Textures IN A Landscape
This month Annie Green-Armytage looks at choice of materials in hard landscaping
AT THIS time of year, the structural elements of our gardens are laid bare as plants die back. Whether this means eyesore or eye candy is partly down to design, but also to the type of materials used. I have talked about living structure – parterres, hedges and edges – in a previous feature, but hard landscaping is also crucial, from walls and pathways to patios and pergolas. Making conscious decisions around the use of materials can add a new dimension to your garden, one which complements all that careful planting (or in our case only-just-controlled self-seeding).
The materials you use will define the atmosphere of a garden space. A roof terrace kitted out in polished stone and wood says well-groomed urban living, while a rustic pathway, created on a shoestring from broken pots and ceramics, intimates a more laid-back, creative mood.
Context is important: your house and neighbourhood will show you the way. A clean, crisp look, with well-defined edges, is perfect for a new-build development, of which we are seeing rapidly increasing numbers in Norfolk. In contrast, a period country cottage invites the use of more traditional red brick and flint. The key is to stay consistent, rather than using a wide range of random materials; you are looking to produce an overall effect, for example the seaside feel of sand and pebble, or the calming influence of zen-like raked gravel and boulders.
This is not to say you have to keep slavishly to one material throughout. A change in texture can denote a change in function, where a paved pathway turns to cobbles at its edges to deter people from straying, for example; or it can simply create a visual contrast - copper spout against polished blonde concrete, or warm wooden bench on a grey stone patio.
If budget is a factor, gravel is one of the most economical and versatile materials at your disposal. It has the advantage of blending with everything from country mansion to city terrace, and provides a natural soakaway for rainwater. You will need a level site, and
edging to keep it out of the borders, as well as a buffer zone to prevent it from being trodden into the house. It also has a security aspect, making it difficult to approach unnoticed.
In areas of high traffic, paving is a worthwhile investment, being hard-wearing and solid underfoot. Paved areas are particularly helpful for older people who may be less steady on their feet, and of course, for balancing tables and chairs evenly. In the dreary gloom of November al fresco meals may not seem remotely possible but in my head next summer is on its way – maybe.
If you have plenty of funds then York stone is arguably still the material of choice, but there are many concrete and riven slate products around now which punch above their weight in style and durability. (The riven part is important for its non-slip quality.) Choose colours carefully and make sure you see them wet as well as dry; there is a significant difference. When we bought slate tiles for our courtyard I cheekily asked the guy at the builder’s yard to put a hosepipe on the ones we were interested in. He duly obliged with only the merest hint of ‘crazy woman’ in his eye.
Finally, shapes play a significant part in establishing the overall style of your garden, particularly at this time of year when pathways and seating become focal points. Circles, curves and globes create a flow and a sense of the continuous, while squares and rectangles are more formal, providing symmetry and order. Within the construction material itself, patterns and shapes abound: the herringbone brickweave of an arts and crafts pathway, the gnarly texture of a flint wall, the comforting uniformity of wooden deck slats. You can play with shapes within shapes: a circular table on a round patio, or even the varying sizes of circles in an insect motel.
We have distinct areas with different overriding shapes; next to the cottage we have favoured squares and rectangles for a sense of formality, while further out, the wildflower meadow has sweeping curves mown into it each year, allowing it to blend into the surrounding countryside gradually.
Above left clockwise: Circles within circles: bird’s eye view of a circular courtyard with its ornate metal table and chairs and giant sempervivum centrepiece; Timber and gravel steps (including mini gabions filled with pebbles as risers) are designed...
Left: A combination of slate pavement and gravel in cool colours, specifically designed to contrast with the yellow-themed planting
Below left: An example of crazy paving which works, to my mind, because of its consistency of colour. It is flanked by Japanese maples (Acer palmatum cultivars) and lilies (Zantedeschia aethiopica)