Path design

A broad straight path drawing you along
A broad straight path drawing you along

Paths need a purpose. They have to take you somewhere. Of course this journey is not necessarily a physical one; many of the greatest journeys are ones of the mind. The upshot of this is that before “putting a path in” you must first ask the question – what is the path for? This in most cases will be to provide a means of getting from one place to another. For example, the front gate to the front door but it can equally well be to lead the eye to a view.

The commonest type of path in a garden is intended to provide a clean dry route between two regularly used parts of the garden; this could be the entrance and the front door, back door and the garage or the patio doors and the patio. This sort of path needs to be as direct in its route as possible, or people will forever be cutting corners bringing mud onto it and it will be irritating to all its users. It also needs to be reasonably wide so that anything that needs to be carried down, such as shopping, can be done so as easily as possible. Finally it needs to be all weather, durable and if things like bikes are to be ridden down it solid.

Where a path is of lesser importance its width can be reduced, and if a minor path branches off from the main one a reduction in width can be a useful visual indicator. It helps to show people where you want them to go; if you are taking people on a journey they need some directions. Curves can also play an important roll in guiding the visitor. A clear straight path allows you to easily see the intended destination, such as the front door, hurrying the walker along. In contrast, a gently meandering path slows the walker down and a hidden destination invites exploration. But such a path to nothing will lead to disappointment. You want to find a hidden view not the compost bins!

Finally there are the paths that lead the eye not the feet. Where you want to draw the eye to a feature, be it an ornament, view or part of the garden not yet reached, a path leading to it will draw the eye to it. The path need not be one you can actually walk down and it may on occasion be an advantage if it is not.

At worst the garden path can be the source of wasted effort and frustration but at its best it can enhance the whole experience of being in the garden. The garden path, used well, can be a vital component in how a garden is viewed and perceived: guiding the visitor through the garden in a controlled manner.

 

Drive dimensions

This is a short collection of notes on the dimensions of a private drive.

  • These are for guidance only and should be checked before being used.
  • Local regulations and restrictions may apply and you should check before starting any work.
  • The drive entrance should only be at the verge crossing.
    • The verge crossing will have lowered curbs for the vehicles to get onto the road.
    • New or changed verge crossings will normally require permission from the council highways and planning departments.
    • Verge crossings must be constructed to special specifications.
    • Verge crossings must be constructed by approved contractors.
  • Ideally a drive should be 3.2 metres wide (or 2.6 metres if there is a separate footpath).
  • If you are putting gates on a drive opening onto a busy drive you may have to set them back 5 metres from the edge of the highway to allow a vehicle to pull safely off the road before needing the gates opening.
  • Check you can see clearly from the car driving seat when you pull out of the driveway.
  • Model Drive
    Model Drive
  • Any water on the drive must not drain onto the highway, but must be disposed of on site.
  • Model drive turning circle
    Model drive turning circle
  • Long drives need special considerations.
    • Bends need to be wider to allow vehicles to turn.
    • Oil delivery vehicles may only have 30 metre long delivery hoses.
    • Oil delivery vehicles are typically 7.2 metres long by 2.6 metres wide and weigh 18 tonnes.
    • LPG delivery vehicles need to get to within 25 metres of the fill valve.
    • The fire brigade need to get their vehicles to within 45 metres of the house.

Drive design

With drives, probably more than any other thing in gardens, the most important thing is it actually functions as the drive. No mater how nice it may look if it does work as a drive it is a waste of money. As ever there has to be some compromises, you may what a turning circle in your drive but they need an awful lot of space. First you need to decide how many vehicles you are going to what to park on the drive and do you need to be able to pull onto the drive, turn around and then drive back out. You also need to consider the order the vehicles will be needed, ideally you are not going to want to be constantly moving vehicles around just to get one particular one out. Last but not least you need to consider access to garages and house doors and how much of your garden you what to make into the drive.

