How to create the perfect patio

Follow our simple tips to create the perfect patio or courtyard garden, whether you live in an urban setting, a suburb or a country village

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If you're redesigning your garden, a new patio will be right at the top of the priority list. But where to start on this expensive hard landscaping job? Follow our step by step guide to getting the design, position and cost of your new patio just right – handy if you're hoping to cut the cost of your garden's redesign.

Japanese style garden designed by Sara Jane Rothwell Garden Design

Japanese style garden designed by Sara Jane Rothwell Garden Design

(Image: © Marianne Majerus)

Decide on a space to pave

Firstly, assess the patio's location. It needs to be easily accessible and weatherproof to ensure you gain maximum benefit and usage.

You are more likely to enjoy your garden if you are not overlooked, too, so choose a private area for your patio. Using trellis and plants is a great way to create privacy around your new patio and to introduce more greenery to your garden. Another good alternative is to install a pergola.

If your favourite spot is halfway across the lawn, look into practical gravel paths or stone walkways for easy access.

Consider the shape and size of the area you will be paving. It will affect the size of paving slab you use, the amount of materials you need, your budget, and most importantly the look of your garden. Draw a simple plan of your house and garden and shade in the area you would like to pave.

When deciding, be considerate of your neighbours. Don’t block their light, and ensure your drainage is adequate, otherwise water may overspill into their garden, and you may be liable for flood damage.

Work out how you will use the space

Now ask yourself the following questions to ensure you have the patio's dimensions right:

  • Do I want my patio to create a seamless transition between the house and garden? 
  • Do I want my patio to be in a sunny spot or can it be shaded, too?
  • Do I want more paving than grass or more grass than paving?
  • Am I leaving room for planting to soften the patio's edges?
  • Is the patio large enough to house garden dining and lounging furniture?
  • Is the patio going to be used by children? Is it large enough for their needs?

dining area and garden

Make your patio feel like an extension of your internal living space with matching flooring. These Planate stone-effect tiles from Walls and Floors can be using inside and out

Experiment with a rough patio layout

When you're happy with your patio's position and size, lay out lengths of string in your garden to work out how the dimensions of the new patio suit the space. This will also help you visualise what the garden as a whole will look like once the paving is complete

Decide how big your paving slabs will be

Now you can decide what sized paving slabs will best suit your project. Using smaller slabs can help make a patio look larger, however, over a larger area, bigger slabs will be more cost effective. By contrast, smaller slabs will give a more traditional effect, perfect for cottage gardens, for example, while larger slabs can look more contemporary.

'Changing the direction of the paving, introducing other surface materials or simply using different sizes of the same material – small porphyry cobble setts next to porphyry pavers, for example – can help to mark out one area with a particular function from another,' says Matt James, garden designer and horticulturalist.

Does your patio paving need to be non-slip?

If the patio is going to be used by children or elderly people, you might want to choose a non-slip paving stone material. In some cases, where water might collect and potentially cause damage to furniture or property, you might want to consider gravel or decking, rather than paving.

rustic and industrial style decking with plenty of plants

Timber or composite decking can make a great patio alternative to paving or tiles. This eclectic setup from Wyevale Garden Centres features reclaimed-effect decking. See more decking ideas

(Image: © Wyevale Garden Centre)

Which patio style to go for?

There are typically two main paving styles to choose from: contemporary or traditional.

To create a chic, modern look paving made from materials such as polished sandstone, porcelain or low chamfer blocks. For a more traditional feel, riven sandstone flags or tumbled block paving are ideal. 

Whichever finish you decide on, you should always make sure it complements the style of your home, but find out more about choosing the best paving in our dedicated feature.

Should you match patio paving with your house?

Garden landscaping and external structures should always try to reflect the style of your property and blend into your garden. You can achieve this by matching your patio area with the outside of your home and continuing your indoor colour theme outside.

If your house has a lot of red brick or clay tiles then a similar coloured sandstone or block paving will work well while light coloured, modern rendering works well with the silver grey spectrum of granite or natural stone flags. Either way, always look at samples to ensure that the materials you choose will complement existing architecture.

How to get the details of your patio just right

Paving and faced brickwork joints should be the same width and run perpendicular, depending on the pattern, and pointing colour should never clash.

