How to Build a Patio
One feature which should be included in most garden layouts is a paved area. There are several good reasons why this feature is worth consideration. Firstly it will provide a place for relaxation and leisure where garden furniture can be placed and where meals can be taken outdoors in the summer months. Secondly it will enhance the garden a great deal by its colour and texture..Finally, it will be quite a labour-saving part of the garden because a well-laid paved area is weed free.
There is, also of course, the considerable pleasure, interest and sense of achievement one gets from a do-it-yourself feature and this type of design can save quite a lot of money if it is constructed by the gardener himself.
A paved area can be, and indeed, should be as colourful as possible and this is quite easy to achieve with the modern pleasant shades which most manufacturers provide in their pre-cast paving slabs, though care should be taken to select only the subtle colours; the deeper colours are rather harsh and are apt to fade during the years. Texture, too, is important and there is much to recommend those paving slabs which have an exposed aggregate finish or a hewn look about them with their slightly irregular ‘natural’ surfaces.
The first important stage is the preparation of the site. This must be levelled carefully and to do this a master peg is driven in to the required level. This level should be one which will entail the least amount of work to level to all over the site. A straight edge or long piece of plank should be placed on top of this peg and another peg driven in at the other end of the plank. The true level is then checked by a spirit level which is placed on top of this plank. Levelling proceeds in this way all over the site, the distance between the pegs being the length of the level plank which is being used.
The soil should be levelled to the tops of all the pegs, taking care to see that where soil is added it is well compacted. Where the site is very uneven it is a good idea to work with the levels. In other words a paved area may have to be stepped up in several places allowing adequate room for chairs, tables, etc., in each area. Obviously the number of levels should be kept to the minimum and usually two only will be necessary.
In all the levelling operations, a slight slope to one side should be maintained to ensure adequate drainage. If the paved area is made against the house, the slope must always be away from the house walls. Where the soil is light a solid foundation of small rubble should be put down and rammed in. If this is not done, the paving may become loose or uneven.
The mix for the mortar should be made up carefully. There are slight variations in the recommended formula but one which will give good results every time is made up of part of cement and 5 parts of sand both parts by volume. Make sure that the two ingredients are thoroughly mixed together in their dry state before any water is added. Avoid mixing up too much at a time. The right amount can only be ascertained by experience but this is quickly arrived at after the first few slabs have been laid. Keep the mix stiff and never wet or sloppy.
Not only will the colour and the texture of paving enhance the feature, but the use of various different sizes of slab can help to provide an intriguing pattern. Do not complicate things too much by having too many different sizes or a large number of small pieces.
You can vary the appearance of the paved area by incorporating a ‘panel’ of pebbles here and there. These should be set in mortar and the stones graded for size. Keep these patterns towards the edge of the paved area with a few only here and there in the main area, because pebbles are not the best of materials to stand on, nor are they suitable to rest furniture legs on. They are, however, well worth using for effect. If there are trees or shrubs on the site to be paved, there is no need to remove these as it is quite a simple matter to pave round them.
Before you start work make a scale plan of the proposed layout, especially if it is a reasonably complex pattern. As the slabs are laid, they can be ticked off the plan. Then, if the work is interrupted, it is a simple matter to check where you left off and continue the pattern without mistakes.
There is no need to spread the mortar all over the area to be paved as work proceeds. The slabs can be bedded securely if a few dabs of mortar are placed over the area which a slab will occupy. About five dabs will be sufficient for the large slabs; fewer for the small ones. Each slab should be carefully placed on top of the mortar and gently tapped in place. A frequent check should be made with a spirit level as the work proceeds.
It is vital that these checks are made if the paved area is to be level and neat. The work must never be rushed and it is far better to lay a small section at a time, especially if large slabs are used. Check for level across several slabs after they have been laid, by placing a long level plank across them and checking with a spirit level.
Some slabs may have to be cut to fit. This is not the easiest of tasks but with a little practice, quite a neat finish can be achieved. The secret of success is to use a steel bolster chisel and score the slab well round. Work on level ground, otherwise the slab will not break cleanly. If sizes are carefully selected for a difficult site the need for cutting will be reduced to the minimum