For the scavenging landscaper, broken concrete can be ideal

By Lisa Boone / Los Angeles Times

Landscape designer Laramee Haynes of Pasadena, California, often reuses pieces of broken concrete in gardens as an alternative to pouring a slab of concrete. “Broken concrete can be reused over and over again,” Haynes said. “It has a very organic quality.” Here, he offers a look at his techniques:

Where do you find concrete, and how do you break it apart?

I try to use anything that is on-site. The stone yards are now selling broken concrete. See when the city is taking out a segment of sidewalk. They don’t mind you picking it up. Another place is Craigslist. We use an electric jackhammer to break the concrete apart. People can rent one from Home Depot. We use pieces of broken concrete that are a little bigger than 1 foot square. That’s manageable. Any bigger than that is hard to pick up. This isn’t the easiest DIY project because of the weight of the materials and the fact that the hammer has to be lifted.

Can you give an example of a lighter alternative?

Steppingstones. They are often odd colors like pink and are octagonal-shaped. They make pretty good paving when they are pushed up against each other with some sand. I often use them for trash enclosures and storage. That way it is permeable and reused material. Other times we’ll break up the pieces and do something a little random like a mosaic. I don’t use them for driveways because they are not strong enough.

What are some of your favorite ways to use broken concrete?

I love to create loops for children. We’re working on one now where there is an existing driveway and very little garden. We’re making a broken concrete pathway to connect the driveway to the back of the property. The effect is a loop so the children can ride their bikes all the way around the house in a circle. We mix the pieces of broken concrete from different sources so they have slightly different textures and colors. This makes it look like natural stone, there’s no tripping, and it’s perfect for rolling toys. We set it in cement and grout it. It expands the utility of a garden and makes it accessible to the parents. But it’s expensive and a lot of labor.

What about retaining walls?

We do a lot of broken-concrete retaining walls, and they work very well. We break the pieces into square-foot blocks. We wedge the pieces and tip the walls so it is not just straight up and down. It’s a really beautiful way to build a wall. We pack the layers with native soil, as it’s stickier, and as the wall ages, the roots come in and bind everything together.

We’ve talked about labor. What about design?

Start with the shape. I laid out the path I described with thin-walled white pipe to make sure I got a smooth and even shape to the outside edges. Next, I broke each piece to fit and mixed the pieces together. In many cases there will be some detail like adding some Mexican beach pebbles or marbles, Indian tiles — it becomes what I call collage paintings. I don’t usually install plants with paving. Too often the weeds come. I like to plant off to the side that spills over the edges. That works really nicely to soften the edges.

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