Landscape your garden like an expert with these essential paving tips

Creating paved living areas and pathways in the garden requires careful planning. Check out Carol’s top tips for flat-out fabulous footpaths

Landscape your garden like an expert with these essential paving tips

Whether it’s a stable platform for outdoor living, an area for lounging by the pool or an all-weather route to the compost bin, hard surfaces are essential in the modern garden. The options are numerous so how do you decide what’s right for your place? Here are our top tips for getting the most out of your outdoor floor.

1. Make a plan

A paving plan is essential for all but the tiniest gardens. An accurate scaled plan of your site will help you work out exactly how much paving is required for each element: terrace, footpaths, driveway and so forth. If budget constraints mean you need to develop the garden in stages, a paving plan will help you decide where and when the money is best spent.

2. Spread the budget

It makes sense to allocate most of your paving budget to areas of high use such as outdoor living terraces, swimming pool surrounds and front paths. Here you might opt for sandstone, bluestone or custom-made concrete pavers, while cheaper materials such as standard concrete pavers set into gravel or pebbles can be reserved for side paths and service areas.

3. Fit for purpose

As paving is one of the most expensive items in landscaping, a little planning will help avoid costly mistakes. Be clear on the functional requirements of your paving as some products will be a better fit than others. For instance, if your small courtyard also has to provide space for parking, look at poured concrete or thick, interlocking pavers that are designed to cope with heavy loads. However, if there’s a tree planted close to the proposed paving, its roots may cause cracks or lifting. An area of gravel or pebbles around the root zone might be the answer.

4. Hidden costs

As is true for many types of building or renovation, a significant proportion of your budget will likely be spent on areas that won’t be seen when the project is complete. This includes soil excavation, drainage, compacting and laying a base course (usually coarse stone chip sometimes called builder’s mix and/or sand). Don’t be tempted to skimp on these stages as poor preparation can ruin the look of even the most expensive paving. You may wish to look into how much you can achieve yourself to keep costs down, but only attempt significant landscaping works if you’re a confident handyperson.

5. Weather report 

If you live in a very cold area, consider the effect regular freezing and thawing may have on paving. Live in a warmer part of the country? When choosing paving for swimming pool surrounds go for products that are not too dark in colour to avoid excessive heat absorption. And remember pool paving also needs to be non-slip and resistant to chlorine or salt.

6. Go green

With stormwater run-off now a major issue in our towns and cities, pavers are often a better environmental option than poured concrete as they allow water to trickle into the ground. Growing low plants such as mondo grass, pratia and ajuga around pavers increases their green credentials. Better still, consider paving products that are specially designed for permeability: some hold water in the base layer below, slowing down the flow rate. Others can filter pollutants, too.

7. In style

Aesthetics are just as important as practicalities with paving, especially over large areas. The materials you choose will have a major impact on the overall look of your garden, whether it has an existing style or one you’re keen to create. For an informal look, try sandstone crazy paving with groundcovers in between, or bluestone slabs set into fine gravel. Crushed gravel, limestone chip, pebbles or shell are perfect for paving around formal gardens with box hedging. Custom-made concrete pavers flush with the lawn work well in contemporary gardens, as does sandstone, slate, honed concrete and terrazzo paving. Recycled bricks are best in traditional gardens; stone slabs are ideal for Japanese-style gardens.

8. Installation 

A professional paving contractor or top-notch DIY skills are essential for large areas of poured concrete and high-end stone paving. If you’re keen to save money by installing your own paving, concrete pavers bedded in sand are much cheaper and easier to lay. Remember, a level, well-compacted base that slopes slightly to drain away from the house is essential for any paved area.

9. Maintenance 

Generally, the more pricey the paving, the greater its durability, stain resistance and colour fastness. Top-of-the-range porcelain and stone pavers usually require little maintenance, whereas porous materials such as concrete and sandstone may need to be sealed to protect against staining (barbecue grease, berries, birds, etc). This is often cheaper to do when they’re being laid. As well as making them easier to clean, sealing also helps to retain the colour in concrete pavers, but it can also make them more slippery and will need to be reapplied at regular intervals. If your paved area will be in shade, mould and moss could be a problem. Use an anti-mould cleaner like 30 Seconds on concrete or a water blaster for natural stone paving

Words by: Carol Bucknell.

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