Sandstone block paving at Winchester
Sandstone block paving at Winchester

Now look at what space you’ve got. An average car needs a space of 2.4 metres by 4.8 metres to park on and this doesn’t include space for manoeuvring it. Make a sketch and some vehicle sized pieces of card and try moving them about on the sketch, allowing for how they are going to swing out when turning. At this point you are going to have to make some compromises so consider what is important. Once you feel comfortable with the layout of your drive mark it out in the garden as you plant to have it and actually try it out. It is far easier to change now than later.

Cobble drive
Cobble drive

You are almost ready to construct your drive but before you start checking the cost of materials it is important to consider if planning permission is needed. The pressure for off road parking has lead to more and more gardens being paved over and while this does get cars off the sides of roads it means the rain that would soak into the front gardens now runs off. In response to this the government decided to bring in planning controls to cover non-porous paving in front gardens. Further details can be found on the government’s planning portal here. Planning rules are complex and special rules can apply in many situations so a 5 minute phone call to you local planning office at this point can save a great deal of trouble later. What ever you do don’t try to emulate the Ostrich!

. Planning rules are complex and special rules can apply in many situations so a 5 minute phone call to you local planning office at this point can save a great deal of trouble later. What ever you do don’t try to emulate the Ostrich!

Choosing paving materials

Path through a garden
Path through a garden

With the vast range of possible paving materials it can feel a bit daunting when you first starting looking at paving materials. To try to reduce the selection down to a more manageable size, it is well to consider the practicalities imposed on you by what you are planning to use the paving for. You can then check how much of each type you are hoping to use, compare the costs of using different materials and if need adjust your plans.

Though there is considerable over lap; the uses for paving in a garden can be divided into four main categories: drives, patios, paths and utility areas.

Drives

When choosing a material for a drive the first consideration must be what will
happily withstand having a car regularly driven over it and parked on it. The second consideration, is that for many people it will be the first thing visitors see of there home. On the other hand though; it also spends a lot of time hidden under a car. Once you have eliminated the impractical options the chose comes down to cost and personal preference. Please note if you paving an area of you front garden planning permission may be needed.

Patios

Where as a drive is something you park a car on, a patio can be a major feature of a garden and so your budget should try to reflect that. The important thing  is that it forms an attractive feature and not a slab of paving.

Paths

The idea of a garden path is as old as the garden itself, but a path has to have a purpose.

And that will influence the materials used. If the path for instance is going to be in a vegetable, where you are stepping on and off the path onto the bare soil you are going to have problems if you use gravel . Every time to step from one to the other soil and gravel will be transferred from one to the other; ending up with a muddy path you can’t clean. On the other hand an informal border winding along the edge a border is going to be difficult to achieve with square and rectangular flags and runs the risk of looking messy if its full of cut flags.

Gravel and plants
Gravel and plants

Utility areas

Most gardens have some area dedicated to the necessary but unattractive bits of a garden where things such as the shed live. Here the importance has to be the functionality of the material. Something that is cheap, durable and easy to clean.

Paving materials

 

The trick when designing your patio is to make it blend into the surrounds while adding to them. To do this you are free to use every trick in the book. You can use materials which contrast with their surrounding or complement them but care should be taken when trying to match materials as a bad match can be the worst scenario. Nor should you restrict yourself to just one material as mixing in an additional material is a very good way to break up areas of paving and differentiation between different areas. Just don’t over do it!

Below I’ve put together a table of most of the paving/drive materials currently available, the list though is not exhaustive. The cost column is really only to give a very broad indication of the relative expense involved in using different ones The exact cost would depend on many factors including site conditions and how much if any of the work was undertaken on a DIY basis.

