Until fairly recently, the choice of materials for hard landscaping features in your garden wasn’t great. You used what was available. That was generally local stone for patios and paths, or local wood for summerhouses. The advantage of using materials from your environment was that they had an inherent link with the surrounding landscape and with the building to which the garden was attached, which would also generally be constructed from local brick or stone. But now we have a much greater choice.
The range of materials available to us has broadened for a number of reasons. First, falling transportation costs have made it viable to import materials, even heavy stone, from all around the world. One example is the recent influx of inexpensive Chinese and Indian stone. Second, we have become material-mad, and are demanding more choice. This greed for choice is reflected in our home decoration and is beginning to become apparent in our gardens, too. Third, many new weather-resistant materials are available, and we have learned how to use them from books, magazines, and television shows.
When selecting materials for your outdoor space, remember, one of the most important rules is “less is more.” Choose one or two hard landscaping materials, and make sure they suit the style of your garden, rather than simply following the latest trends. Young designers are using lots of contemporary metals, such as stainless steel and aluminum, which are fantastic for really cool, sleek gardens, but may look out of place in more traditional settings. Having said that, there’s a substantial range of very interesting new materials, and it may also be worth revisiting some that have been out of favor for a while, such as terrazzo.