Patios and Terraces

Patios and terraces have become firmly established as essential features of the modern garden, offering a way to broaden the usefulness of our plot by providing an outdoor room as an extension of the house for entertaining, dining and relaxation.

A well positioned patio, in a sheltered spot can provide almost year-round enjoyment and from a design point of view, represents the perfect fusion of dominant hard landscaping elements with edge-softening planting, blurring the transition from garden to house.

Choosing the Site

Although it is usual to site these features adjacent to the house itself – often with French windows for access – there is no reason why they cannot be located at right angles to the building if that gives them better sun or some distance away if the view warrants it. The aspect of a patio and amount of shelter it enjoys have a major influence on its use – so it pays to consider these factors carefully, although considerations of privacy and access can sometimes make the choice a little limited.

Sometimes it is even worth considering building two smaller terraces – one in full sun, for instance, and the other nearer the house – rather than a single big patio to get around site problems of this kind.

Even if the only available place is overlooked or exposed to winds, it should still be possible to create a very useful outdoor room, though it will obviously require a little bit more work to achieve. Adding a pergola and some climber-festooned trellis-work is a sure-fire way of providing some seclusion and a fair bit of shelter, although in very open areas it may be necessary to go in for something a little more substantial by way of a wind-break. In the long run it will pay big dividends because a warm and sheltered patio lends itself to being used earlier and later into the year, allowing you to get the full benefit of having built it in the first place.

Sizing and Preparation

Sizing the patio can sometimes cause a few headaches, and everyone seems to have their own pet way of working it out. There seems to be a broad agreement that allowing around 3 square metres (33 square feet) per person is about right, but if this leads to a final size that seems either far too dominant or ridiculously small for the garden, it is probably best to go with what feels right. While an expansive patio with a plentiful supply of furniture may seem like a good idea, when space is limited, a narrower terrace can be just as effective, without forcing everything to look out of scale.

The choice of the flooring material itself largely comes down to personal taste and how you intend to use your new feature. A variety of factors can have an influence, including how hard wearing or weather resistant it needs to be, but whatever your needs, between the wide array of concrete slabs, pavers, tiles, cobbles and granite setts available, you should not be short on options. The method for laying your flooring depends on what you have chosen, but all patios and terraces need a firm foundation.

The first step is to mark out the desired shape with pegs and string, and if, like most, your patio is to be square or rectangular, make sure that the angles are true – its much easier to do this at the outset than try to “fudge” it later while your concrete is busily drying out! Then, having checked the location of any service pipes or wires, dig down to the subsoil, excavating deep enough to accommodate the amount of hardcore and sand needed for your chosen material.

Add a series of levelling pegs with the help of a spirit level to make sure everything is true – this will make the job of keeping the flooring straight much easier once you begin laying it – allowing a slight incline away from the house, to aid drainage. Your sub-base is now ready to receive the hardcore, which will need to be thoroughly compacted before you can start to add your slabs or pavers.

With careful selection of the site, good preparation and choosing materials which fit sympathetically with the rest of the house and garden, adding a patio or terrace can completely change both the look of your home and the way you use it. For many designs, simplicity can be the key to success, while still giving you enough scope to create your own individual feature.

Once you have created your outdoor room, all that remains is to install some subtle lighting, buy your outdoor dining set and add a few plants in suitable containers to ensure that summer evenings will never be the same again.