Wednesday 21 February 2018

Diarmuid Gavin on planning a paving scheme

Diarmuid Gavin. Photo: Mark Nixon
Diarmuid Gavin. Photo: Mark Nixon
Stick to tried and trusted materials, advises Diarmuid Gavin.
A traditionally planned garden.

Diarmuid Gavin

It's Saturday morning, mid-May and I'm surveying our plot at this year's Chelsea Flower Show, contemplating what lies ahead over the next few weeks. A huge truck has just pulled up to the garden loaded with stone. Its salvaged material, sourced by Kilsaran Paving of Dunboyne of Co Meath, will be one of the primary features of the garden.

Six months ago I sat in the boardroom of the company, spelling out what I wanted to achieve - the look and feel of this Arts and Crafts design (illustrated below)- and here it is now, and it's beautiful. Perfect for the tone and feel of our floriferous Chelsea plot.

Hard landscaping - paving, pathways, gravel areas - are an important part of every design. I had informed choices to make for this year's show. But every garden plan requires consideration about choice of materials.

We live in a world packed with choice. Confronted with so much, decisions can be hard to make. Recent relative affluence in the western world has led to an excitement of acquiring materials from far flung places. And while this has meant wonderful aspects, it's also led to a proliferation of mishmash styles.

So, what should you think about when planning a paving scheme? Here are my pointers:

1. Less is more. By this I mean stick to a few tried and trusted materials. You don't need to overwhelm the eye with multiple choices, especially in small spaces.

2. Use whatever is available locally, so it seems that something you made could almost have emerged from the ground.

3. In contrast to that, the occasional individual statement which diverges from all about it, whether an alien style or use of material, can result in a very satisfying statement.


Paving - concrete and stone

Concrete pavers are the most common form of outdoor flooring used. Relatively cheap and locally available, they come in many different finishes. Often reclamation yards will have second-hand concrete pavers at greatly reduced prices which, when cleaned and relaid, can be very effective. Seek advice on the foundations needed for any patio area and ensure that a gentle slope towards a water run-off is included. Don't include too much variety in your choice of paving. As a rule the simpler, the better.

Natural stone

Natural stone can be a wonderful and luxurious option for paving. In these days of cheap transport, however, many inappropriate stones are imported into our islands, sold at relatively cheap rates, but they are not viable long-term. If you can find a good local stone that has been tried and tested, that may be your best bet. Try to extract some guarantees of longevity from your supplier and ensure that any porous stone is chemically sealed so that moisture and dirt won't get ingrained.

Salvaged stone

As with other materials, natural stone should be cleaned annually with a power hose and potentially a fungicide. Some places which produce this material may not adhere to our rigorous standards of employment laws, so moral questions should be considered. In these islands, granite and limestone are some of the most popular and durable choices. If hiring a paving contractor to install them, have a look at work they have previously done.


Brick pavers have become very popular for use on driveways, pathways and in the creation of low walls. Quality concrete pavers can look great when used on driveways but you need to investigate the durability of the dye used. Old clay brick stock looks great but often isn't suitable for paving as when water lodges and freezes during the colder months it can break down the structure of the brick, leading to a messy and sometimes dangerously uneven surface. Limestone cobbles recovered from old roads can look very nice but often they are uncomfortable to walk on.

Other materials

The current metal of choice is corten steel. This is a mild steel with a rusting appearance. For relatively small walkways it can work well but as with any other metal it is dramatically affected by temperature, heating and cooling down to uncomfortable degrees. Ceramic and encaustic tiles are becoming increasingly popular as they often have the ability to flow from inside the house to outside. Ceramic tiles are thinner than paving slabs and lightweight and can be a very good option for roof terraces where weight loading is an issue. Never use a highly glazed surface as this can be excessively slippery when exposed to water and ensure your tiles are suitable for outside. Encaustic cement tiles can have dramatic design features using vibrant colours, but sometimes the dyes in these colours can fade when exposed to direct sunlight.

Cactus and Succulent Show

Come and view the prizewinning cacti and succulents as part of the seventh biennial Cactus Show. It will be held in the Teak House and the judging this year will be by the Chairman of the Cactus and Succulent Society in Ireland, Kevin Whelehan. After the judging, the show will open to the public at 1pm on Saturday.

Info: National Botanic Gardens, Dublin, Saturday May 21-22, 1pm-5pm on Saturday and 10am-5pm, Sunday

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