Choose the best patio paving for your garden

Hard landscaping can make or break your garden's design. Garden designer and horticulturalist Matt James advises on how to pick the right paving for your patio

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Planning a new garden from scratch? From decking to paths to gravel and garden paving, each has a huge impact on a garden’s character. Aside from big specimen plants and bespoke features, they are also the most costly part of making a garden. Here's how to choose the right paving for your patio, path and driveway.

Which paving material to pick?

Most garden designers use three to four different materials, such as granite, brick and oak, to avoid a look becoming too busy. This makes it easier to achieve design unity. Don’t feel you can’t break up one monotonous material — knapped flint along side clay bricks is common in rural gardens, for example. Or use smaller units of the same thing — a ribbon of rough granite setts running through crisp sandblasted granite slabs could subtly delineate a children’s play space.

Which paving colour and finish to choose?

Shades of earthy brown, honey, dark grey and deep brick red work well with most materials used in British architecture, especially older buildings. Around modern glass-clad or wooden exteriors, decking looks good. Subtle is always best; pre-cast concrete imitation garden paving in pink or yellow slabs is a common offender. Rainbow-coloured sandstone can look odd, too.

Which paving style to opt for?

Hard landscaping can enhance or ruin a scheme. Rustic clay pavers, river-worn gravel, split riven sandstone and tall hazel hurdles suit more traditional designs. For modern schemes, sawn limestone, quartzite, planed oak – even polished concrete – are common, although cut, sanded or planed materials usually cost more. But don’t be afraid to break the rules. Traditional materials used in a contemporary way (such as porphyry or sandstone planks) also feature extensively in modern designs, for a pleasing hybrid of old and new.

Valentine Single Rattan Sun Lounger in Pure

(Image: © Cuckooland)

Consider the garden's landscape and setting

The local design vernacular should also have an influence. In the front garden, where hard landscaping makes an contribution to the character of the surrounding area, try to use local materials, or sympathetic alternatives that blend in. Buff-coloured Cotswolds stone chippings would look odd surfacing driveways in Cornwall, for example, where granite is local.

B&Q AUTUMN BRONZE OLD RIVEN MIXED SIZE PAVING PACK £165

(Image: © B&Q)

Think about the effects of weathering

Appearances are important, but so is performance. Garden paving and decking should be slip-resistant, durable, and require little maintenance. Retaining structures built with bricks, blocks, sleepers or stacked stone should stand firm even if the soil beneath is waterlogged. While good-quality materials cost more, they will last longer.

From a visual perspective check if a material weathers well. Oak, natural stone and copper only get better with age. Concrete imitation paving won’t change at all; however, for some people, this is exactly the point.

(Image: © Leigh Clapp Photography)

Do you need planning permission for your paving?

How materials behave and affect the wider environment is a hot topic. Water run-off is a key issue, especially in towns and cities where old drains can no longer cope with run-off from so much extra paving and tarmac. Rules introduced in 2008 now mean impermeable surfaces mustn’t exceed five square metres in a front garden unless angled to a lawn or flowerbed; otherwise you’ll need planning permission.

Many permeable alternatives exist, from gravel and block paving (‘rumbled’ blocks look more natural) to reinforced grass (such as Geogrid from Grassform), so it’s not difficult to comply. Porous paving and bound gravel, even permeable tarmac, are also worth considering, especially if you want to create an eco-friendly garden

Contemporary garden with straight paths and lawns

Paving a gravel form a linear path in this contemporary garden

(Image: © Marcus Harpur)

How much does patio paving cost?

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. 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. 

How to cut the cost of a new paving

Research, research, research. Local builders merchants and DIY sheds offer good deals, and using local materials can cut costs, but this isn’t always the case. Brazilian slate, for example, is cheaper than Welsh. Likewise, reclaimed materials are rarely cheaper than new.

John Lewis Henley by KETTLER Outdoor Table ú699, John Lewis Henley by KETTLER Outdoor chair

(Image: © John Lewis)

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