Turn outdoor space into living space

A GREAT patio offers visual focus, a sense of permanence and a stable support to entertain, complimenting the wider landscape of the garden.

In terms of a return on your investment, compare a large area of stunning paving lapping the house to a large entrance hall.

It extends the perceived footprint of the house and gifts a more determined character. There’s huge potential in sliding the scale between a handsome blanket of edge to edge, precision-cut slab, to smaller more intimate areas full of texture and interest to contrast with the surrounding greenery.

A combination of elegant courtyards, paths and wider patio spaces in a variety of materials and shaping, adds aesthetic flair and the potential to simply enjoy the garden more fully.

Choices today include natural stone in flagstones, slabs, setts and slate pavers (from €35 M²), brick paving — a porridge of stone chip aggregates fired for strength (from €30 per M²), and finally concrete (from €15 per M²). Concrete is durable, versatile and highly affordable. It can be stamped, tinted and cast in infinite ways although lesser grades may not be colourfast forever.

Paving packs in sets of individual flags and cobbling take the terror out of complex designs such as circles, insets and ‘squaring’ surrounding features and statuary.

Block and cobble paving in herringbone and basket-weave designs are tough as nails, and can be laid almost anywhere as it moves with a forgiving compacted base.

Loose infill material such as polished stones, fossil ammonites (concrete), slate chips and gravels allow you to decorate deliberate voids in the patio, extend paved areas in a frame around slabs, and to set up a new path without the worry of matching existing paving colours.

This shift of material tickles the feel, look and sound underfoot avoiding a car-park uniformity. The bald practical reward on the relatively high capital investment of paving, is long term and blessed to your back. Slabs and cobbles, when perfectly installed, are always going to be easier to maintain than an uninterrupted acre of waving grassland. And if you loathe plunging through the borders, container gardens can be staged, season by season over the same patio area.

Keeping in mind the need for privacy, you’ll probably want your patio as far to the south to south-west as possible. Where you have no choice for aspect but to use the front, roadside of the house, planting can screen your summer frolics once established, and a few fence panels can work wonders.

A patio must be at least 150mm below your house’s DPC (Damp Proof Course) and slope the away from walls or fence by about 25 mm over 1.5 m.

Whether it’s a simple kit area laid out by the back door or a magnificent terrace of faux cobbles, without the correct base, your paving can lift and move, which not only looks rinky-dink, but adds the potential for some really dangerous trips onto a bone smashing surface.

The installation of heavy flags and anything requiring a mortar bed are best left to professionals or experienced weekend DIY warriors. If you’re not up to ramming subsoil, and compacting hardcore — step away from installation work.

Drainage is a vital issue and a patio you might enjoy freshly planted in July can be sluicing winter rainwater against your house in annoying pools and rivulets in November. One sylvan solution to deal with rain gathering on smaller stages (and those not flush to the house), is to use porous joints in sharp sand planted up in frames of gravel or living, walk-on-me thyme. For larger areas with a more contemporary feel and edge to installation, engineered gaps and gullies using complimentary materials for your paving choice — and stainless steel — can guide away rainwater directing it through a sub-base. Ask your installer about using the patio to feed a grey-water storage system, something likely to gain more popularity as water charges take hold later this year. Even if it’s only piping water to a tank that’s easily accessible — it will be worth it — and plants prefer rain water.

Planning Tips:

* You must have a budget in mind, as outdoor paving can easily match and often outstrip the cost of indoor flooring. Reputable contractors can work to a reasonable figure, suggesting materials, scales and solutions for a proper, pleasing job. A reasonable-sized patio to take a table for four would extend to around 3mx3m and prices for quality materials start at €30m² installed.

* Examine the colour and character of your house and any existing walling when making paving choices. If the house is painted a white or neutral shade, colours that match the natural stone of the surrounding areas will look right.

* Soften the presence of a patio with some flowing curves, or consider using plants to edge the border, that will lightly spill over the sides of a rectangular shape to melt those angles.

* Walk around the house and garden. Aspect is obviously important, but what will you be looking out at from your patio? Can you play up the gorgeous and screen out the undesirable and still put your patio here? What about a split level or other raised features such as a planted surround to a tree?

* Everyone’s different. Consider how public or secluded you want the area to be. Feverish party animals need plenty or room, but if you just want a private spot to chill, draw the patio closer around you. If you’re keen on gardening but don’t have the time, energy or physique, provide room for containers and raised beds.

* Consider more than one patio — perhaps a large one by the house with a path leading to another smaller, west-facing area set out in the garden.This not only gives a landscape designer room for something special, but can help when the sunshine leaves the area around the house, early in the day.

* Pergolas can offer shade, a windbreak and a place to site down-lighting. Awnings attached to the house are also widely available, but if you don’t like the idea of something too retail in look, what about a shade-sail?

* Try to see your potential paving in a landscaped setting where you can walk on it and see it wet and dry. A honed or riven surface can make a big difference to the safety of walking over paving in wet weather, and large areas, just like paint samples, give you the real experience of the product in situ.


Let the good times roll....


If you’ve ever done the heave/ bump ankle-bruising spin of dragging a heavy full gas container across the slabs of your patio, we have some very good news this summer. Half the weight of the traditional steel cylinders, the semi-translucent exterior allows you to see exactly how much gas you have left, are as safe as steel and won’t leave rust marks on your patio or deck. They fit all leading brands of LPG appliances, making it ideal for caravans, camper vans, motor homes, barbecues and patio heaters. Available in filled 5kg (€80) and 10Kg (€98) sizes in selected outlets nationwide. Purchase online, go to www.flogas.ie/gaslight 

Remember if you do use gas for your BBQ this year ensure the hoses are in good order, and the taps turned off before you change any cylinder. Don’t over-tighten joints. When you’re finished cooking, turn off the cylinder before turning off the appliance controls to burn off fuel still in the hose. Leak detection solutions is available from any DIY shop to check for gas leaks on your unit

Ideal for dumping in a few pots for the season and moving them around to suit, we love this set of three Driftwood Crates from the Pavilion Garden Centre, Cork. €71.

Mirtoon Automatic hose by Zee Design. Comes complete with all attachments and an economical Seto trigger spray gun in a choice of mouth-watering Opal Fruit colours. Quality ABS materials, 180° degree action in 10m and 30m versions. From €133.88. Cuckooland.

We love MeroWing’s unusual products and their signature log cushions and mossy bolsters now come in outdoor versions too! This silver birch can work as a stool, seat or a coffee table for a tray. €149. www.MeroWings.com 

Louis Mulcahy offers a wide range of magnificent ceramics for use around the back door or by the patio. Drop into his studio if you’re near Clothar on the Dingle Peninsula or buy online. This fuchsia range starts at €32.95 with pots and supporting water trays. www.Louismulcahy.com


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