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Garden Surfaces For Self Builders

20/06/2023 - Developers And Self Builders

So you’ve built your own home and now you’re ready to tackle the garden. Which garden surfaces should you choose and why? Richard Bickler, an ex landscaper and garden designer and now MD of Arbour Landscape Solutions looks at some of the possibilities.


Quite possibly the quickest, easiest and most economical  of all garden surfaces is grass. Whether you are laying turf or growing your lawn from seed, it’s imperative that you prepare the ground properly.  Turf is not a quick way to disguise the debris generated by a self build project. 

A lawn however, need not be pure grass. Including some low growing plant species in your lawn will help you to achieve biodiversity net gain on your project. And, if you get the mix right, it can considerably reduce ongoing mowing and maintenance.

The designer of this large residential garden on the banks of the Thames has done an excellent job of combining manicured lawns with wildflower areas. Mowing paths through the wildflowers gives an informal feel to the space and allows the family to immerse themselves in nature.

large garden with lawns and wildflower meadows running down towards the River Thames

Beautiful garden landscaped by Greenhaven Landscapes

Natural Stone Paving

Natural stone patios are the most logical garden surfaces for a self-build home that wants to blend in with the landscape. If your home is timber clad, brick built or created from wonderful natural materials such as Cobb or Clom, it might feel like an insult to the property to use anything other than natural materials in the garden. 

So what are your choices?

Well, natural stone comes in all kinds of shapes and colours. Slate for example, has a rich, inky-black colour that looks simply spectacular when paired with a verdant planting scheme. Or what about sandstone? Soft buff tones that look warm and welcoming all year round.

On-trend at the moment is Egyptian Limestone in either buff or grey tones.  These pavers are easy on the eye. As an added bonus, the neutral colours of natural limestone tend to have interesting patterns and striations within the stone. 

natural limestone paving in a modern garden with formal yew hedges and pleached trees

Natural limestone paving is availabe in a range of buff and grey colours. The neutral tones have a timeless elegance.

Porcelain Paving

If there were an award for Best Selling Garden Surfaces Of The Early 21st Century, porcelain paving would probably win it. This ultra-stylish, durable and highly attractive landscaping material has proven to be highly popular with garden designers, landscapers and homeowners alike.  It’s slip resistant, stain resistant, very sophisticated it doesn’t matter what colour scheme or style you’re after, there’s a porcelain paver to go with just about anything.

The choice of porcelain paving is so wide, that you might find it difficult to make your mind up. Don’t rush.  Gather samples, see how they look beside your property and don’t be afraid to ask your landscaper or garden designer for their input.  

One deciding factor when buying porcelain may well be availability.  At Arbour Landscape Solutions we keep some of the most designs in stock. Which means they can be delivered to site within 2-3 days of an order being received.  Quite useful if you are short of storage space on site.

large garden with a swimming pool landscaped using pale coloured porcelain paving for pool surround and steps

Porcelain paving is the ideal material for poolside landscaping because it is slip resistant.  This Ivory colourway contrasts beautifully with the clipped hedges.

Aggregates and Gravel

Too often we think that gravel is just for driveways, but it does have other possibilities.  How about a gravel garden? Easier to maintain than a lawn and better suited to hot and dry conditions than turf is. Combine your gravel with a drought tolerant plant palette of grasses, wildflowers, hardy geraniums and succulents for a garden that is guaranteed to turn heads.

For sloping ground, gravel stabilisation grids are a game changer.  Your driveway won’t slide down the hill every time there’s a thunderstorm. Plus the aggregate is less likely to be disrupted by car tyres.

gravel garden with shallow wildlife pond and relaxed planting style

Although not part of a self-build project, this gravel garden is a fine example of how garden surfaces needn't involve grass or paving stones. Photo credit goes to Tapestry Design Studios

Self Binding Gravel

Perhaps you have seen self binding gravel on TV garden makeover programs.  It’s basically a fine aggregate that can be compacted with a whacker plate to create a firm surface.  Combined with stepping stones it gives quite a mediterranean feel.  It’s cost effective too - at least in the short term.  Be careful where you use self-binding gravel.  It’s not suitable for high wear areas such as driveways. It’ll be OK for a path or seating area that is only used occasionally.

Decking - Natural Timber vs Composite Decking

Decking will never fall out of fashion. There’s nothing quite like it for creating that scandi-vibe.  Decking is great around hot tubs, under pergolas or on verandas. Modern composite decking is particularly attractive, not least because it is so easy to maintain.

Which brings us on to the subject of timber vs composite. Well, it’s a matter of personal choice really.  Composite won’t rot and some of it looks quite realistic.  It’s also made from recycled materials so has an element of eco-friendliness to it. 

But if you prefer to use all natural products, then please be sure to do due diligence and make sure that any timber you acquire is FSC certified. It’s just as important to consider the planet when landscaping as it is when building and decorating a home.

Hiring A Garden Designer

If you feel that you are spending too much time researching garden surfaces, or if you really want your garden to look as spectacular as your home, then I’d strongly advise that you hire a garden designer.

Yes, it will be another cost to consider, but just like the services of your architect and your builder, a garden designer is an investment in your future lifestyle.

Garden designers are experts in garden surfaces, colour schemes, planting palettes, layouts and features that will help you make the most of your outdoor spaces.

It’s important to find the right garden designer for you. Someone that you can develop a good working relationship with. Don’t be afraid to approach as many garden designers as you need to in order to find ‘the one’. If you need any pointers, the Arbour Landscape Solutions team may be able to suggest someone who can help.

Click here to find a professional garden designer

Where To Buy Landscaping Materials At Wholesale Prices

Arbour Landscape Solutions website showcases over 6,000 different landscaping materials, most of which can be ordered online. Register on the website as a self builder and you'll be able to buy at prices normally reserved for landscapers and garden designers. In addition, you'll automatically recieve a 5% discount on your first order.

The team at Arbour Landscape Solutions have a collective experience of more than 60 years in the industry and are happy to proffer as much (free!) technical advice as you need. You can have sample products delivered to your door and you can even visit their stock holding in Bedfordshire to peruse the wide range of landscaping materials available for 2 day delivery lead times. Oh, and don't forget their bespoke sourcing service for when you can't find any off the shelf landscaping materials to meet your needs. This really is the one stop shop for garden surfaces.

Order samples of materials for garden surfaces

Book an online consultation with Richard Bickler from Arbour Landscape Solutions