The hard decisions
Timber or tiles, grass or granitic sand? This guide to hard surfaces helps you choose the right material
Paved areas define spaces, direct foot traffic, provide access and solve problems such as heavy shade. Paving balances the soft landscaping on your block, and connects it to the house. When it comes time to pave an area in your garden, there are a few things to consider before you even begin to look at the many material options available.
First, you need to decide how you intend to use the space. High traffic areas such as the path to the front door, the access path down the side of your house or the driveway are going to have different surface requirements to a whimsical path winding around a well-established tree, or access between vegie beds.
Next, think about which materials marry well with what already exists in your home and garden. Paving can dominate spaces, and it doesn’t always serve the house or garden to just use something you love. Ask yourself if the surface complements the house. Take cues from the materials that have been used in construction of the house – brick, timber, tiles and so on – and the paint colours.
Safety is another consideration. Be mindful of sloping areas in the garden, and look for surface finishes that are easy to grip and won’t attract moss or algae, becoming dangerous over time. Around pools, non-slip paving is essential.
Another thing to be conscious of is the ratio of paved to unpaved areas in your backyard. Rain and stormwater need to be able to filter into the ground to ensure a healthy microclimate, vigorous trees and good groundwater quality. While established homes may not be subject to council regulations about these ratios, you should think about where all the water is going to run during periods of heavy rain, and what effect your material choices will have on your neighbours.
Some paved areas demand extra thought and investment. A driveway needs to be constructed with a solid foundation that won’t shift under the weight of a vehicle. A steel-reinforced concrete foundation is first poured over a layer of compacted road base. Paving material is then laid into a thinner mortar over the concrete.
Permeable options for driveways are becoming more widely available. These porous surfaces can look sleek or rustic, and give off less heat during summer than conventionally paved driveways.
You could look at designs for pebble driveways, permeable paving systems and plastic grid systems, for example. These options can be more expensive than concrete, but people are adopting these materials for environmental reasons. Others are motivated by council laws that stipulate hard to soft landscaping ratios in new developments.
An access footpath requires less of a foundation, but paving still needs to be laid onto sublayers of compacted roadbase and bedding sand. Once laid, the outside edges should be secured with a strip of concrete to hold the pavers in place, and then the joints between the pavers need to be filled with fine sand to minimise movement. With a stepping stone walkway, each stone should be laid on a base of freshly mixed mortar to secure them firmly.
Once you’ve settled on a material you like, there’s the question of how it’s laid. The pattern used with various paving materials shouldn’t compete with its function or be too dull through repetition.
Herringbone patterns, for instance, create a sense of movement but can be overwhelming if not laid with a surrounding border. Randomly laid paths suit an informal garden, creating a crazy-paving effect, and you can plant among the pavers. Clean lines created by large pavers laid at regular intervals look contemporary, and can be softened with gravel or groundcovers planted around them. Ashlar paving patterns see different-sized, straight-sided blocks fitted together in a regular configuration, which is well suited to traditional-style homes.
Whatever you choose, have fun with it, and remember, it will look better with some regular maintenance. Some pavers need to be sealed, others benefit from an annual high-pressure hose down, and pebble pathways need to be topped up every now and then.