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    A COMPENDIUM FOR THE DRY GARDEN

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Some Patio Notes

I recently visited some old clients and got a chance to see how their gardens had filled in.  I want to comment on just two gardens with interesting patios.

The first was an idea I cooked up.  It involved using pavers set in concrete around the edges of the patio.  Executing it was a contractors’ nightmare I suppose.  I wanted the pavers to be included in the final pour so the patio flowed together.  First we did a hand pour and set the pavers in around the edges.  You’ll notice those white things in the photo.  That’s where the planted edging around the lawn goes and we had to have a backstop for the concrete, so it wouldn’t pour into the dirt.  We used some styrofoam that could later be taken out.

The pour

The boulders to the right of the above photo are set so no concrete flows beyond them.  That area was a planted pocket.

As we poured the patio, we had to hand work the concrete into the spaces between the pavers and wipe the pavers off of the concrete.  We had to work fast and it was tedious.  Like I said, a contractors nightmare!

Carex lawn with small plants as edging

I didn’t want the concrete to butt up to the lawn.  I wanted a softer edge so I used a mixed planting of grasses and Stachys ‘Hummelo’, a small flowering Stachys which isn’t flowering in this photo, but flowers all summer long.  The lawn itself is Carex pansa.  The owner has two children who were around 10 and 8 at the time.  They were able to play ball on the lawn.

Pavers set in concrete

Originally I’d picked out a dark purple colored paver, but that was too wild for the client so we went with a more subdued look.

The client asked for a small patio/sitting area in the corner of her garden.  Instead of using more concrete, I chose decomposed granite with the addition of a few pavers in it to match.  A path of the same pavers set in soil with ground cover leads to the patio.

Decomposed granite small patio with pavers; Pavers set in Dymondia groundcover

Decomposed granite small patio with pavers; Pavers set in Dymondia groundcover

I say that a yard takes about 6 or 7 years to mature.  This yard is about 4 years old, still growing in, but I was pleased at its progress.

I also visited a garden that used the DG dusting method described in a previous post.  This garden was installed five years ago.  The DG still looked excellent, but in a few spots you could see exposed baserock.  After five years it’s time for another dusting of DG.  In making a decomposed granite patio, the major expense in materials is the DG.  At over $80/yard, doing a dusting instead of 2″ saves quite a bit of money.

Decomposed Granite patio dusting method after 5 years needs new 1/2" DG application

Decomposed Granite patio dusting method after 5 years needs new 1/2″ DG application

Decomposed Granite patio

The paver patio set in concrete looked good, although the client never had it sealed.  Sealing is really not necessary with a hard stone, but it does bring out the wonderful colors of the stone.  Here is a photo of some of the detail work we did with her patio.  My client is an artist and fun to work with.  She’s willing to take risks and stretch the boundaries.  She wanted the edges to have a ‘river’ like look.  She personally went and hand picked all the river cobbles as well as placed them herself.

Placing the edging cobbles

River rocks edge patio for an artistic look

cobble edging detail around natural stone seat

And to leave all you readers with a final funny thought:  While driving around nearby Belvedere, the most upscale and expensive neighborhood in Marin County, my son and I saw a police car parked at a prominent corner with a stop sign.  When we looked inside, there was a dummy policeman, complete with a donut and coffee mug on the dash.  I guess the wealthy citizens of Belvedere can’t afford a real policeman to deter criminals.

Belvedere ‘fake’ cop. Dummy with coffee and donut on dashboard

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Patios hard and soft

I received a question from someone on using concrete pads underneath a DG patio, instead of prepping the subsurface with baserock material.  That got me thinking about doing a post on patios in general and what, from a designer and installers perspective I know and understand.

