Three Materials for Hard-Landscaping Your Garden

As plants recede ready for winter and the garden outside begins to fade, one thing that becomes all too apparent is hard-landscaping, or the lack thereof. Plant hoarding is in my nature, so I’m quick to grab new flowers and foliage at a regular rate. Thinking about the ongoing permanent structure of the garden, however, is something I have to constantly remind myself about. I think, partly, it’s because of the high perceived cost. BUT, if I actually sat down and totted up all the money I’ve spent on plants, I’m sure I’d be giddy with guilt.

One of the most important parts of hard-landscaping, in my opinion, is the threshold between home and garden. Why? Because you want to garden to call you into it, and if the boundaries between living spaces are too abrupt, there’s no natural flow. There are a wide variety of materials you could use, but the three I’m concentrating on, and those that I, myself, am considering for my own oasis, are aggregates, paving and decking.

Aggregates

Using aggregates has to be the easiest and cheapest option of the three. One of the best things is that you can do it yourself without much input. Once the area’s cleaned of debris and a boundary layer like weed-suppressant membrane or plastic has been put down (remember to pop a few holes in the plastic or you’ll get a stagnant pool), you can just shovel the gravel out. There’s no need to level the area as you can rake aggregates flat, and any dips and troughs will disappear. Yes, this stuff covers a multitude of sins. There are also a wide variety of coloured stones, pebbles, slates and even recycled materials like glass, rubber and plastic that can be used.

 

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Aggregates are an easy to use material and make a great contrast for planting.

However, there are downsides too. Pottering about in bare feet, especially if you’re using this area as a summer breakfast patio, is not going to be comfortable. Aggregates can become pretty dirty over time too; for instance, I used Cotswold stone at my last house. The marigolds look fantastic against it, but after a couple of years, a lot of the pebbles were stained green. Even with a good jet wash, it couldn’t all be cleaned. And, even though you’ll suppress weeds from beneath, you’ll still get plants growing through.

Paving

If you’re looking for a stylish and contemporary look, paving is often the route to go. It’s harder and pricier to do, and you may need a professional in because those slabs have got to be laid perfectly flat if you’re to get the right finish. But, paving stone is far simpler to clean, sweep and keep looking tidy. It’s also a brilliant way to meld home and garden as you can easily use the same paving inside and out so as to lose boundaries altogether. And, because it’s far more static than aggregates are, it’s easier to create steps and ramps that need little maintenance.

 

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Of course, weeding can be an issue, particularly in old paving where the mortar’s cracked and roots have taken hold. To avoid this, you can seal paving areas with a hydrophobic sealant. This stops weeds taking hold, and also prevents water getting in; you can simply sweep the puddles off the surface.

Decking

I’ll start by saying I’m no fan of decking. In all my experiences with it, it requires a lot of maintenance, becomes extremely slippery when wet and can quickly become dirty, covered in algae and unsightly. However, it is an extremely useful hard-landscaping material if you’re dealing with uneven gardens. For example, it’s FAR easier to erect decking on stilts than to flatten and level the land for paving. It’s also more easily altered, in the case you want to extend it or create another terraced component, for instance. But, I would argue the cost, both in time and money, for regular cleaning and staining isn’t worth it unless you really love the look. And, of course, in some styles, beach gardens for example, decking is perfect.

I’m yet to decide just which option I’ll choose for the Mediterranean garden; the first garden you come to when stepping out the backdoor.

What’s your top choice? Any loves or hates regarding these materials?

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Hi,

I'm Geoff, and I'm a plant hoarder.

Like magpies collect bright shiny things, I can't resist plants. An exquisite flower, soft ferny foliage or a beautiful majestic tree - I love them all!

Here, I'll indulge in all things flora and share my passion. Join me as I develop my garden and hoard more plants without apology.