Patio surfaces

The colour and texture of patio surfaces is important, as they need to harmonize with both the plants and their containers. And the patio must also complement and blend with the house.

The surface should be useable in all weathers, non-skid and long-lasting. And aesthetically it must be pleasing to the eye – in a bright summer light and on dull winter days. It must create continuing interest through its pattern or texture yet have uniformity and simplicity. Black and white squares have an instant appeal and create a cool modern look.

patio-plants

Range of surfaces

Concrete was for many years a popular material, and as a hard-wearing, all-weather, long-lasting and weed-free surface it has few rivals. But it is boring, harsh on the eye and in strong sunlight creates a glare. However, a firm concrete surface creates an ideal base on which paving slabs and other materials can be laid. If you have inherited an unsightly concrete patio, consider giving it a new lease of life by S. laying paving material on it.

Paving slabs are widely used to form patios. Half and quarter-size slabs are also sold, and together with the larger slabs can be used to create attractive ,L.= patterns. Combine slabs with bricks, pebbles and gravel to form even more pleasing surfaces.

Paving slabs are available in a wide range of textured and coloured surfaces. Some have a coarse, grit-like surface in colours including charcoal, buff, red and green, while others are smooth-surfaced but in the same colour range. For a more rustic setting, slabs with a quarried appearance and in colour tones such as buff, dark or light brown and red create a pleasing patio.

Paving blocks are more recent in concept, formed of high density concrete and better suited for taking the weight of cars in drives. If access to drains, cables or piping is needed, the surface can be taken up and later re-laid. Both rectangular and interlocking shaped blocks are available.

Natural stone slabs such as York paving are more costly than man-made materials and usually random in size, not easily formed into a regular shape. Paving used on a low wall will provide continuity and extend the area visually.

Matching up the patio and its surroundings

Plan the patio and its surroundings as one unit. Use the same types of material, with the colours complementing each other. For instance, if bricks are laid between paving slabs, the brick theme can be continued by forming a small brick wall around the patio.

  • Brick screening – available in several patterns – is ideal for clinical and modern settings, and walls from this can be quickly constructed.
  • Bricks, slabs and paving blocks can be used alone or altogether. Use a fairly formal arrangement or a traditional bond such as herringbone to show them off.
  • Choose the right surface for your patio to provide an ideal background for your outdoor plants which will give pleasure all year round.

Laying the patio

Whatever the material used to form the surface of the patio, a sound base is essential if slabs are not to sink, puddles form on the surface and the whole area to become an eye-sore. Different surfaces need certain preparation.

  • Paving slabs need not be laid on a complete raft of concrete, which can be labour intensive and expensive before any slabs are put in position.
  • Level the site, with a slight slope away from any building. Ensure that the base is firm – use a tamper or roller.
  • For normal use, cover the site with 5cm (2 inches) of sharp sand. If heavy garden furniture is to be placed on the slabs, lay a 5cm (2 inches) thick layer of compacted coarse gravel before the sand is laid.
  • Ensure that the tops of the slabs when laid are more than 15cm (6 inches) below the damp-course level of any building which the patio adjoins.
  • Position fist-sized dabs of mortar under each slab – at the corners and centre.
  • Start from one side, and as each slab is laid, ensure there is a uniform slight slope to one side.
  • Insert 6mm (1/4 inches) thick strips of wood between the slabs – but remove them before the mortar sets.
  • Later, fill the joints by brushing a dry mixture of sand and cement over the complete surface, ensuring that the cracks are filled. Alternatively – and to prevent cement staining the slabs –cover the paving edges with masking tape and carefully fill and compact the joints with slightly moist mortar.
  • Paving blocks need slightly different treatment, but the same thorough preparation is needed in levelling the site, compacting the soil and laying a 5cm (2 inches) thick layer of sharp sand. Also, if heavy traffic is to use the area, or the site is soft and peaty, form a sub-base of coarse material – the same as for slabs.
  • It is essential that strong edging –concrete slabs bedded in mortar – is put around the site to keep in the layer of sand.
  • Level the sand with a straight-edged board and systematically put the blocks in position.
  • When the whole surface has been filled, use a plate vibrator (can be hired from tool-hire shops) to firm all the blocks into position.
  • Brush fine, dry sand over the surface and into the joints.
  • Bricks and paviors make an attractive surface. They can be laid in a number of traditional bonds. Keeping the pattern regular and the surface even is a labour-intensive but satisfying job. Make sure to use frost-proof types.
  • Bricks can be set directly into earth as long as it is well prepared by digging, raking and levelling.

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