Years ago, home builders used cobblestones to provide interesting architectural accents to homes. Cobblestones were cheap and plentiful, and often used to build chimneys, fireplaces, foundations, barbecue pits and walkways.
Building with real cobblestones is not as popular as it used to be. Cobblestones can be bit tricky to work with and certainly are much more labor intensive to build with than prefabricated “cobblestones” that fit neatly next to each other. However, when you own a home that’s perched on an ancient river bed like mine, it makes economic sense to use the real thing.
Build a cobblestone path
Before the days of concrete and asphalt, people were making roads and pathways out of stones. While some DIY books have some pretty elaborate instructions for creating a cobblestone path, I make my paths the old fashioned way by pressing the cobblestones directly into the ground.
The easiest way to lay a cobblestone path in simply to figure out where the path should go, and then remove any grass or weeds in the way. After clearing the area, soak the soil with a sprinkler head for about an hour or until the ground is heavily saturated and “squishes” under foot. Saturating the ground in this manner makes it much easier to press the cobblestones into place.
The path can then be laid using stones of the same general size, fitting the cobblestones together as if they were the pieces of the puzzle. Once the path has been laid, walk over it a few times to secure the stones in place. For stones that are sitting a little high, use a hand trowel to dig away some of the soil from beneath the rock. It’s that easy!
To maintain the path, you may have to add a few cobblestones from time to time. To remove weeds growing up between the stones, the best approach is to kill the weeds with scalding hot water instead of trying to pull them up by the roots.
A cobblestone path may be too bumpy for a patio, but works nicely in garden beds and along utility paths.
Build a rock garden
My yard has so many cobblestones that I’ve create several rock gardens in the areas where the sun is too intense for a traditional bed. Making a rock garden is really quite simple and can use a combination of both large and small cobblestones. How you arrange the stones is a matter of personal preference; in my gardens, I arrange them to look like river beds and then surround them with native grasses.
Build a retaining wall
To prevent my garden soil from disappearing into the alley, I made a retaining wall by piling up rocks. Rocks can be easily stacked to a height of one to two feet without needing concrete, and are quite effective at holding back garden soil. If you prefer a permanent barrier, the stones will need to be mortared using wet cement and a trowel.
Accent a pond
Ponds and back yard water features are becoming increasingly popular in our area, and often don’t require much more than a liner and a circulating pump. Instead of buying rocks from a quarry yard, use those backyard cobblestones instead to create a water feature that looks like it’s always been there.
Instead of buying plastic edging or decorative bricks, edge your garden with large cobblestones instead. Cobblestones can take the abuse of weed whackers and other garden tools, and will last until you decide to move them. To anchor the cobblestones, use a hand trowel to dig away a few inches of soil before dropping the stone into place.
Build a barbecue
Backyard barbecues are one of the more traditional use of cobblestones. To build a barbecue, you will need an assortment of similarly sized cobblestones, concrete, a trowel and instructions which can be found here. If mixing up concrete is too intimidating, try using premixed concrete instead which can purchased from local masonry centers or landscaping stone yards.
For a whimsical rainy day project, use acrylic paints to turn cobblestones into lady bugs, beetles, and other tiny animals. These tiny animals can be used as paper weights, gardening accents, or even to play hopscotch with.