Paving Materials 

Material Cost Advantages Disadvantages
Bark Low
  • Low cost
  • Flexible
  • Soft
  • Water permeable
  • Tends to spread about
  • Needs edging
Gravel Low
  • Low cost
  • Flexible
  • Comes in a very wide variety of colours and shapes
  • Water permeable
  • Tends to move about
  • Needs edging
  • If to soft it will quickly disintegrate
  • Only suitable for level areas
Plain concrete flags Low to medium
  • Low cost
  • Readily available
  • Provides a smooth surface
  • Does not need pointing
  • Good under sheds and for utility areas
  • Visually unattractive
  • Very heavy
Coloured concrete flags Low to medium
  • Low Cost
  • Readily available
  • Provides a smooth surface
  • Do not need pointing
  • Visually unattractive
  • Very heavy
  • Colours fade – particularly reds
Buget riven flags Low to medium
  • Low cost
  • More attractive than plain flags
  • Do not need pointing
  • Not as attractive as the more expense flags
  • Limited range of colours and sizes
  • Poor finish
  • Limited range of patterns
Premium riven flags Medium
  • Very wide range to choose from
  • Large range of flags shapes and sizes
  • Can be as expensive as imported flags
  • Care needed to ensure they are laid with the correct fall
  • Limited life
Imported stone flags Medium
  • Almost limitless life
  • Very hard wearing
  • Cost is equivalent to/or less than premium manmade flags
  • Needs a diamond blade to cut them
  • Brittle so hard to work
Block paving Medium to high
  • Very wide range of colours and patterns
  • Very hard wearing
  • Small size makes them very flexible
  • Must be securely edged
  • Red ones fade
  • Large areas can look like parking even if its not
  • Cannot be cleaned by pressure washing
  • The surface must be 600mm above the watertable
Stone setts High
  • Hard to very hard wearing
  • Small size makes them very flexible
  • Difficult to lay
  • Need a very solid base
  • Expensive
  • Need to be pointed
New sandstone flags High
  • Almost limitless life
  • Natural product
  • Very attractive
  • Heavy
  • Expensive
  • Requires skill to be laid well
Reclaimed sandstone flags Very high
  • Almost limitless life
  • Laid well are very attractive
  • Particularly prone to becoming slippery
  • Very heavy
  • Very expensive
  • Require skill to lay them well
Mosaics High to very high
  • Can look very attractive
  • Unusual
  • Requires a lot of skill
Sandstone crazy paving Medium
  • Flexible
  • A cost effective alternative to sandstone flags
  • Needs skill to lay it well
  • Can be hard to source
Tarmac High
  • Makes an excellent hardwearing surface
  • Smooth
  • Flexible
  • Comes in a range of colours
  • Requires specialist skills to lay
  • Only practical if sufficiently large area
  • Must have a secure edging
  • Limited range of colours
  • Not very attractive
Cobble paving High
  • Can look very good in the correct setting
  • Hard to source good warn cobbles
  • Very uneven surface
  • Prone to being slippery
  • Requires a lot of skill to lay it well
Decking Medium
  • Can be laid in a range of patterns
  • Comes in a range of finishes
  • Very good for levelling sloping sites
  • Flexible
  • Prone to being slippery
  • Limited life
  • Requires more maintenance
  • Needs to be lifted off the ground
  • Any decking surface over 300mm above the ground level requires permission from your local authority
Concrete slab Medium
  • Smooth
  • Can be textured
  • Laid well it is very durable
  • Capable of supporting heavy loads
  • Very good for utility areas
  • Requires skill to lay
  • Large areas require good access
  • Difficult to make good if it is damaged
Pattern impressed concrete Medium
  • Visually much better than plain concrete
  • Is only a surface treatment so prone to surface damage
  • Very difficult to make good if damaged
  • The colour will wear away where car wheels repeatedly run over it
Brick High
  • Small units allow flexible designs
  • Small thier small sizes makes trhem good for small areas
  • Bricks must be carefully chosen because of the risk of frost damage
  • Skill required to lay
Reinforced grass Medium
  • Provides a visually “soft” appearance
  • Water permeable
  • Only really suitable for car parking or intensely used footpaths

A patio to eat out on

As foreign travel has increased, so has our appreciation of the continental lifestyle; and with it the idea that the garden can be an extension of the home. This has lead to an increase in the appeal of eating out on a garden patio. In itself the idea of eating a meal out in the garden is not a new one but it is only relatively recently that the patio has become an expected part of the garden. For its size it is the most expensive part of the garden and so some careful thought is need before you start to build one.

