Garden Paving, Patios, Decking, Block Paving

Hard Surfaces in the Garden

Although it’s reasonable to think that the plants make any garden, hard surfaces, including walls, paths and paved areas, often have an equally important role in adding to the overall visual impact. From a practical viewpoint, too, it’s essential to make all parts of the garden easily accessible, both for gardening and for viewing, so be prepared to do some work on hard surfaces. First of all, however, give it plenty of thought, as these permanent features provide lots of hard work and eat up a lot of cash. If you don’t like the finished result, you’ve got a long time to regret your choice!


Even low walls need footings: to build a boundary wall of four or five courses of bricks at the end of a patio or paved area, you’ll need to dig a trench of about 30 cm. Next, drop in 13 cm of hardcore, broken up and tamped down with a club hammer or sledge-hammer.

Give yourself a level for the top of the concrete using pegs lined up and checked with a spirit level. Pour about 15 cm of concrete in and level off with the pegs and a piece of wood, to tamp and remove pockets of air.

After a few days, when the concrete has hardened off, lay the first course of bricks on a bed of mortar along the top of the footings. At each end of the wall and every 10 to 12 bricks, build small piers/pairs of bricks, alternating them crossways and lengthways, to add strength to the wall and make it more attractive.


You can, of course, use concrete to lay pathways through your garden, but it is not necessarily less work or much cheaper than other, more attractive alternatives, such as paving slabs. These are available in a variety of sizes, shapes and colours. Another advantage of using slabs is that if you lay them on sand instead of cement, you can always move them at a later date if your plans change, or your family needs change. You’ll have to weed the cracks and expect some movement when soil dries out, but if the area isn’t under constant heavy use, this may be a viable alternative.

As with walls, paving slab paths and patios need a decent foundation: up to 10 cm of hardcore generally for walking on and wheeling barrows over, increasing to 15 cm if vehicles are likely to be driven over the slabs.

Dig a trench deep enough to allow for your broken up and tamped hardcore plus the layer of mortar and the thickness of each paving slab. Use a mixture of one part cement to five parts sharp sand for the mortar.


Using bricks, or a combination of bricks and paving slabs, can add considerably to the appeal of pathways and hardstanding areas in your garden. Chances are you may also have in your garden old bricks that you can recycle, making the job more environmentally friendly and, of course, much cheaper!

Lay several rows of bricks in the pattern of your choice, for example interlocking ‘L’ shapes or herringbone. Press them gently into a bed of mortar and tamp them down level, using the end of the handle of your club hammer to tap along the length of a straight piece of wood.

Fill the joints with a dry mix of mortar, brushing it into the gaps and pressing down between the edges of the bricks with a small piece of wood to remove pockets of air. Using a watering can fitted with a rose, gently moisten the joints. Use a damp cloth to clean off any excess mortar and mortar stains from the brick surface before they dry.


Apart from being cheaper because you can use a mixture of paving materials (we even managed to recycle three or four tonnes of local, high street paving that the council sold and delivered quite cheaply!), crazy paving gives your garden a more natural, rustic look. It’s also more interesting to lay, as you have several possibilities each time you lay a piece of paving, depending on the effect you want to create.

Save yourself a lot of time and backtracking by laying the pieces dry first of all. Change round as many pieces as you like until you feel the area looks balanced and attractive.

Always start with the bigger pieces, to give you the frame for the area as a whole, and make sure the pieces with straight edges are used to form the sides of your paving. Fill in the remaining gaps with smaller pieces, bearing in mind that you will be mortaring around these pieces, too, so one or two pieces can easily ‘fill’ what looks like a huge gap between two, three or four big pieces.

When you are happy with the dry arrangement of your crazy paving, bed the pieces in turn on a five parts sharp sand to one part cement mortar mix. As always, use the spirit level to ensure your surface is even. Tamp the pieces individually with the handle of the hammer and collectively using a piece of straight timber across several pieces of slab.

Last but not least, mortar between the joints using your small pointing trowel.


CLAY OR CONCRETE PAVERS give yet another look to hard surfaces. Although they look like bricks, they are thinner and are designed to fit closely together without mortar joints. That means a lot less back-breaking cement mixing!

Once you have prepared your hardcore base of 5-10 cm depth, you should lay a firm edge to the area, using special edging or concrete edging, bedded on mortar. Check that the edges are level then lay down a 5 cm base of sand.

Fit the pavers together, butting them up first against the edging and then against each other, making sure that they are level across the whole area. Adjust the level of the sand base, if necessary, using a straight-edged piece of wood as a sweeper.

Tamp the pavers down into the sand base, using the club hammer handle end, as before, but this time tapping on a length of timber across a wide area of pavers. For a more professional (and, therefore, more expensive) finish, hire a flat-plate vibrator to do the same job.


STEPPING STONES instead of a path across a lawn save a lot of time, effort and money. They also draw the eye naturally from one part of the garden to another area or focal point, adding considerably to the depth and visual appeal of the garden as a whole.

To lay them quickly and successfully, first pace out in normal strides the stretch of lawn to be crossed. Lay the stones on top of the grass, at the end point of each of your strides. Before continuing, make sure you are happy with the overall look of the stones, especially if your line across the lawn is not meant to be straight.

Next, using a spade or a half-moon edger, cut tightly around the edge of each stone, to a depth a little greater than the stone itself. This is to ensure that it does not stick up above the surface and risk damaging a lawnmower or causing anyone to trip.

Now you can slice out the shape of the stone beneath the grass and lift out the turf. Add as much sand as is necessary, to level the base and keep the stone at the right depth, just below the surrounding grass. Lay the stones in place and check that they are even, using the spirit level.


All hard surfaces can look too severe in the midst of luxuriant greenery, flowers and plants. It’s worthwhile, therefore, considering other materials that come into the category of hard surfaces but have a softening effect.

Don’t be afraid to experiment, in order to achieve quite surprising effects with relatively small amounts of gravel, pea beach and beach pebbles.

It doesn’t cost a great deal to lay a gravel or pea beach surface next to a path or patio area, whether or not you decide to stand potted plants on the gravel. A gravel path under a pergola leading to a pond, to a flower bed or quite simply to a different area of the garden can look stunning and feels different underfoot.

You can break up the harsh look of paving slabs just as easily, by interspersing them with stretches of pea beach or gravel. You can also create interesting textures and effects using bigger pebbles from the beach bedded in mortar between slabs or courses of bricks, either on a path or in a wall. As always, though, make sure you tamp down the tops of the pebbles, using a solid piece of straight-edged wood, to keep them flush with the rest of the path or area.


You can create a completely different effect in your garden by using decking for patios or hard areas. There is a wide range of durable, non-slip decking available with a choice of patterns, usually on double-sided boards.

As with all other hard areas you lay down in your garden, you will need to make sure the area is well supported, preferably on low brick or concrete pads that keep the decking well clear of contact with the soil. Cover the soil underneath the decking with weed suppressing material that allows water but not light to pass through it. If necessary, put gravel down to hold the material in place before you build your decking above it.

Screw or bolt the joists to the pads then lay the decking boards across them, so that you can pre-drill holes to attach the boards. It’s always best to screw the boards rather than nail them down, in case you later have to take any boards up for any reason – screws are easier to take out and avoid splitting the wood.

For the sake of safety and of visual appeal, leave a small drainage gap between each of the boards, and make sure all screw or nail heads are countersunk, to avoid injury to hands and bare feet.

23. February 2015 by Dave Pinkney
Categories: Gardening Ideas, New Gardens, Pavements, Paving/Patios/Drives | Tags: , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Garden Paving, Patios, Decking, Block Paving


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