Garden Paving and Hard Surfaces

The easy alternative to grass for small gardens


Before buying the cement or levelling the ground, the most important decision to be made for paving is the choice of material, and there is a huge variety from which to choose.

As I have mentioned, to my mind brick is one of the most beautiful. There is nothing so pleasing as mellow brick. It adds a special quality to any garden. Brickwork in Victorian and Edwardian gardens achieved the high level of craftsmanship for which England was noted, and such work can still be seen and admired today.

But when choosing brick, select one that is frost-resistant and has a non-slip surface, otherwise once brick is wet and a little slime or algae has accumulated on it, it can be very slippery. It’s important not to buy smooth engineering brick for the garden paths, steps or terrace.

Another advantage of brick is that it is very adaptable and can be worked easily into any space or design. There are a variety of brick patterns such as herring-bone or basket-weave, both which look most attractive when laid. Brick is expensive but it is long-lasting and it improves with time.

Choose a shade that will blend well with your house or boundary walls. If your house is a yellow brick, try to find a brick in a similar shade that will tone, rather than a contrasting colour such as dark reddy-black or bright red brick. Redland Bricks have a wide selection as do some building merchants. The Brick Advisory Centre can help match bricks and comment on their quality and stability.

Synthetic Material

Smooth and riven concrete slabs come in many shades, shapes and sizes, and there is also a great variety in smaller coloured concrete slabs. A good many are non-slip, frost-resistant and inexpensive in comparison to brick and York stone. If carefully selected, they look very pleasing, especially if they are broken up with small areas of brick, cobbles or have sections omitted for the planting of low growing-plants. A selection of terracotta pots or containers can also help to break up the monotony of concrete slabs.

If you like synthetic materials, there is a huge selection to choose from including concrete blocks in brick size or smaller.


Quarry tiles are very attractive for a small patio or conservatory. Terracotta tiles also (check they are frost resistant) have great style and lend a Continental flavour. There are also precast textured slabs, cobbles, stable tiles, and simulated granite setts.

Pea Shingle

Pea shingle is another great material. If you pick up a handful of pea shingle after it has rained you will observe the wonderful variety of subtle colours, colours which most gravel does not possess. Much of the crushed shingle or gravel tends to be uniformly beige, rust, rusty beige, beigey pink, pinky grey, grey-y brown and so on. But among the tiny pebbles of pea shingle there is a whole range of exquisitely gentle natural colours. Most suppliers of crushed shingle or gravel will send samples in the post, so you can see it before deciding which one looks best with your house.

But whether you choose gravel or pea shingle, in time they both attract weeds. These weeds are easily removed by raking or a solution of a weed killer such as Path Clear, but if the area is driven or walked on regularly, the weeds will be crushed and not have the opportunity to come through. It is unfortunate that one is obliged to use chemicals to kill weeds, as so many small creatures’ lives depend on our using natural methods and organic materials. If you feel strongly about it a good rake is extremely effective.

If you have 2 in (5 cm) or more of pea shingle, cars and walking on the surface will usually keep down the weeds. But remember that 2 in (5 cm) of pea shingle under foot is less comfortable to walk on and certainly not suitable for the elderly. Crushed pea shingle is not suitable for wheelchairs. These gravels produce an uneven surface, so prams and wheelchairs get stuck and cannot run smoothly, and the older generation will find shingle and gravel very unsteady under foot.

N.B. 6 in (15 cm) deep shingle is thought very good under children’s swings and play equipment. Not quite as good as shredded bark, but surprisingly effective.


To conclude, another absolutely beautiful surface is flint stone cobbles. They are not comfortable to walk on but they do make a very attractive paving surface.

If used in 2 ft (60 cm) widths as edging round a terrace, or for adding detail down the edge of a path or to a paved focal point such as a statue or fountain, they are unsurpassed. Even whole areas paved with cobbles look stunning, especially if ‘olde worlde’ ornaments such as old farmyard implements are placed on them.

Cobbles should be set into mortar, otherwise in no time the weeds will completely cover this beautiful surface. Again these are not suitable for wheelchairs or older people.

Laying Paving

Unless you are a good ‘do-it-yourself enthusiast, laying paving, bricks and cobbles is a professional’s job and is best left to the skilled, as paving has to be graded so the rainwater can fall away. But if you have an adventurous spirit, strong back and plenty of energy, you can do it yourself.

laying paving


The laying of paving slabs as described in the front garden is quite simple if laid on sand but this is not good for low maintenance as weeds grow between the slabs. Lay standard paving units of 18 x 18 in (45 x 45 cm), 9 x 9 in (22.5 x 22.5 cm) or 18 x 9 in (45 x 22.5 cm) on to a flat bed of sand, though for true low maintenance it is more satisfactory to lay them on a bed of concrete. With sand, the paving after heavy rains can often become uneven and slippery because the slabs retain the moisture that seeps up from the sand below, and weeds will grow between the slabs. It’s important to remember when putting sand beneath the slabs that it should be under the whole slab and not just under the corners, otherwise when the temperature beneath the slab changes it will crack. First, level the space, then all you need to do is:

1. Check the surface is even with string and a spirit level.

2. Spread sand or concrete over the whole area and again check the level.

3. Lay the standard paving slabs, but if the paving is for a patio by the house, it must be graded so the paving slopes gradually to one side into a proper drain or soak-away, and not towards and into the house.

4. Finally point between the slabs with cement mortar.


If your garden drains to a pipe, ditch or a stream you probably have a right to it and no one may interrupt it. You can check with your local Water Authority. But you cannot drain your paving on to somebody else’s land without their consent and similarly they may not do this to you.

20. June 2013 by admin
Categories: Gardening Ideas, Patios and Decking | Tags: , , | Comments Off on Garden Paving and Hard Surfaces


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