Patio Designs and Garden Paths – Construction Materials
Patio Designs and Garden Paths – Construction Materials
The one feature almost all paths, patios and steps and driveways have in common is a hard, durable surface. However, the material chosen will depend on numerous factors including the specific role of each area, the type of garden you are planning and any style you may want to reproduce. Consider materials along with other elements. for instance, a purely functional path leading to the front door should be surfaced with a non-slip material; it should also take a short route and be well lit at night. On the other hand, a leisurely garden path leading to a bench with a view could be a little less practical, as it will probably be used less, especially in the rain and dark.
Ideal for driveways, asphalt is generally regarded as a low-cost material and is seldom considered suitable for either paths or patio surfaces. Like tarmac, it is either rolled on by specialist contractors while hot, or applied cold. The cold-mix variety is aimed at the DIY market and is relatively simple to lay on a compacted sub-base. It is, however, not as hard-wearing as the material which is rolled while hot.
Suitable for play areas, as they allow a nice soft landing for children, and for mulching, bark chips are also favoured in some places as a surface material for paths. A major disadvantage is that the chips scatter easily, especially in high winds or when walked on. The visual effect of bark chips is similar to that of gravel, and they should only be used in informal parts of a garden.
Perhaps more than any other paving material, brick can be used in just about every possible type and style of garden. It has been used for centuries, and in some parts of the world brick paths estimated to be more than 4,000 years old are still in use today.
Made of concrete and clay, bricks and thinner pavers are available in a wide range of colours and may be laid in a multitude of patterns. The most common configuration is probably running bond (a simple grid formation), and the strongest, which is particularly suitable for driveways, is herringbone, laid either at right-angles or diagonally to the edge of the paving. Although a wall should never be built without the bricks interlocking, a simple stack bond (jack-on-jack) pattern, which involves no overlapping of bricks, is quite acceptable for level paving. Circular patterns are also popular for patio and driveway surfaces. Interlocking pavers are perfect for any surface which will be driven on, while ‘hard lawn systems’, a relatively new range of products, comprise interlocking paving blocks which, when laid, leave spaces for planting.
Bricks and paving blocks may be laid on sand or a solid concrete slab with sand or mortar between them.
Cobbles and setts
There is a certain fairytale romanticism about a narrow cobbled path, but it is important to consider practical factors before laying one in your own garden. The real thing consists of numerous rounded stones, often salvaged from river beds, pressed into mortar. They are not always easy to walk on and certainly not easy to balance chairs and tables on for patios.
A compromise, which is cheaper, although not always as natural in effect, is to use more regular reconstituted stone or concrete setts, manufactured in imitation of the original granite setts (which were cut from stone). Not as labour-intensive to lay as rounded cobbles, they are fairly regular in size and shape, and so create a much more even surface on which to walk.
One of the least expensive and most unimaginatively used materials is concrete. Perhaps because it is considered ‘cheap’, people are generally uninventive when using it, yet simply by combining concrete with other materials and planting around it, it is possible to create patios, paths, steps and driveways which have a very special charm and character.
Concrete is available in numerous precast forms — rounded, square and rectangular slabs, kerbstones, reconstituted stone products, and even precast concrete sleepers may all be used to great effect and can be laid in a number of ways. Square slabs can be used to create a chequerboard effect, alternating the concrete with herbs or a fragrant ground cover, rounded shapes may be laid as stepping-stone pathways, and precast kerbs may be used either to create steps or to raise a patio on a level piece of ground.
Concrete cast in situ is probably handled with even less sensitivity by the amateur builder. Sometimes, many square metres of ground are covered with the material and paths cast in long strips above the surface of the soil. Instead, concrete should be handled as a useful part of the design plan; age the finished surface if you like this effect, and allow it to blend in with your environment.
An inexpensive option, gravel is useful for paths and walkways in the garden.
It is also an acceptable material for level driveways and parking areas, and very effective when used in conjunction with paving slabs. As it is naturally loose, gravel may also be spread over flowerbeds or between the clipped hedges of ornamental parterres. It helps to control weed growth and conserve moisture in the soil too.
It is essential to compact the earth beneath this material thoroughly and to contain it with some sort of edging to prevent it from spilling into flowerbeds and spreading onto the adjacent grass or paving.
The type of gravel you use will depend on what is available in your area. Material sold for use as sub-base under driveways is suitable, otherwise you can ask for the smallest single-sized crushed stone. DIY concrete is usually made with 19mm or 13.2mm stone; you will need a much finer grade than this. If it is available in your area, pea gravel is a perfect choice.
Another possibility well suited for walkways is laterite, although it is not universally available. This material consists of a mixture of gravel and clay which is moistened with water and rolled to a smooth surface.
A few specialist companies offer pebble paving, which is made by bonding gravel-like stones in a special mixture of resin and cement; this is then applied over concrete to form a continuous surface.
Although grass eventually becomes worn down by constant foot traffic, it is sometimes the best choice for paths and walkways. Choose a hardy variety and be prepared to mow, feed and water it and generally to attend to its needs. Although people often neglect their lawns, grass should not really be regarded as a low-maintenance surface.
When it comes to patios, most people prefer, for practical reasons, to have a good, solid surface underfoot. Grass is, however, a reasonable temporary solution for some, and it can also be used as a more permanent material in combination with hard surfaces such as stepping stones.
Real stone slabs look wonderful in any garden, either as a patio or terrace surface, or as a pathway. They are also a good natural material to choose for steps, especially if they are sited alongside a stone wall. While steps may be built with slabs or with rocks (provided they have at least one flattish side), patios and walkways should be laid with flat, solid flagstones or as crazy paving.
Like other types of stone, slate is available in regular and irregular shapes and may be laid as tiles or as crazy paving. It is suitable for paths, patios and the treads of steps. The dark charcoal-grey reconstituted stone tiles which are available in some areas can look remarkably like slate. As natural stone is often difficult to come by, reconstituted stone (made by casting and compressing concrete in special moulds) is a good alternative. Sizes are varied and shapes usually reasonably regular, making them a good choice for the DIY builder.
A wide variety of tiles may be used on patios. You may be able to continue a ceramic tile surface used in the interior of your home, but it is generally advisable to ensure that any area exposed or even partially exposed to the elements should be frost-proof and have a non-slip matt finish. Manufactured quarry tiles, handmade terracotta tiles, as well as those made from terrazzo (a mixture of coloured marble and stone chips bedded in mortar) are all popular options that are particularly well suited to the garden as their colours and textures blend in beautifully with those of nature.
If you are in any doubt as to whether a tile is suitable for your purposes, contact the manufacturer before buying the materials.
Apart from being the most commonmaterial, timber is often used for steps and sometimes to surface both paths and patios as well. Sliced tree trunks provide an inexpensive material for stepping-stone pathways, although they do become slippery, sometimes treacherously so, in wet weather. If you lay a large expanse of them, for instance a parking area, aim for a slightly uneven upper surface to give tyres a grip.
Old railway sleepers, often made from tough, are also well suited for surfacing paths as well as small patios (if you can find enough to cover a large surface). They also make very successful steps and may be used, together with other materials and plants, for attractive pathways. Debarked logs, which do not need to be perfectly rounded in shape, are also a good material for informal steps. Backfilled with earth and laid across the front of each tread, they will provide a good footing up a natural slope. When used for decking, timber is almost always sawn and planed (or dressed) to a good, smooth and attractive finish.