Garden Surfaces

Garden Surfaces: The Expert Guide

Garden Surfaces: The Expert Guide

Patrick Martin, founder of PM Landscapes, gives his expert guide to garden landscaping.

One issue that is frequently raised by our clients in garden design consultations is whether to use paving or decking as garden surfaces for the main seating areas. It is an important decision because this area is often the main hub of the overall garden design layout.

The answer to that question depends on quite a few variables. For example, paving is probably a better option in areas of shade or close to trees or larger shrubs simply because it is easier to clean, sweep down and maintain.

Decking, on the other hand, can be a great solution where the house door thresholds are at a higher level than the rest of the garden or where there is existing uneven concrete or old paving that can be simply decked over if levels allow thus saving the need to break up and remove the old concrete.

Since the arrival of imported Indian Sandstone sometime in the mid 1980s, other imported natural stone products have become increasingly popular. Silver and blue granite; blue and black limestone; Chinese, Brazilian, green and rustic slate and in more recent times, porcelain garden paving usually available in lighter shades such as cream and beige. All of these natural stone products can be honed, cut and sand blasted to produce a much higher specification material which can work well in either a traditional or contemporary garden setting.

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If you are in the consultation process or seeking quotes from landscaping companies, ask them to provide a range of slabs at a minimum of 300mm x 300mm and lay them out in the garden where the new patio is to be located. Very quickly you will get an impression of what works and what doesn’t. Alternatively, many garden centres and stone merchants have displays or paved areas on the ground where you can view all the natural stone products as they would look in a patio setting.

Decking is probably not among the more popular garden surfaces anymore. Heavily promoted and overused by various garden makeover programmes – it seemed that decking was the solution to any garden design challenge. The main objection is that it is prone to being slippery in the winter months in the years after installation. This is exacerbated in areas of shade such as a north facing garden, under trees or between tall buildings. It also became apparent that timber decking required maintenance that was beyond the capacity or interest of all but the most avid DIY enthusiast. In short. it could be said that timber decking is more suited to countries with warmer dryer climates such as Australia and parts of the USA and does not fare so well through a few cold and damp English winters.

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That said, there is definitely a place for timber decking in garden projects where it is located in a bright, sunny open aspect. And the above-mentioned pitfalls have to a large extent been mitigated with the introduction of composite decking. Composite deck boards are formed by mixing hard wood pulp with high density polyethylene and various other recycled materials. The colour dye is added at the fabrication stage making the colour much less prone to fade and the reduction in wood fibre discourages the growth of algae thus enhancing the nonslip aspect. The boards are often further machined to add a grooved profile and generally require much less maintenance than timber. The colours available in composite decking can work well with the typical greys and blacks found in many bi-fold doors and frames. In addition, if the right frame profile is specified, it is possible to set the decking flush level with the internal floor giving a seamless threshold from one to the other.