Garden design: surfaces

Gardens aren't just about lawns and flowerbeds. A footpath helps to break up endless grass, crazy paving makes a terrace more unusual and gravel provides a garden with character and sound. There are various different types of garden surfaces available to give your garden texture and you can mix and match them to keep it interesting. You could also consider adding decking to your garden to give it different perspectives.

Garden design: surfaces

Garden design: choosing garden surfaces

Top tips

  • If you're laying a patio, create gaps in the design by leaving out a few paving stones. You can fill these openings with decorative gravel, slate or plants.
  • Lay decking planks close together (around 5mm). The surface will be more comfortable to walk on in bare feet - and you'll be less likely to lose objects between the cracks!

Stone, slate, decking, gravel - modern gardens are as much about textures as they are about plants and choosing the right surface materials is all part of bringing your garden plan to life. Whatever surfaces you go for in your garden, getting the design right will save you a lot of headaches later. Our Garden Surfaces guide will help you get on top of that vital groundwork.

  • Paving


    A patio of stone slabs is an ideal way to extend your living space into the garden and perfect for dining al fresco. Available in various options, including natural stone and paving slabs, it is often quite easy to lay. If your patio is adjacent to the house, the surface must be at least 15cm below the damp-proof course. You'll also need to incorporate a slight fall (around 1cm per 1m) away from the building so that rainwater won't pool. Design-wise, explore slabs of differing – but related – sizes as the patterns you can build will be much more interesting than a plain grid. For help and advice about different types of paving, check out our guide to paving.

  • Decking


    Decking may have its critics but when executed well, this warm, foot-friendly material takes a lot of beating. However, you do get what you pay for with decking as cheap decking just won't last as long or look as good. When you're designing a deck, don't forget to allow sufficient room underneath for air to circulate. Before constructing the deck, cover the area with weed-suppressing membrane held in place with a layer of gravel. Check out our collection of decking information and tips.

  • Gravel


    Gravel is the cheapest of the hard surfaces on offer, comes in a variety of colours and gives a garden a Mediterranean feel. It's easy to maintain and one of the easiest materials to lay - although that doesn't mean you can skimp on the preparation. You need to stabilise the area first. Dig to a depth of at least 10cm and edge the area with pressure-treated timber boards of the same height. Then pack in a 7cm layer of "scalpings" (rough stones) - hire a vibrating compressing machine for this job. Then you can scatter your 2.5cm layer of surface gravel. For further help, read our guide on how to lay gravel.

  • Bricks


    The warm hues of brick paths work well in the garden by adding colour. Bricks are quite simple to lay and are inexpensive. However, they do need regular attention to stop them becoming slippery. They're a popular edging medium and used for building raised flowerbeds and garden walls. Read our handy guide on how to build a garden wall.

  • Cobbles


    Available in natural and artificial stone, cobbles make a highly decorative surface and are popular as a surround for water features. They also make a good edging for gravel beds and paths and can adorn a garden rockery. Cobbles can also prevent weeds from growing properly. However, they can be quite a challenge to lay accurately and can be a safety hazard for small children. Read our guide to creating a garden rockery.

  • Bark


    Bark is an inexpensive material that is popular for informal garden paths and used as a decorative surround for trees and flower beds. Available in several colours, it can be used to add colour to a garden in winter, whilst also providing a garden with texture. Although reasonably cheap, bark will need to be replaced as it decomposes and fades. It also makes a great surface for play areas as it is soft. If you have small children, have a look at our ideas for a child-friendly garden.

  • Slate


    Slate is extremely versatile and is often used for patios and footpaths. Smooth pieces of slate look smart and are much easier than gravel to push a wheelbarrow over. Slate is a popular choice for stepping stones, steps and raised flower beds, as well as in waterfalls and rockeries. Read our tips for creating garden steps.