Reclaimed sandstone flag patio
Reclaimed sandstone flag patio

The first consideration has to be where to locate the patio within the garden and with the British climate it needs to be in as sunny a part as possible. The idea of shade from the hot summer sun is very appealing but in the UK you need to make the most of any sunshine. To sit out and eat you need somewhere that is very warm. To settle down and eat a meal means sitting in the same place for possibly an hour or more – cool will soon start to feel cold. Shady areas, that never get the benefit of the full sun, stay cold in the warmest of weather and so don’t get warm enough to sit for any length of time. If it gets too warm, and in a sunny sheltered garden this can easily happen, you can use large garden umbrellas to provide controllable shade. These have the advantage that they can be put up or down and move as needed; something which is not possible with other sources of garden shade.

Once you’ve found a suitable spot you have to consider the size and shape of your patio. You have to consider not just the space needed for a table and chairs but also people sitting at the table and moving around it. In practice this means ideally you need an area at least 4 metres by 5 metres. This may seem a lot but from experience I would strongly advise you to treat this as a minimum and only make the patio smaller if your garden is actually smaller than 5m x 4m. It may well worry you that the patio is going to dominate the garden; but in this case make the patio the feature of the garden. The other thing is the shape and so long as you ensure there is a 4m x 5m rectangle within the shape you can let your imagination take its reign. A plain rectangle can be visually rather boring and often too rigid. The easiest way is to unevenly extend some of the edges of the patio out to break up the straight edges. Do not be tempted to try to break up the paving with plant filled gaps. These soil filled gaps will invariably end up under table and chair legs which promptly sink into them – you will soon be out with some paving and mortar to fill them in.

Imported stone flag patio
Imported stone flag patio

Finally you have to choose a paving material to make the patio out of. To work the material needs to have a reasonably surface, be solid (loose materials like gravel never really work) and be sufficiently durable both to survive the weather and the movement of the people and furniture over it. That a side, there is a vast range of materials to chose from both natural and manmade.

Sitting out in the garden

Traditional garden bench at Pine Lodge Gardens
Traditional garden bench at Pine Lodge Gardens

One of the most popular pastimes in gardens is sitting out enjoying any warm weather the British climate affords us. At its simplest this could be just relaxing on a lawn, but soon you will be looking for something a little more comfortable. With this comes the decision – where to put the seat. A light wooden bench can simply be stood on the lawn and moved around as needed. This has the advantage that when it comes to cutting the grass it’s a relatively simple task just to move the bench to one side out of the way.  More substantial seating, or when you want to make a feature of the seat, a permanent base is needed to stand the seat on.

The first consideration when deciding where to put your seat is what is you going to use it for? Are you looking for a shady place to read a book, some where to sunbath or a dinning area? By now you should be getting to know your garden and the shade changes during the day and the year. Take a chair into the garden – any one will do – and try sitting in some likely spots. The world looks different when you drop your line of sight by 2 feet. Does it still feel like a good place to sit? Are you over looked (or overlooking)? Can you till see the view you were hoping to admire? Lots of questions I know but it’s easy to modify your ideas at this stage.

Once a suitable place has been found; the next things to consider are what style of seat and what you are you going to stand it on. The actual choice of style is largely a personal choice and most styles can look perfectly good in most settings; either by complementing or contrasting with its surroundings.  The range of different seats is vast but a few pointers are worth considering.

Garden bench built from railway sleepers
Garden bench built from railway sleepers
  • You get what you pay for. The better made the seat the more expensive it is going to be.
  • Hardwood is more durable but of course costs more.
  • Both wood and metal seats both need regular painting to maintain them.
  • Seats don’t have to be bought. Some very effective seats are homemade.
  • Garden seats can soon become hard and uncomfortable so do you need cushions?
  • Single seats never look very inviting in the garden; so generally stick to benches or use groups of two or more single seats.
  • A garden seat does can be made from all sorts of different materials.
  • A seat doesn’t need to be a conventional chair or bench – be imaginative!

