Design garden paths & patios

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Last updated May 2015

1. Paths and patios are essential garden ingredients
2. Path and patio design points – outlines and colour
3. Which materials for paths and patios?
4. Add plants to your path edge and patio as a finishing touch
5. Costs of paths and patios

1. Paths and patios are essential garden ingredients

The two essential ingredients for a successful garden are:

  • a path for convenience
  • a patio for relaxation.

Although grassy paths may look attractive, you have to cut them frequently to keep them useful, and in wet weather you really need a firm dry surface to access your garden.

For garden furniture, of course you could put this on the lawn, but you will have to keep moving it around to prevent the grass dying beneath it, and in summer you will have to keep moving it to mow. Add to that the problem of wonky chairs and tables, and damage to metal or wood from damp ground, and you can soon see the need for a proper sitting out area.

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2. Path and patio design points – outlines and colour

Take time to design

Whether starting from scratch or modifying an existing garden, it’s far better to get it right the first time round, so allow yourself plenty of time to mull over materials and design. Aim for your path to be functional but at the same time ensure that your route through the garden leads to an attractive focal point too. And whether you prefer your patio in the sun or shade, keep it in proportion to its setting and link it with the line and materials of the path.

Before embarking on a patio/path project have a look at how to do the work:

B and Q’s guide to laying paving and block paving; also Wickes’ how-to lay paving

Formal or informal shape?

Designs can be either straight or curved, but avoid a mixture of formal (ie geometric) and informal outlines, which don’t work very well together. Paving manufacturer’s brochures are inspirational, packed with ideas for using their products, and containing step-by-step installation instructions, so visit a few builders’ yards and garden centres to pick up some catalogues and study the displays.

Colour?

Apart from shape and size of paving, colour is also an important aspect to consider, especially if you intend to link your paths with hard surfaces at the front of the house. Choose colours to harmonise or contrast with your house walls (matching colours can overwhelm), but beware of extending very pale surfaces, which produce glare when the sun shines brightly.

See the range from our online garden centre, B and Qad Wickes.

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3. Which materials for paths and patios?

Plenty of choice

Possible patio and path materials available include decorative gravel, pebbles, chippings, cobbles, slate or stone chippings (from B and Q or Wickes0,
timber decking, paving slabs, small blocks, or, for a continuous surface, resin-bonded gravel or imprinted concrete.

Loose materials
Although gravel and chippings have their place in the garden, that place is not close to the house or on the main route around it, because it tracks its way indoors so easily. It also works its way down slopes, and needs kerbing to prevent it from migrating sideways onto soil and lawns. Neither are loose materials practical for lightweight garden furniture or children’s wheeled toys. So look for resin-bonded materials offered by contractors to solve this problem.

Timber decking (from B and Q and Wickes)
in small units creates a warm and attractive patio surface. The units are lighter than paving and, because they are fitted to a framework of timbers, there’s little ground preparation necessary, and no mixing of mortar.

However, large and small paving units are still the familiar favourite material of most homeowners. The units are manufactured in many useful square, rectangular and circular sizes, with wedge-shapes that allow you to construct pleasingly curved paths and circular features to surround a specimen plant, a gurgle fountain or pool. And crazy-paving is a cheap but time-consuming re-cycling option if you’ve a supply of broken paving slabs.

In addition to this source of smooth surfacing, there are small paving blocks, cobbles and setts (from B and Q, our on-line garden centre and Wickes) available in a range of colours for constructing a durable surface in a variety of patterns. These small units are particularly valuable for curves, circles and fantails, although there are larger slabs that have been cunningly cast to give the finished appearance of many smaller pieces. So if you’d like a brick or cobbled path, but can’t face the chore of setting each element in its correct position, choose these special effect flags instead.

The combination of contrasting materials and colours can be pleasing, but beware of getting carried away and creating a very fussy scene that fights with the rest of the garden for attention. Traditional combinations have arisen for good reason, so only mix a couple of textures and colours at a time to be on the safe side.

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4. Add plants to your path edge and patio as a finishing touch

Plant choice and aftercare

Plants are the essential finishing touch for blending hard surfaces with the garden, and ornamental pots of plants also set off seating areas and provide focal points. But…containers do need watering during dry spells, so if you’d prefer to minimise this chore, consider leaving planting spaces within the patio and path too. Plants grown within paving will still need a certain amount of watering in summer, or need to be drought resistant, because most of the surrounding soil is shielded from the rain. They also need to stand up to the extra heat radiated from the paved surfaces. Take a look at patio plants available from our on-line garden centre.

Create small pockets for mat-forming plants, and larger spaces for taller plants or a planted pool. Evergreens avoid that dismal look in winter, as do seasonal bedding plants that can be replaced once past their best.

Larger plants that tolerate dryish conditions include conifers, heathers and the many silvery-leaved shrubs, perennials and annuals available to gardeners.

Low-growing herbs such as thyme and chamomile are useful paving plants, being evergreen and adapted to dry conditions. They’ll take a certain amount of treading and the leaves release a pleasant scent when crushed too. But if you plan to regularly walk across these plants, you won’t want bees underfoot too, so choose non-flowering thymes, such as the lemon-scented foliage version.

Bulbs are another excellent choice for spring and summer colour in containers or the ground. Dainty snowdrops, species daffodils and tulips, crocuses and dwarf irises are delightful in compact areas, but look lost in large expanses of paving. Here, the taller, more substantial spring-flowering hybrid tulips and daffodils are more appropriate, along with the summer-flowering Guernsey lily.

You’ll find plenty of other ideas at garden centres (including online ones), so be sure to visit there regularly to pick promising plants once you’ve finished the hard work of putting in your patio.

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5. Costs of paths and patios

Phoning around with the help of Yell.com and Thomson’s Directory will give you an idea of costs, as will What Price’s website.

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