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.