Help with ideas for gravel/stone patio
I purchased my new home about 8 months ago, and in the rear of the yard is an area about 800 to 900 square feet that is covered with mulch and bordered by a retaining wall on 2 sides and a granite cobblestone border on the others. There used to be a large playset in this area, but the previous owners took it, and not having children yet, that was fine with me.
I would like to do something different with the area for a few reasons. The first is that our dogs go back in that area to bark at neighbors dogs or deer, and get very muddy in the mulch. Second, the deck area around my pool isn't that big, so this area could present some additional seating space.
My thought was to make some sort of patio in that area taking up about 550 square feet of the area, where I would put some chairs/planters/and a fire pit. The rest of the area I would either plant sod or ground cover type plants.
I first investigated having a landscaper install a interlocking paver or flagstone patio in that area, but I got estimates ranging from 10 to 20 grand for the job, and I am not looking on spending that much. I spoke to a local stone and gravel supplier, and I could probably get pavers and base stone/sand for the area for about $2000, but I'm not sure I could handle such a project myself, and I don't have many people who could help me. The other problem with the area is that I don't know what is underneath the mulch, and I might not have a good compact base to put the stone base on top of (the area was probably backfilled a few years ago with soil)
My next thought was that I would dig out the mulch, and replace it with small river stone (1/2 to 1 inch) or small red tipple stone. I might also place flagstones in a circular pattern among the smaller stones. I know that this would be less comfortable to walk on than pavers, but would be far less expensive and something that I would be willing to take on myself.
Any thoughts as to using small river stones in this fashion? Do you think it would be easy enough to walk on?
Obviously it would be not as nice as a paver patio, but I think my guests would be more likely to use it with stones that walking on top of mulch. (plus the dogs wouldn't go to bathroom there anymore :) )
As to leaves and debris, do you think a leaf blower would blow the leaves off without moving the stone?
I was thinking of using 3 inches of stone, do you think that would be enough?
Any help or suggestions would be greatly appreciated