Planning your garden patio
You might not be planning a barbecue for this weekend or inviting friends over for drinks on the terrace but you might consider whether it's time to revamp your exiting patio or install a new one.
Most people don't start to think about sitting out and entertaining until the first decent summers day. But winter is a great time to plan and carry out not only patio works but all hard landscaping jobs.
Hard landscaping is the term used to describe garden building and construction works such as patios, pathways, drives and walls. Soft landscaping is the term used to describe planting, lawn laying and soil works in general.
During the winter when conditions are wet it is often not suitable for soft landscaping jobs to be carried out . With hard landscaping jobs, as long as it isn't actually raining, work can continue as usual. If there is a frost or threat of frosts you can use a frost proofing additive to cement and mortar mixes and cover new work with a plastic sheeting, sacking or old blankets at night.
Also if you intend to get a professional to lay a patio for you January and February are often quieter months for landscapers and not only will you be able to get the works done quickly you are likely to get a better price as well.
I would completely recommend using a landscaper or builder to install your patio as I have seen many poor attempts by owners, friends and family to lay expensive stone and slabs to disastrous effect. The best way to find a contractor is by recommendation as I have also seen works carried out by so called professionals that leave a lot to be desired.
If you intend to design the patio area yourself, a design is always recommended, start by getting a sheet of A4 graph paper. On this you can map out your patio area to scale, probably 1:50 is the best scale to use. This means that one centimetre on your graph paper represents 50 centimetres on the ground in your garden. Two centimetres equals one metre and so on.
If you are replacing an existing patio and intend to keep the same dimensions but just want to up grade the paving materials you just need to measure what is there. Otherwise your first considerations are where to locate the new area and how large an area you need.
The location for most people is by the house, often related to the position of external patio doors. If your house is North facing this is not necessarily the warmest place to sit. Look away from the house in this case and find a location that can still be easily accessed while benefiting from a bit more sunshine. Bear in mind when you will use the area, no point having the sun on it all day when you are busy only for it to be cast in shade from 4 o'clock onwards when you want to use it.
The size will depend on how you intend to use it. If you have an existing table set, the size of area will need to accommodate that plus some space for freedom of movement around. Otherwise design to suit your requirements.
Shape is the next thing to consider. This may be square, circular, rectangular or triangular depending on where the patio is located. This is a good time to look at some paving materials as this might also have a bearing on your patio shape.
There are many patio centres and builders merchants around the country supplying a vast array of paving materials. Most have display areas set out to show how different materials can be used and the different patterns for laying them. These materials will range from granite, limestone, sandstone and man made slabs. While cost will be one factor, personal preference is another. I prefer natural stone paving, that is to say granite, limestone or sandstone. While granite comes in silver grey and oatmeal buff, sandstones and limestones come in many colours. Bear in mind all paving will discolour once laid from general use and atmospheric pollution. Granite and limestone tend to clean up better with a jet wash than the softer sandstone does.
Once you have decided on size, shape and material think about the design pattern of how the slabs will be laid. I think granite, because it is cleaner cut, is best laid in a formal style. That is to say using one size of slab and repeat laying it either with pointing joints staggered, like with brickwork, or straight. The pointing joint is the gap between the slabs that is filled with a hard setting mortar or pointing compound, this stops weeds growing and i think essential.
Sandstones and limestones can be laid formally or in a random rectangular fashion. This is where larger random sized stones spiral off a smaller keystones to create a patchwork of paving slabs. This involves some cutting with a stone saw but works very well on large areas as it breaks the look somewhat.
Don't be afraid to use bricks or granite sets as an edging material to give definition and contrast. Like with all aspects of gardening have fun with it.