The surface material you have outside should suit your garden as much as the flooring you have inside your home suits its various rooms and, just like choosing an interior flooring, you should consider the style, cost, and practical suitability of different materials. Paving, in all its various forms, is one of the most useful of surfaces outside. It provides a firm surface for furniture, pots, and other features, requires little maintenance, and can act either as a neutral backdrop or as a feature in its own right.
Your first consideration, whatever your final choice of paving material, should be to decide on a paving design—the overall combination of shapes as well as the position of any individual paving units within these. It is important to decide on this early, since different paving designs, from a uniform sheet of material on one hand to intricate interlocking units on the other, will radically alter the look of a space.
Broadly speaking, paving patterns can be divided into those that are static and those that are dynamic. Static paving patterns hold the eye within the site, or one part of it, while dynamic paving patterns lead the eye through it. Some paving patterns have the effect of visually dividing up a space into individual mini rooms; others, usually those that are very densely patterned, hold the eye in one spot. A very bland pattern, or none at all, will emphasize the overall shape of the area paved and act as a neutral backdrop to other aspects of the garden design.
Dynamic Paving Patterns
In contrast, dynamic paving patterns create a sense of movement and visual pull. In a conventional, comparatively large garden space, there might be traditional pathways of hard surfacing through lawn and planting. These strong lines always lead the eye and are dynamic. In small backyards and gardens, where an area of paving might cover the entire space available, you can only create a dynamic scheme through the arrangement of a pattern within the paving, or by aligning areas that flow one to another so that they lead the eye.
Linear paving patterns will work where the visual pull has a satisfying conclusion—for instance, a pleasing view or a sculptural feature—or has a practical function, like a path leading to a front door. A static surface design is usually preferable when paving an enclosed space with no one point of focus, such as a terrace or patio used for meals outside.
Whether you choose a static or dynamic paving design, you will increase the apparent dimensions of a small space by having a simple paving pattern and scaling up the other features. Conversely, a heavily patterned arrangement will create a “busy” effect and emphasize its smallness.
Focus On Paving
The type of paving material you choose will depend on the mood and style of the enclosure, and the materials that are available locally. Take into account the texture as well as the color of different paving materials before making your choice. The mood of a brick house, for example, with some brick walls and wooden fencing in the garden, would probably be best sustained by brick paving or deck lumber. Stone paving, in this instance, would be less suitable, since it would probably fight with the brick, and the use of a third material would make the overall design too busy. Conversely, a space adjacent to a stone building, with stone boundary walls, probably calls for the use of wood and more stone (or concrete slabs of a similar aggregate) as the ground surface, since brick or tiles would be visually too weak.
Natural, local paving materials are usually the most practical and suited to the environment. In rural areas, this is likely to be local stone. However, in urban areas, where there is unlikely to be a common natural building material, concrete and brick are the most universal building media.
There are numerous forms of precast concrete paving, ranging from those resembling clay pavers, through slabs of varying shapes and thicknesses, to pieces the size of railroad ties. Generally, the plainer and more subdued, the better—a single virulent, heavily textured paver can look dramatic, but in a mass will be disastrous. Concrete can be laid in situ, and then brushed to expose its aggregate before it sets.
As well as brick pavers, specially manufactured for paving, building bricks can be used, though the latter are softer than the former and tend to crumble. These and other small units, such as granite pavers and cobblestones, are ideal for paving small and even awkwardly shaped areas.
Consider all the surfacing materials at your disposal as a palette from which you can choose to contrast and complement the various structures of your garden. Paving an area in the same material as the surrounding walls is a good way of giving a small space a unified look and binding together the various elements of its design. Bear in mind practical considerations, too. Some materials, such as certain smooth, precast pavers, become slippery in rain and snow; others, like brick pavers, give a good foothold.