Patios: Stone

Hardwearing and durable, natural stone paving provides a long-lasting patio — as well as being easy on the eye. The choices include sedimentary rocks, limestone, sandstone and travertine; igneous granite and basalt; and metamorphic stones such as slate and marble — and more besides. Slate and limestone – for which travertine is a slightly cheaper alternative – are among the most popular, with the variations in finish, from tumbled to honed, and colour being numerous for each. Bear in mind that the quality and the porosity of stone on offer widely varies. Also ensure you check that imported products satisfy UK standards, such as those for skid- and frost-resistance.

Reclaimed stone is another option which lends instant antiquity to cottage gardens. Yet, the popularity of good-quality reclaimed materials, such as Yorkshire setts, means there’s not always a huge difference in price between new ‘aged’ stone and reclaimed.

Stonemarket’s Avant-garde Etched with a Helix on smooth sandstone. Etched designs in kits covering 2.92m2 cost from £370/kit (024 7651 8700)

The Alternatives

Reconstituted stone can be a cheaper alternative, but prices do vary considerably. Made from a mix of stone ‘dust’ and concrete, the size consistency of pavers makes them easier to lay. While less prone to flaking, reconstituted stone will never weather in the same way as real stone, with the elements eventually wearing away the surface colour and texture.

There’s also the humble pre-cast concrete paver — more sophisticated versions of which simulate the appearance of stone or timber (and can rival the price of the real thing). Again, concrete’s incredibly durable, but will not weather like its natural counterparts.

Clay brick pavers particularly suit period-style homes, and weathering adds to their tumbled character. They offer an abundance of colour choice and layout options, from a basic running bond to more decorative basketweaves and herringbone. They can be purchased in packs or per thousand. Never use facing bricks — they’re not designed for the purpose.

Gravel is an inexpensive option and comparatively quick to install. However, it does require regular raking out and can be tread into the house.


Stonemarket’s Driftwood – sleepers from approx £9 each – gives the appearance of timber but is made from concrete (as before)


Key to a patio’s lifespan is what lies beneath. It’s important to establish the depth of sub-base (typically constructed from compacted hardcore) you’ll require for your site, as well as the type of base/bed on which your chosen patio surface will be laid. For stone, a rigid base of mortar will be required to prevent movement. Clay brick pavers may instead require a flexible sharp sand base.

Open to the elements, your patio will need to be constructed so that rainwater does not pool, and more importantly doesn’t drain towards the house, undermining the structure. As such, patios are constructed with a fall: a slight gradient which allows surface run-off to drain towards the lawn, for example. The degree of fall required will be dependent on the patio size. Patios should also be laid below DPC level.

Stone Inside and Out

The popularity of continuing the ‘same’ flooring from the interiors out into the garden sees no signs of abating. As stunning a look as it creates, careful specification is required to successfully carry it off. Exposed to the elements, the external stone needs to carry greater skid, moisture and frost-resistance. “Use the same stone type for both, but opt for a slip-resistant, textured finish for the exterior paving,” recommends Jose Cortizo, Commercial Director of Devon Stone. “Limestone and basalt are a good choice to create this look as some are inherently frost-proof.” Drainage is also key to successfully creating a level threshold inside and out — a concealed sub-floor gulley drain or a drainage channel filled with pebbles are options.


Surface care specialist Fila UK* offers advice on sealing stone

“Sealing stone patios not only provides dirt and stain protection, but also protects the surface from natural deterioration, caused by UV damage, frost and moisture. Several factors need to be considered before a sealant is applied, as different materials will need to be treated in different ways, depending on their porosity.

“Generally, treatments are divided into water-repellent formulations and stain protectors, and are available in solvent and water-based formats. Solvent treatments tend to last longer and are more suited to less porous materials, like granite, whilst water-based solutions are more suitable for rough-finished porous surfaces, like terracotta and limestone.”


The biggest news in recent driveway history is Sustainable Urban Drainage Systems, or SUDS — introduced with the aim of reducing surface run-off from drives into our over-burdened public drains. As part and parcel of this, new rules regarding Permitted Development rights were introduced in 2008, which now mean that any hard surface over 5m2 between the house’s front and the highway requires planning permission — unless that surface is SUDS compliant. There are a number of ways to achieve compliancy (below).

