The choice of patio materials available today is far removed from the obligatory crazy paving from days gone by
Is your patio primarily for private relaxation or for lively parties? If you want to hold soirées, then an outdoor work surface and place for a barbecue or fire pit will be essential, and it’s also useful to have access from the kitchen. Built-in bench seating around the edges of the garden will free up the other space.
Privacy is the keyword for an urban garden. To achieve this you may need to build or raise the boundaries, or provide an area that is screened from surrounding windows; this can be done by building a contemporary pergola or erecting a fabric canopy.
For child-friendly outdoor living areas, keep the design simple so there’s plenty of clear space to allow them to play.
The surface of your patio is all-important. Most stylish is natural stone, such as limestone, slate or Indian sandstone – the latter comes in a number of shades and sizes, and costs around £40 per sqm. For a seamless finish, cut the stones on each side so they can be pressed together. Also check with the supplier if the stone needs treating with a sealant to make it weatherproof.
A cheaper alternative is to choose pre-cast concrete. It may sound tacky and horrible, but slabs have improved since the Seventies and are available in many colours, shapes and sizes, and with different surface textures.
Decking looks good in a patio garden, either as a surface material or to clad the walls. Hardwood timber such as oak and western red cedar lasts a long time and has several advantages over softwood decking: it doesn’t need treating with preservatives, it weathers well and looks classier. If budget is an issue go for pressure-treated softwood and either stain or colour it with decking oil.
If time is precious, keep the planting scheme simple with a few easy to look after specimens. Containerised palms, bamboos or neatly clipped bay or box trees look elegant. Buy large plants to give the patio some instant maturity (some can take a while to grow).
The containers are just as important as the plants. Lots of black or terracotta coloured plastic pots tend to have that ‘just bought from the garden centre’ look. Far more tasteful are crisp terrazzo cubes, zinc planters or brightly coloured pots with lights built into the base – apart from looking funky these are a great way of adding low-level light to a patio. Long, galvanised steel troughs full of herbs and gourmet vegetables are handy if your patio is to be used as an outdoor kitchen.
There is no point having a patio if you can’t use it in the evening. To do this you need lighting and while you may be a football fan, avoid turning your patio into a stadium by using bright floodlights. These are fine as a security deterrent at the front of the house, but if you are having a dinner party, your guests will be heading swiftly for the turnstiles. Instead, go for a few subtle lights to create the perfect party ambience. LEDs (light emitting diodes) are ideal for low-level lighting. They can be fitted flush with a deck or sunk into stonework and do not generate any heat.
Narrow beamed spotlights can be used to pick out a feature, but use these sparingly. Backlights can make dramatic silhouettes, but should also be used with caution – a single light behind a specimen plant would be enough in most small spaces.
When buying, choose lights designed for outdoor use and install before laying any paving materials. Cables can be buried to avoid tripping over wires or having to find cunning ways of hiding them. Fit a switch indoors so the garden can be lit up in the depths of winter from the comfort of a warm room. For qualified electricians try the National Inspection Council for Electrical Installation Contracting.
Wynniatt-Husey Clarke: www.whcgardendesign.com
Claire Mee: www.clairemee.co.uk
Lighting Direct: www.lighting-direct.co.uk
The Light Source: www.thelightsource.co.uk
Vivace Lighting: www.vivacelighting.com
The Pinks Hill Stone Centre: www.pinkshill.com
Travis Perkins: www.travisperkins.co.uk
Big Plant Nursery: www.bigplantnursery.com
The Gastro Garden Company: www.gastrogarden.co.uk
Words: Martyn Cox