    Sculptured garden bench at the Hillier Gardens
    Sculptured garden bench at the Hillier Gardens

When it comes to what you stand the seat on the choice is simpler. You can stand it one the soil or lawn; but the legs will tend to sink into the ground, and not evenly, so you will have to keep repositioning it. Also constant contact with the damp soil is likely to encourage rotting or rusting of the base of the legs. Bark has similar problems unless it is laid over a firm base, if just a porous membrane is laid under the bark the seat legs will tend to puncture it. Gravel has similar problems to bark and it also needs an edging to stop the gravel spreading about. That aside both can make a good base for a seat that is not being moved around as it is in use. The last choice is paving in its various forms and this is the most expensive. If the seating is going to be around a table, with chairs moving about as people sit and get up from the table, then a smooth solid surface is the only practical choice.

What to put in the garden

By now we’ve got the garden under control and we can take time to consider what we are going to do with it in the longer term. I can’t give a list of what to put in as every garden is different as are its owner’s needs.  What actually goes into the garden is going to be determined by the garden and the use you are going to put it to. It is inevitable some compromises will have to be made; so it’s worth considering who is going to use the garden and for what. Once you feel clear about this, comes the problem of fitting it into the space you have available. Only a very luck few space for all the demands that we will place on a garden. In addition to the size your ideas have to allow for nature of the garden and how your needs are going to change with time. Most commonly people remain in the same house 10 to 20 years and a lot can change in that time.

The Slave Garden at Pine Lodge Garden
The Slave Garden at Pine Lodge Garden

To start off make two lists, one of the characteristics of your garden and the second of what you what to be able to do in your garden, both now and in the future. In the first list you need things such as its rough size, its shape *, whether it faces north, south east or west**, is it fairly level or does it slope, is it shaded by buildings and trees, which parts get the sun and when***, is it sheltered, where are the inspection chamber/manhole covers, where are any existing things you want to keep, What is the soil like, …

The second list needs to contain things such as do you intend to eat out in the garden****, what a pond or other waterfeature, are you going to put play equipment in the garden now or in the future, are you going to need a washing line or rotary dryer, are you planning to grow your own fruit and vegetables, what areas are you going to need access to, what car parking/additional car parking do you need now or in the future, do you need a clear area of lawn to kick a ball about on, do you want to grow a particular type of plant,…

Notes:

* Most people assume their gardens are rectangular, but in practice they never are and in practice are generally along way from being a rectangular.

** In the UK satellite television dishes point roughly due south.

*** In the summer the sun is much higher in the sky, but never directly over head, so things like buildings and trees will cast much less shade.

**** As a general rule, ideally, you need a paved area at least 4 metres by 5 metres for a modest garden table and chairs.

Tiding up to see what you’ve achieved.

Once the overgrown trees and shrubs have been cut back a lot of rubbish will be left; which we need to do something with. Its only once you’ve tidy up your hard work can you really get an idea of what you have achieved and the sense of space you will have created. There a several ways of dealing with green waste: take it to the tip, put it in a skip, re-use it, grind it up or make it into compost. All these have their advantages and disadvantages and in practice most cases will need a combination of some or all of these.

 

Large Yellow Skip
Large Yellow Skip

The easiest solution with small quantities is to cut it into manageable sized pieces and take it to the local tip in the car. If there’s a lot, and when cutting back its surprising how much rubbish you will create, a skip might be a better solution. The green waste you produce will be very bulky so you will probably need a large skip and over sized skips are sometimes available for this very reason. You will need to explain you are only putting green waste in, and make sure that is all you do put in, as then you should get a better price. It may seem a waste just to throw it away but these days garden waste doesn’t just get buried in the ground. Its ground and shredded up, and made into compost for reuse. The advantage is that it’s done on a big scale so the machines doing the shredding and grinding will happily swallow things like tree stumps which are very hard to recycle any other way. Also as the material is coming in from a wide range of sources so the compost doesn’t get overwhelmed by one type of material, an important consideration when making compost. Finally the process of making the compost is a commercial operation so it is carefully managed to make a usable and therefore re-sellable product. The main disadvantage is that if you what to benefit from this compost you have to pay to buy it, so you can end up paying twice; once to get rid of it and once to get it back.

