Functional. Natural. Beautiful.
Updated: Jun 2
Enrich your landscape with crushed shell
By Jillian Chandler
Photo by Dave Spencer Photography
Born and raised in the beautiful seaside destination of Cape Town, South Africa, Mark Soboil recalls the beauty of nature being an extension of his family home. After moving to the U.S. and attending graduate school for marine science in New England, where he met his wife, Julie, Mark was drawn to the classic Cape Cod look of crushed seashell used on driveways and walkways.
“When we moved to the Pacific Northwest, we wanted to install something similar on our property that complements the aesthetic landscape designs of the Pacific Northwest but could not source any shell locally,” he recalls.
Julie encouraged him to use his knowledge in marine biology to find a way in which he could bring the classic look of crushed seashell to the Pacific Northwest. Mark’s vision became a reality in the summer of 2020 with the launch of his company Shellscapes, which supplies locally sourced, sustainable crushed shell for landscaping projects.
In partnership with local oyster farms, Mark decided to reduce, recycle and reuse the discarded shell and develop a locally sourced product that can be used on paths, patios, courtyards and driveways. The oyster shell is locally sourced and environmentally friendly.
Oyster farming is iconic to the Pacific Northwest, as Native Americans harvested oysters for thousands of years, using shells on paths to provide permeable and sturdy passageways. Commercial oyster farming in the Puget Sound began in the mid-1800s; it is now one of the largest producing areas in the U.S.
Sustainable crushed oyster shells are natural and functional. “There is nothing more dramatic than the contrast that seashells can provide against the lush Pacific Northwest landscape,” states Mark. Shells are washed thoroughly and dried out over several seasons so there is no smell. Its slate-like quality means it flakes, so after proper installation and compaction, the path, courtyard or driveway becomes a solid flat surface that is not only safe but comfortable for feet, according to Mark.
Unlike gravel or crushed stone, these crushed shells break into smaller pieces as they are walked on or driven over, disperse evenly—filling in on itself as the shell breaks down—and create a stable surface. This prevents ruts and holes while also providing excellent drainage for rainwater. Ideal for commercial and residential use, crushed shell has become a sought-after landscaping material. In addition to being functional, beneficial for the environment and aesthetically beautiful, crushed shell is a natural deterrent for many garden pests including moles and slugs.
“Weeds and garden pests are an omnipresent threat to the health and appearance of gardens,” says Mark. “The high density of the crushed shell means that weeds are restricted by access to sunlight and therefore don’t grow. Crushed shell ground covering also helps prevent new weeds from growing on top of it. In addition, if your garden suffers from acidic soil, the minerals from the shell can help neutralize it and maintain the PH level.”
Crushed oyster shells can even be mixed with other aggregates (such as pea gravel) to create alternative hues and textures to your hardscape designs. It can also be used without concrete or a setting agent, as the shell flour itself acts as a stabilizer.
In addition to its many benefits, shell paths and driveways are virtually maintenance free. “With proper installation and compaction, it will only require periodic replenishment,” Mark affirms. After installation, there may be residue, but this can easily be washed away by rain water or spraying it down with a garden hose.
“Once the shell has been installed, we love sharing the excitement and delight of the beautiful landscapes with our clients knowing that it is a natural product that is supplied from a sustainable source,” Mark smiles.
If you are looking to revamp your landscape or hardscape, and function, sustainability and aesthetics are equally important, Mark invites you to reach out today to start discussing your shell-scaping goals. Shellscapes offers a variety of services including delivery, installation and maintenance.