If your paving is being laid alongside decking, ensure attention is given to decking fixings, too, using specialist screws. For hardwood and cedar decks, stainless steel or brass coloured screws are best. Never use nails — you can’t lift the boards easily without damaging the edges. As with paving, consistent spacing is essential.

Patio paving

(Image: © Boys and Boden)

Can you blur the boundary between indoors and out?

Black box extension to London terrace clad with metal from IQ Glass

(Image: © IQ Glass)

Using the same surface material and wall colours both outside and in helps to blur boundaries between the house and garden, making both spaces feel bigger. But few materials can be used for both floor surfaces. A textured finish is important for grip, so another material of a similar size or colour, or a weatherproof version, is necessary. Western red cedar or hardwoods such as oak, iroko and balau will extend timber flooring outdoors, especially if the planks are laid the same way, but wood-effect materials will work brilliantly, too. Plastic composite decking is an option, or paving — try CED Natural Stone.

Creating a seamless transition isn’t as simple as raising an exterior surface to the level of the internal floor height, as it could compromise the damp-proof course (DPC). With new extensions, a high DPC can be added, or, with existing buildings, interceptor or tidy slot drains installed on the threshold. Patios and terraces should slope gently away from the house so water doesn’t collect by walls.

Do you need planning permission to build a patio?

There are no restrictions on the area of land which you can cover with hard surfaces at, or near, ground level. However, significant works of embanking or terracing to support a hard surface might need planning permission.

If you live in a listed building, you will need listed building consent for any significant works whether internal or external.

Does your paving need foundations?

Key to the lifespan of all hardscape is the foundation or sub-base. The depth and construction varies according to materials. Garden paving slabs typically require a solid foundation (5cm to 20cm deep, depending on soil conditions and material), ensuring no movement. Brick or block pavers for driveways are usually laid on compacted sand (a ‘laying course’), over a thick sub-base. Only the edges are cemented, to hold the whole surface together.

Gravel drives need a compacted sub-base, but paths typically don’t. Never scrimp; ask a landscape contractor for advice.

Simple, elegant patio furniture – like this set from Point at Go Modern – will work well in any scheme

(Image: © Point)

Who will lay your patio paving?

Are you going to landscape your patio yourself, or bring in contractor to do it for you? Taking the DIY route will save money on a garden redesign and guarantee that it is done on your timescale. A contractor will likely be quicker and provide a better quality finish, but you will have to fit into their schedule, and it will affect your budget. And, don't forget, if you are unsure about your patio's design, it may be worth hiring a garden designer for a day's consultancy.

Deciding which course to take will allow you to create a more accurate schedule and budget.

How much does a new patio cost?

The labour cost for paving will depend very much on where you live, but expect to pay between £75 and £100 per square metre for someone to prep and bed down the paving slabs on a mortar mixture. 

The cost of the patio slabs depends on their design, size, construction, quantity and quality. Cut natural stone costs more than split, while loose gravel is cheaper than resin-bound. Concrete imitation paving costs less than the real thing and, being a uniform thickness, is quicker to lay, too. Factor in labour and machinery, and always get quotes from at least three contractors.

It is worth remembering that up to 80 per cent of the cost of your landscaping will be allocated to ground works. There is often little difference in costs between the installation of cheap paving products and more expensive ones, so choose the paving that you really want.

Where to source your patio paving?

Where you buy your paving slabs from really depends on your budget. Your every day builder’s warehouses are a cost effective place to get good quality products quickly and easily. 

If you have the time and budget to look for something more interesting, specific, or in line with the style of an older property, many reclamation and salvage yards carry reclaimed paving slabs that might be perfect for your project.

Find out more about choosing the best paving materials in our feature.

How to cut the cost of a new patio

DIY keeps costs down, but know your limits. Laying a gravel path is simple (don’t forget the cost of edging), and laying a rustic herringbone path is within the reach of a competent DIYer, but for brickwork, rendering, plastering and patio stone, employ a professional for a quality finish. Retaining walls and steps aren’t easy, plus it’s essential to get them right for safety.

Read our feature on cutting the cost of your garden design for more tips.