Log car
Log car

That considered you may well feel you would rather recycle the rubbish yourself and this has its advantages. You are not paying someone to do the work and you can be more flexible in the way you use the material. This is though going to take imagination, space, hard work and patience on your part, the results can far outweigh these. First off have a really good look at what you have and start planning how you could make use of it. There is no point in chopping everything up and then finding you could do with some big pieces of wood for something. This may well mean you have to adapt your plans; but this often turns out for the better.

A simple use of small branches is as an edging for informal parts of the garden and these can be built up to form low retaining walls and steps if needed. If you only have a small amount the branches can be cut into equal lengths, say 600mm long, and heaped up to provide valuable shelter for wild life and most importantly the things they feed on. Thin pieces of stick can make simple summer plant supports amongst hardy perennials and in the vegetable garden. Traditionally garden peas were supported by “pea sticks” which they could climb up to keep the plants off the ground. If you are in the fortunate position of having more substantial pieces of tree trunk; these can make very impressive garden seats. Alternatively they can be made in simple but very effective pieces of play equipment.

Log car
Log car

 

To drain or not to drain that is the question.

When faced with an area of waterlogged garden the solution put forward is always to put a drain in, as if digging a trench and putting in a length of perforated pipe will magically make the problem go away. If only life was so easy. If you are going to drain a piece of ground you need to address two questions, one you may not be able to answer, the second your are going to have to.

The first question is what is coursing the poor drainage, this can have answers and sometimes the reason is never actually found. It is still important to try and understand the circumstances behind the problem if an effective means of tackling it is to be found. Possible courses are:

  • A buried layer stopping or slowing water percolating down to the water table
  • High water table
  • Springs
  • A depression blocking the natural drainage
  • A vertical structure blocking the natural drainage down a slope

The second is where you are going to drain the water to. This is the thing people always over look; they will happily stand looking at the problem debating the cause while never considering what they are going to do with the water once they have got it into a land drain. The bottom line is if you are going to drain an area you have to have somewhere to drain the water too. The problem is if the water isn’t draining away it may be because there is nowhere for it to drain to.

Before going any further down the drainage route the question needs to be asked; “is drainage the best solution?”

  • Drainage is expensive and a big upheaval
  • Persistently wet ground opens the opportunity to grow a range of different plants
  • Drainage isn’t always practical

What’s involved?

 

If you are going to drain an area of garden you have to consider the practicalities, you are going to have to dig a  trench – lots of trenches possibly –, bring in gravel and dispose of a lot of now unwanted subsoil. You also have to find somewhere to drain the unwanted water too, clean up all the mud (you are digging out very wet soil) and make good the area so that it once again looks like a garden and not the morning after the battle of the Somme!

Alternatively you could except the situation and fill the area with suitable plants. It is always far easier to plant with the prevailing conditions than try to fight them. Once you have accepted that this area is water logged and you are going to have to live with this it opens up whole new palette of plants to work with. Have a good look at the area and live with it for a while, at least a year, and seen how much sun it gets and when, is it wet all summer or just in winter, is there standing water in the area and how long for, all year, all winter or just when the weather is very wet. How big is the area affected and how does the area change over the course of the year. This way you can build up a mental map of the area so you appreciate which areas are going to be water logged just during winter, which all year round, which are going to be a bit wetter than ideal and which are going to be covered with standing water most of the year. These different areas provide you with the conditions needed to grow plants which would otherwise be very difficult otherwise. If you are prepared to spend a little time and patience you can turn what at first appeared a problem in to a real asset to you and your garden.

Finally not everywhere is going to be appropriate for this treatment and if the waterlogged area is your main area of garden then you are probably going to have to find a means of draining it; but for a small part of a garden, or even a large part of a very small garden, you may well be better seeing the possibilities of your garden and using them.