First a few words in general regarding different types of patios.  There are lots of different materials out there, some nice, some not, that can be used, and of course, different areas of the country will have different requirements.  As far as drier climates goes, here are the basics:

1.  Use materials like DG (decomposed granite) or concrete pavers (set in sand) when you need a permeable surface.  Many counties are now requiring with new installations a minimum of permeable surfaces to prevent massive run-off problems.  DG is useful as a patio some distance from the house in order to wipe off small bits of granite attached to shoes.  Concrete pavers are set on a sand base and come in all types, from ugly to handsome.

Calstone pavers set in sand

2. For leisure patios with furniture lots of do-it-yourselfers or people on tight budgets like to put pavers and DG together.  This works fine but keep in mind that high heels and furniture will get caught in the cracks of DG.  There are ways to minimize this.  Refer to my DG Patio book for spacing on pavers and proper installation.  You will have to convince your contractor to use my methods because it is more time intensive, but it works.

A proper installation using Arizona flagstone with decomposed granite in between. You will rarely see it done properly like this.

A proper installation using Arizona flagstone with decomposed granite in between. You will rarely see it done properly like this.

3.  For a long lasting patio that will have furniture on it, I prefer to pour a concrete base and put mortared pavers on.  Another alternative is concrete.  There have been lots of advances in concrete in the past few years.  Meaning there are lots of types of decorative concrete looks, with stains and stamps and 2 or 3 dust on colors; finishes with broom, or salt pitting, or hard trowel.  Just keep in mind that concrete is not a controllable substance and colors vary, fade, and cracks will develop no matter what.

This Decomposed Granite with flagstone patio is not done correctly.  Spaces are too big and will catch high heels and chairs

This Decomposed Granite with flagstone patio is not done correctly. Spaces are too big and will catch high heels and chairs

Indian pavers with decorative rock set on concrete base

Interesting walkway that incorporates brick, stone and boulders

Interesting walkway that incorporates brick, stone and boulders

A WORD ABOUT PAVERS:  If you decide to go for real stone pavers, I salute you.  Although concrete is cheaper, stone is beautiful and will give you lasting pleasure.  So how do you choose amongst all the choices at the yard.  First, go to a large landscape supply yard and pick out the stones you like.  Get samples and bring them home and live with the samples for a week or more.

Two types of concrete are in this walkway

Two types of concrete are in this walkway

You must map out your design exactly.  Usually the stone yard will have some basic design patterns for you to work with, or simply obtain some grid paper and go to work.  Indian pavers have flooded the market in recent times.  There are some incredibly beautiful stone and colors amongst the choices, but the stones are not all exactly to size.  You’ll have to work with this when you or your contractor lays it down, which means some of the spacing will be off.

No joints in the perfect paver

Next you must decide on the size of your joints.  Be exact in your communications to your contractor.  If you have uniform stone, you can lay them down with no mortar in between.  If you want joints, or if your stone isn’t perfect as in the Indian pavers pictured below, you must have mortar showing in the joints.

Decomposed Granite patio under willow.

Decomposed Granite patio under willow.

As far as flagstones go, there are many types, some of which I do NOT recommend because you will develop moss in the wet season and you MUST seal these types every year to prevent mold.  I discuss this more in depth in my eBook.

In general choose flagstones that are hard with small pores.  These would be stones that come from places like Montana.  Flagstones come in many names, and what’s called one name in one yard will be named something else in another, even if its the same material.  Just make sure the flagstone is dense.

Another thing you want to watch for in flagstone is how slick it is.  Slate, though gorgeous, is really slippery when wet.  I’ve heard that a little bit of sand in your sealer can help this problem.  Better to avoid it from the start.

For a more in-depth discussion on these topics, see my DG patio book.  In it I discuss all the pros and cons of different materials, as well as give exact instructions for the installation of the different mediums, whether your contractor installs it or you do.  I’ve tried to keep the price to a bare minimum and it includes all the tips I’ve learned from years of experience.  Good luck and do it right from the beginning.  Hardscape, unlike plant material, cannot be picked up and moved, and is expensive!