Planning a Path or Patio

Planning a Path or Patio

Planning a Path or Patio Proper planning always pays off. If you know exactly what you want before you start building, particularly where you want to site the path, flight of steps or patio and what materials you will need for the project, you will save time and money in the end, and avoid the frustration which always accompanies a badly organised project.

The most obvious route for a path may be from the gate to the front door, but the biggest mistake could be to lay it out in a straight line that bisects a small front garden. Instead, the answer may be to move the gate, or to design a path that curves slightly around a natural feature such as a tree.

Start by identifying your needs and determining how these can best be accommodated in your garden scheme.

For instance:

  • Should you establish a walkway from the front gate or parking area to the house?
  • Is there a need for paths from the kitchen to service areas, or to a herb garden or vegetable patch?
  • Are there sloping areas which would be easier to negotiate via steps of some sort?
  • Do you want to increase outdoor living space by building a patio?

Compare the various locations and layouts which may be suitable and then do a thorough costing to ensure that the plan is actually viable.


If your house is new and building work has just been completed, the first step to take before you start laying out any paths, steps and patios is to ensure that all rubble has been removed. Earthworks may be necessary, and can include removal or relocation of large rocks and levelling of the ground. If rocks are to be moved or soil shifted, these tasks can be completed at the same time as the clean-up operation.

Regardless of the materials to be used, you should establish what kind of sub-base will be required and whether special steps will have to be taken to ensure that there is adequate drainage.


A solid foundation is essential for this type of garden work. If the ground is stable and level, the site will simply need to be cleared and a bed of suitable sand  used to cushion the bricks, blocks or paving slabs. However, you may need to compact or at least tamp the earth down firmly first, and if the ground is at all unstable, you should prepare a sub-base or in some cases a solid concrete foundation.

If ground conditions and soil are problematic, or if the property slopes steeply, measures ought to be taken to ensure that pathways, steps and patio floors do not subside. If you are not familiar with standard building practices, it is best to consult professionals for advice at this stage. Allow them to help you assess your site and recommend how to deal with it.


Paths, steps and patios are essentially permanent elements of the garden, and are part of the hard landscaping plan. Besides their most obvious functions, they also enable you to create a focal point for planting and can be used to establish a particular theme in the garden. For this reason, it is essential to have a clear idea of what you want in the planning stages.


While patios are sometimes included in the plan of a house when it is built, many people add them on only once they have lived in a house for some time. The design and style of your house and garden will help to determine the best location for a patio and the materials which will be most suitable for its construction. But it is also essential to examine your needs closely and to consider the primary reasons for having a patio.

A likely motive will be to create an outdoor living area or place for entertaining guests. However, you may want a secluded patio where you can relax away from the hustle and bustle of the house. Perhaps you want somewhere to sunbathe, or a solid paved area where children can ride tricycles or push prams and carts within clear view of the house.

Once you have decided on the site of the patio, you can consider linking it to other outdoor areas by means of pathways and establish where these could be sited.

Paths, walkways and driveways

You may want a path leading from the parking area, carport or garage to the house, and invariably you will also need a pathway from the entrance of the property to the front door of the house. Additional walkways may well be necessary to provide easy access to areas or features within the garden — outbuildings, a swimming pool or pond, patio, herb garden or washing line, for instance. In the larger garden, pathways may also be used visually to divide the property by causing a break in the landscape, and by defining separate areas of interest or function. In the right environment, they may be built to flank lawned terraces or to create an attractive and useful border alongside flower beds.

Unless a garage is situated on the boundary, it is almost always essential to have a driveway, there must be enough room to open car doors so that passengers can get in and out, and ideally it should be designed so that there is enough space to turn a car. You may want to extend the driveway to include a forecourt or turning circle; furthermore, unless there is adequate street parking for a second car and guests’ cars, you could even consider creating an extra parking bay or two if space is not at a premium.


Wherever there are changes in level, paths inevitably incorporate steps or ramps. Often it is also necessary to build steps leading up to entrances, providing access between terraces and linking parts of the garden on sloping ground, even where formal pathways have not been created. Not only will an outdoor stairway neaten a trampled slope, but it will also encourage one to explore further, in much the same way as a winding path that disappears from view does.

Layout and Location

The site chosen for a patio will probably be determined by the function you would like this area to perform, together with ease of access to and from the house and the view from the site. Paths and walkways, on the other hand, are usually laid out to link specific areas, and steps are sited where changes in level make them necessary. Since the size, shape and topography of the property will also have a direct bearing on the plan, it is wise to plan everything carefully on paper first. It also helps to visualise the finished effect — wander around the garden and take note of both sunny and shady spots and the direction of prevailing winds, and remember that these will alter throughout the day and during the course of the year as the seasons change.

Consider all siting options carefully, and make an effort to see, for instance, which potential sites for a patio have a good view and which could lack privacy from neighbours. A patio located alongside the living room can become an outdoor sitting room in good weather, while one sited outside a bedroom is more likely to become a private retreat, especially if it is screened in some way. If the house is rectangular, a large area leading off several rooms may be the ideal plan; however, your lifestyle may require several smaller, more intimate areas instead. Only you can decide.

If you have a site plan of the property, or if you can get one from the local authorities, make a copy of it to draw on. Otherwise measure and mark out the boundaries as accurately as you can on a large sheet of graph paper, working to a scale of at least 1:200, and preferably 1:100. Show the position of the house and any outbuildings, as well as all other existing structures (pergolas, water gardens, arches, walls, fences and anything else which is immovable) and natural features (large rocks, established shrubs, bushes and trees, and any mounds or hollows). Make absolutely sure that you do not leave out anything substantial.

Now draw in the patio areas and any other structures or features you are planning. These should include everything from a swimming pool or tennis court to a planted kitchen garden or a children’s play area. Also note service areas for hanging washing, storing dustbins, making compost and so on.

Then sketch in paths and walkways. These may, of course, be straight or winding, depending largely on whether there are any features they must detour around, the style of the garden and the effect you wish to create. The width will also be influenced by style, as well as function. A formal Victorian-style walk should be reasonably wide, whereas a rustic garden path can be quite narrow. A driveway will need to accommodate cars and passengers entering and leaving their vehicles, and sometimes a turning circle and a parking bay or two.

Wherever there is a change in level, between buildings or patios and the ground, steps are an obvious solution. If a path leads up a slope, you may want to introduce stairs for visual interest as much as for practical reasons. Like footways, steps may be built in a straight line or they may be curved, depending on the site and any particular style you want to adopt. Dimensions should be in keeping with the pathways and entrances the steps lead to, but those constructed within the garden tend to be most effective when they are broad and gradual. A steep, narrow staircase can be an obstacle if one is taking a leisurely stroll about the garden, apart from which it can be dangerous in wet weather or at night.

10. December 2010 by admin
Categories: Gardening, Paving, Paths and Patios | Tags: | Comments Off on Planning a Path or Patio


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