Getting Around the Garden – Selecting Surfacing Material

The most important aspect of access in and around the garden is the surface underfoot. Too many accidents occur in the garden because of uneven or slippery paths.

While hard surfacing is often thought about in the early stages of a new garden, it is something that is expensive – and therefore tends to be ignored – in an existing garden.

However, having a safe surface to move about on is important not only for safety but to make sure you can get around your garden all around the year. Getting around the garden means being able to get of every part of it, whether that is to get tools from the shed, to dig some potatoes, cut some flowers or to hang out the washing.

Selecting surfacing material

There are now a whole range of materials available for your garden surfaces. First of all – a word of advice – don’t decide in a hurry. Avoid the temptation of saying ‘yes’ to sharing a cheap load of gravel with a next-door neighbor or of landing yourself with a free helping of steaming tarmac – unless you are really sure that this is what you want and when you want it.

Here are some points to think about before you decide which material, or combination of materials, to use and how best to use them.

  • Your own needs and preferences are of paramount importance. After all, it is your garden and you will be using it.
  • The range of materials available: limitations and opportunities offered by different types.
  • The surfacing function. Probably this will be to provide a safe, firm and comfortable surface suitable for you to use, along with your wheelbarrow, etc.
  • How much money you have to spend. As well as the amount needed for materials, time and labor costs money; delivery and site preparation costs may have to be included too.
  • Aesthetic considerations. Design the paving to blend in with the styles and materials of adjacent buildings and garden features, where possible.
  • Labor skills and equipment needed to lay the surface. Satisfy yourself that any cheap labor offered will be well-managed and able to do the job effectively. Different materials require different skills. Be prepared to hire specialist equipment if necessary.
  • Time available. Some types of surfacing take longer to plan, acquire and install than others. Some cannot be laid in unfavorable weather conditions. Time often costs money.
  • Suppliers. Investigate local ones first – through word of mouth or the Yellow Pages telephone directory. Visit garden centers, builders’ merchants and stone merchants. Approach your local council or quarry if possible. Check delivery arrangements and the minimum size of load available. Obtain several quotes before deciding which to accept
  • Don’t forget the necessary site preparation. This will vary with the material used and with local site conditions. Foundations, a sub-base, and adequate drainage provision all must be considered. Weed elimination is often necessary – take special care to eradicate perennial weeds with persistent roots. Watch out for nearby tree roots that could cause problems sooner or later. Willow and poplars are thirsty and can dry out soils easily, so causing shrinkage and subsidence, especially in clay soils. Plums, cherries and birches have lots of shallow roots that can lift and crack surfacing. Suckering shrubs can also cause similar problems.
  • Slopes and edges. Pay particular attention to how you will deal with slopes (steps, ramps or both?) and associated requirements such as extra drainage and hand rail support. Edges are equally important: to define paved areas for safety reasons, to contain the surfacing material (and prevent it from ‘walking’ or deteriorating at the edges) and also for visual effect.