You’ll be more comfortable on a patio where adjustments have been made for particular climate problems. Getting and maintaining a comfortable patio “room temperature” often depends on using the right combination of design elements (location, overheads, vertical screens) to modify strong prevailing winds or excessive summer temperatures.
Good patio design should accommodate and adjust to your family’s varying activities-- casual gatherings, children’s games, reading, outdoor dinners, barbecues, and so on. A good way to achieve flexibility is to give design elements multiple jobs: built-in benches that store sports equipment, fire pits that double as low tables. Creating access to your patio from more than one of your main indoor living areas also makes it more flexible.
Make it a point to learn about the properties of various patio building materials-- and avoid using any that might encourage accidents. For example, some paving materials become slippery when wet; others are too uneven for children’s games, and some deck railings, though architecturally appealing, are not substantial enough to be safe.
Plan for safe traffic patterns between your house and patio and your patio and garden, and provide good lighting at steps along garden paths.
Well put-together patios are successful because they achieve a certain balance-- both architecturally and aesthetically-- in the overall garden scheme. Materials used in patio construction blend with those used in the house, and colors and textures harmonize in the patio plants and decorative touches. Attention to construction and decorative details will contribute greatly to your patio’s overall atmosphere.
The first thing to do is decide what functions you want a patio to serve. Then you can examine your landscape to see what you have to work with and where you want your patio to go.
Evaluate your needs
Your first thought should focus on your family’s needs and habits. Considering the way you live, make a list of what is most important to you (if you have children, get their input too); then, if you need to compromise, you can compromise on the less important things.
Here are some questions to consider:
Do you like to entertain with frequent outdoor dinners? Do the neighborhood kids like to play in your yard? Do you like to garden? How much time do you have to keep your patio in good condition? Do you prefer formal or casual living? Will your pets damage fragile patio plants or furniture? Your answers to these questions will determine some basic design elements for your patio.
Sizing up the Landscape
Next, take stock of your yard’s assets and liabilities. Even if you plan to enlist the services of a landscape architect, architect, or landscape designer, you should have a good understanding of your existing landscape.
Can your patio plan capitalize on a fine view? Is your property bounded by woods? Perhaps your design can take advantage of a sunny southern exposure, a mature garden, or an impressive tree.
Consider also your yard’s handicaps-- is your lot on a steep slope? Is much of the lot exposed to traffic?
Is humidity a problem in summer? Does your present patio open off the wrong room, get too much sun or shade, or lack sufficient space? You’ll want to plan a patio that minimizes your special problems.
Choosing a patio location
Where your patio goes will depend largely on the size of your lot, the way your house sits on it, the uses you have in mind for the patio, and your climate. Even if you’re stuck with a slab of concrete off the wrong room, you can still remedy a poor patio location.
Locations and lot sizes
If your house sits on a small lot, you probably have room for only one patio, most likely in a conventional spot off the living room, dining room, or kitchen. For an L or U-shaped house, however, a single patio can link and expand two or three interior rooms without consuming additional space.
If most of your yard space is in the front, perhaps your patio belongs there, protected from street traffic and noise by a screen of shrubs or fencing. And don’t overlook a narrow side yard or a garage roof-- you may be surprised how a little imagination can transform dead space into a cozy outdoor room.
If your lot is steep with no ground room for a patio, plan a wood deck constructed above ground. It can relieve horizontal claustrophobia by extending one or more rooms to open up the whole interior.
Homeowners with generous lots often find that several related patios suit their needs better than a single large one. If your lot is large, consider breaking up the space with two patios, one close to the house, the other at the far end of the garden. With patios at different spots in the yard, you can take advantage of their different exposures to sun and shade.
Separate patios off the living room, kitchen, and master bedroom-- planned for entertaining, informal outdoor dining and solitude-- provide alternatives for a family’s changing and sometimes conflicting needs.
Remedies for hand-me-downs
If you’ve inherited a poorly planned patio along with your house, you can renovate it to suit your landscape plan. Try enlarging it, resurfacing it, or connecting it to a new patio by a garden path. If you’re leaning heavily toward changing the patio completely, it’s wise to remove the old patio and start with a totally new design.
Many people spread landscape fabric, also known as weed cloth, over the excavated area before adding gravel. While the fabric can keep gravel from sinking into soggy clay, it is no panacea for stopping weeds.
Landscape fabric blocks only sprouts and runners that might come up from below: it doesn't prevent seeds that land on the surface from sprouting. You can prevent weed growth just as effectively by building your path thick enough to block sunlight from the soil - and keeping the path clean of leaves and needles.
Without decaying organic matter to nourish them, any seeds that land on the gravel and sprout will probably die on their own. If they don't, pull them by hand while they're still small. Otherwise, loosen the gravel with a pick and remove the weeds, roots and all.
Gravel paths require edging materials, and most other stone pathways benefit from it as well. Besides helping to lock the paving into place, edging material often contributes to the overall appeal of a path. Some edging is barely noticeable - a good choice if you want to create an illusion that your path is winding naturally across a site.
Plastic edging is available at any masonry supply store in several styles. For gravel paths, get rolls with a wide, rounded top edge. For stone paving, look for the type designed for brick paving. An electrician can also install outdoor lighting to complete the look.
Bricks provide a traditional touch that's equally at home in a formal garden or one with a cottage feel. This product is also available at a masonry supply store. A fence stain is another consideration to give your landscaping a distinct feel.
Special thanks to Dallas Stain Pros, DFW Landscaping for contributing their thoughts.
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