Consider the patio's boundaries

Spring garden container display

(Image: © Ryland Peters & Small)

'Walls and fences provide useful garden space, so think vertically with your design scheme,' advises garden designer and horticulturalist Matt James. 'Fix vine eye screws and wire to a fence, or a trellis to a wall, for wall shrubs and climbers to grow up. You can mask ugly walls with cedar strips, ornate trellis or concrete render. If you choose to paint them, keep the colours light and subdued so that boundaries recede. Cobalt blue walls, for example, will make the space feel like a blue cell, so stay neutral.

'Tall fencing, walls or dense planting can create cramped little corners in small courtyards, which aren’t practical to use. However, if you subtly conceal parts of the garden so that you can’t see the entire space all at once it can make it feel bigger than it actually is. A large potted bamboo or two, a freestanding trellis covered with sweet peas or tall planting with lacy perennials, such as Verbena bonariensis spilling from the flowerbeds, will help to achieve this without taking over your garden.'

Devise a patio planting scheme

Growing vertically saves ground space, so use trellis to grow clematis, jasmine or rambling rose. 'Plant up the boundaries first with climbers, then layer plants down in front of them, finishing with the smallest at the front,' advises garden designer and horticulturalist Matt James. 'With space at a premium at the back, choose well-behaved wall shrubs instead of big, spreading shrubs. Good choices would be Ceanothus, Chaenomales and Garrya elliptica – the gorgeous silk tassel bush – pruned and trained tight to the boundary. For an oriental feel, try tidy clump-forming bamboos like Fargesia nitida and grasses like Miscanthus; both are tall but thin.

'For the middle tier, plant smaller evergreens such as Christmas box, sage, Cistus, Pittosporum ‘Nanum’ and the smaller deciduous Viburnums, depending on the aspect. Mix in stalwart perennials, like Japanese anemones, Geranium phaeum and ferns for shade, with asters, Echinacea, Linaria and Lysimachia for sunny aspects.

'Plant the pockets in the front tier with ground cover perennials such as silver Stachys byzantina, Ajuga, catmint, ornamental dead nettles and low-growing thyme. Sprinkle a few bulbs throughout for added interest in this space.'

You can also grow a container garden or start a kitchen garden in tall planters.

If you have space, then a well-watered container garden with fresh carrots and runner beans is a cook’s dream. Bush roses, fuchsias and camellias are beautiful, sweet-smelling flowers that thrive on a patio if vegetables aren’t your thing.

To encourage wildlife into your garden, accessorise with a bird feeder or a bird-box. A container of wild meadow flowers to attract beautiful butterflies, and a tinkling, relaxing water feature will add atmosphere.

Complete the patio with garden lighting

Create the perfect atmosphere by investing in some soft garden lighting, from fairy lights to wall lanterns. Solar-powered garden lighting is an ideal option, particularly to avoid dangerous trailing wires. Solar lights come in many different varieties to hang in branches, trellis, or around a table top. Richly coloured Moroccan lanterns are soothing on a summer’s evening, especially if you use insect-repelling citrus candles.

For brighter options, a qualified electrician can install power and down-lighters. Find out all you need to know about garden lighting when you have a minute.

Add the finishing touches to your patio

John Lewis Croft Collection

Croft Collection by John Lewis

(Image: © John Lewis)

Complete your seating area with an awning or patio umbrella to protect against the rain, or a patio heater for warmth in unstable weather. Alternatively add a chiminea or fire pit for a stylish focal point.

If there is space, consider a barbeque or an outdoor kitchen with storage, ideal for feeding the family and entertaining friends.  

Good garden storage is a must, in particular for a courtyard garden that might not have space for a shed.  

'Wall fountains work well in very small spaces, or you can go for a water blade cascade feature,' suggests Matt James. 'If you want a contemporary feature, go for glass or steel ‘walls’, where the water shimmers down one side. Choose a feature that will look good even when it’s not working. For hassle-free installation, buy a feature where the sump (water reservoir), pump and fittings are all included. Many kits also come with waterproof lighting, or add your own to transform your courtyard or patio.'

And finally, possibly most important of all, get the best possible garden furniture to adorn your space and to give you somewhere to sit. 

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