juxtaposition. Excited and satisfied with our decision, they told us that due to the less-than-stellar weather, they had an empty truck that could deliver our gravel in the next 30 minutes, to which we signed on the dotted line and met them back home!

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We don’t have a driveway in the city, so the delivery was made in our alley. Scott laid down a tarp, and the truck got as close to possible to our garage to allow for cars to still pass through. As it turns out, 1 cubic yard of gravel is a ton! (Like, literally, if not more.) We had to act fast, and we quickly fell into a groove where Scott would load the wheelbarrow and pour, and I used a bow rake to push, pull and smooth.

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The difference is subtle, yet somehow completely astounding. We didn’t realize how much the crushed limestone was bugging us until we couldn’t see it anymore! Below, you can see how the Neptune Chip looks when dry:

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I think the biggest impact was finally being able to cover the exposed nail heads from our paver edging. The individual stones are just large enough that we haven’t had any issues with the gravel scattering if the dogs walk over it, thank goodness!

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As I mentioned before, 1 cubic yard was a lot of gravel – so much so, that our slight overestimation left us with a sizable pile in the end! Because of this, Scott wheelbarrowed all that leftover to the front yard and added it to Jack and Chunk’s original doggie pee pit. Matching gravel from front to back? Scott, be still my heart! (Ha!) We had enough to continue down the entire length of our house, something that we always said we’d get to – ‘one day.’ Hooray!

Up next? Dirt. Plants. A fireplace and a dining table! Hang on, summer, we got this.

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  • Steph M.8.29.16 - 9:00 AM

    That color looks stellar with everything else! Great job!ReplyCancel

  • Lori8.29.16 - 9:29 AM

    It looks fabulous! And as anoather bonus for choosing the small gravel, I think you’ll find that maintaining it is MUCH easier than those beach pebbles, which get leaves and debris lodged in the crevices that even a leafblower has a hard time removing. If you’re a bit OCD like me, you’ll find yourself out there on your hands and knees picking the leaves out…not exactly relaxing or low maintenance!

    As a landscaper, it was really interesting to me seeing the differences in what was available in the stone yard. Everyone here tends to carry the same stuff, and I’m guessing it’s all pretty “local” in a sense because stone so heavy to ship. You don’t see much cool grey stand up (the big slabs) here, and when you do, it’s $$$, but you do see a lot of creamy warm limestone and sandstone from central Texas, Oklahoma, and Mexico. But that’s part of what gives gardens their sense of place. I see bluestone and think of upstate New York, just like white limestone reminds me of Austin.

    Anyway, I love how your backyard is coming together and have soooo much fireplace envy! Can’t wait to see it all planted up and with furniture!ReplyCancel

    • Kim8.29.16 - 2:11 PM

      It’s really nice confirmation to hear your feedback, Lori! You’re right – the pebbles holding onto debris would have driven us nuts. That’s just another perk of our Neptune Chip! Also interesting to hear about the more regional selections. Makes perfect sense!ReplyCancel

      • Kathy8.31.16 - 7:16 AM

        I was thinking the same thing as Lori and praying that you would not chose a larger stone or a white/cream-colored stone.

        We had white stones in our landscape when I was growing up and I can’t tell you how many hours I spent cleaning leaves/debris out of those beds as one of my chores. Hated it and swore I would never do that to my yard. Plus, I think lighter colored stones only look good for about 10 minutes, then they just look dirty.

        The smaller gravel looks so polished and “clean” LOL! Great job again!ReplyCancel

        • Kim8.31.16 - 9:04 AM

          Thank goodness we didn’t go with the larger stone! PHEW. That sounds like a chore I would loathe, Kathy!ReplyCancel

  • Rebecca8.29.16 - 7:47 PM

    I love the photo with the train going through the yard on the L tracks. So Chicago.

    Your backyard is looking great. I really like the grey with the dark stain and the red pavers. Can’t wait to see the end result.ReplyCancel

    • Kim8.30.16 - 10:18 AM

      Chicago is so pretty even in the rain, right?! In that same photo, all of downtown was hidden behind those thick clouds.ReplyCancel

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