Reinforced grass

Provides a firm base on which to park, but a more natural aesthetic. It’s also permeable. There are different ways to achieve this type of drive, but among the most common are cellular systems. Whichever system you plump for, ensure it is suitable for driveways and parking, and not simply paths or light traffic. You’ll also need a hardier grass seed than that used on a lawn.

Bear in mind that grass drives are not particularly suited for long-term parking of cars or caravans — which block sunlight, inhibiting grass growth.


Gravel drives – constructed on a permeable base – sit well with rural and period-style homes, and are also comparatively cheap. Gravel can be difficult to walk on, but there are cellular systems similar to those used with reinforced grass, which can stabilise a gravel surface. A band – 1.5m wide, some councils recommend – of permeable or porous paving is a good idea at the entrance to prevent gravel spilling over onto the highway. Clearing snow will, however, be a much more difficult task, and gravel is also a nosier surface on which to drive.

Suds Compliancy

Specifying a porous open-grade tarmac or porous resin-bound surface, or permeable paving – which features larger joints between the concrete block pavers – are all options. All should be professionally laid upon a permeable sub-base. Permeable paving also presents an ideal opportunity to include a rainwater harvesting system below.

Alternatively, impermeable materials can be used, but the driveway must be constructed with a gradient which allows run-off to divert to a soakaway or ‘rain garden’. The latter is designed to feature a depression which slows down infiltration.

The construction you end up with will be dependent on a number of factors, including the soil porosity, the drive’s slope and the garden size, in addition to how you want your drive to look.

Decking: Material Choice

There’s a surprising amount of choice when it comes to decking, including softwoods, hardwoods and man-made composites. “In the last year or so, we have also seen the number of species for decking expand significantly by the introduction of more tropical hardwoods with sustainable credentials, and by the modified wood technology that includes new brands like Accoya, Thermowood, Kebony, Keywood and Platowood,” says Stephen J Young, Director of the Timber Decking Association.

Softwoods, such as pine, derive from coniferous trees — and are pressure treated to create durable decking. With boards costing as little as £6 each (2.4m length), the popularity of softwood is its low price and ready availability. It can also be stained to look like hardwood.

Composites were traditionally made from recycled wood fibres and polyethylene, and marketed for their low-maintenance; they do not warp or rot. Yet, the new generation of products like Kebony are pushing to the forefront — taking sustainable softwood and making it more durable and stable using biowaste material.

Hardwoods derive from broadleaved trees and choices include ipe, teak, bangkirai, iroko, balau and cumaru, many of which come from South America. Ipe is one of the most durable timbers, and is inherently resistant to rot and insect infestation, and with a class A fire resistance, it rivals concrete. Costing upwards of £50-60m2, it’s expensive, but where installed correctly, it makes for a resilient, long-lasting deck.



You’ll need to consider how the boards will be laid – vertical, horizontal, or even diagonal – and fixed. Decking tiles provide even more design options and they’re often easier to install — and some can be laid over existing surfaces. With regards to fixing, concealed or side-fixing systems offer a seamless look.

Also give thought to the location of your deck, and bear in mind that those in shaded areas require more maintenance. Deck installers (find one at are a real must for more complex projects such as raised decking — which may well require planning permission.

Mike Farrent, Garden Product Manager at Wickes, also recommends that you “allow your deck boards to adjust to the location of your project. Store them for a few days on level ground, preferably on timber bearers/joists, close to where they’ll be used, and cover.”


Regular brushing will prevent a build-up of leaves and other detritus. Power washing once or twice a year can also extend lifespan. “But if you are using a pressure washer, don’t place the nozzle too close to the wood as this can raise the grain and make the wood rough,” advises Peter Keane, Director of The Natural Wood Floor Company.

“To enhance and maintain the wood’s natural colouring, apply a good-quality sealer,” continues Keane. “We recommend a clear oil with ultra-violet protection. Seal with two coats after installing and then re-coat annually. For the best results, use a colour restorer every two to three years.”

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