How The Best Make Hard Decisions


Choosing paving materials for private gardens can be a complicated task involving the balancing of client needs, site dynamics, trends, aesthetics, appropriateness, budget and lots more besides. When you add the ever increasing choice of materials into the mix, you get a very challenging situation indeed. While there are always factors to consider, most landscape professionals have learned through experience what works and what doesn’t, and the majority draw from a palette of tried and tested materials. But what are the preferred paving materials of Ireland’s top professionals, why do they prefer them and what materials do they tend to avoid? To get a clearer picture,

HORTICULTURECONNECTED asked a number of Irelands accredited designers and contractors to share their thoughts.

MGLDA In terms of design decisions, the choice of paving is one of the most important as it is also one of the most permanent, and represents a significant investment for the client. Each design is different and calls for an individual approach. First and foremost the material should be in keeping with the style of the house and its immediate surroundings. It should be subtle and beautifully executed in construction, finishing and detailing.

If appropriate to the design, my preference would be for indigenous stone, but in practice imported stone tends to be cheaper and this can be the deciding factor for a client; financial considerations are definitely prioritised over environmental ones. I have always been more satisfied by texture than colour. I find precast materials with a lot of colour harsh in a natural setting and can be very visually dominant. I feel that the paving should have a supporting role rather than be the main focal point. Precast materials can also be quite restrictive in terms of sizes, where stone allows more creativity in the end product. However, I do like and use Tobermore’s retro paving which has nice mellow tones and fits well with traditional and modern styles. Contrasting a paving material in different sizes, small and large units, creates interesting textural contrasts.

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“I find pre-cast materials with a lot of colour harsh in a natural setting and can be very visually dominant”

Small units used alone can create a feeling of space and movement. They also work well to surround and define grids of coloured tarmacadam. This is deceptively expensive but makes a very nice alternative to other monolithic paving materials for small drives and parking areas.

Character also comes in the form of architectural salvage, if budget allows. It has become harder to source in the last few years, though sometimes you can be lucky and already have some on site. In a recent project, I reused old black tiles about 200mm square, which had originally been in the kitchen of the house. A lovely material, it had been laid as a square in the patio surrounded by horrible shiny red bricks. Redesigning the patio, I created a connection with them from the house to the garden and the strong visual line created allowed me to resolve a problem: the house was at an angle to the garden and neither boundary wall was square. A visit to Millbrook Paving sourced a material that harmonised well with it, an imported limestone ‘Kota Brown’, mellow browny/yellow with small flecks of black in it. The two materials juxtaposed worked really well together to define the patio and give it more depth. I have used this material quite a bit since. Designing the paved area and choosing materials is really only the beginning. Whatever the choice of material, the devil is in the detail – the pattern, the jointing, and the workmanship are vital to the quality of the finish and a satisfied client.



Patricia Tyrell is a landscape architect, garden designer, horticulturist and Bloom Gold Medal Winner. She can be contacted via her website at



Sun or shade, soft or hard, coloured or grey, concrete or natural material–all houses and gardens use paved areas as a link between the two spaces. They are essential surfaces for driveways, utility areas, pathways, steps and patios. Paved surfaces are also the most expensive and labour intensive part of a landscaping job or overall design scheme. Thoughtful and functional design planning is essential and the installation of a patio, driveway, steps or pathway is best tackled by and an experienced contractor.

There are a huge number of things that can go wrong in terms of puddles, trip hazards, creating drainage problems; unintentional redirecting of water etc. and I have seen it all over the years. Every contractor has a different way of achieving the finished product and there is huge variation in quality and finish between contractors. The designer has a responsibility to specify correctly the levels, correct sub-course and laying procedure. All of this is a precursor to the selection of the correct paving material – one which suits the site, the climate, aspect, the client, the budget and you the designer.

It’s easy to get comfortable with a particular favourite material, one you have a track record with and photos to refer to. You have practiced your standard speal and you convince the client that this is the surface for them. In years gone by the ‘teracotta’ paving brick was a favourite of the householder who wanted to brighten up their driveway or create a patio.

This would be mixed with a grey, charcoal brick and laid in infinite chequered or random spotty patterns. Landscapers specified it, architects specified it, and engineers specified it and paving centres who stocked it though it was the best things since sliced bread. So it sprung up in front of white houses, brown brick houses, Victorian, Edwardian and Georgian red and yellow brick houses and every forecourt and commercial premises in the country. It was gorgeous!

Thankfully it soon faded, with dirt, algae and lichen making it easier to look at. Thankfully too, things have moved on for most of us anyway. Paving suppliers have infinite colours, shapes and styles available. The quality of brick and slab paving has greatly improved too. Some of the larger manufacturers produce eco-concrete and use efficient, sustainable drying
and polishing techniques.

So what works for me? I try to keep myself open to using new materials all the time but I do have my likes and dislikes. I still hate anything pink. I try to steer clear of soft Indian sandstone such as mint. The client will love it when it goes down but will hate it very soon after the first wet season and probably hate you more.

If given the choice I tend to go for Indian limestone rather than sandstone as it is much harder. Kota Limestone, Tandoor limestone, sandblasted or natural. There is a good range of colours available.

If using granite I also try to pick a hard material. Some would soak more tea up from your mug than a ‘Hob Nob’ biscuit. Portuguese granite seems to me to be harder wearing than Chinese granite and it looks more like Irish too. Granite setts tend to keep cleaner than slabs. Maybe this is because the smaller surface area tends to dry out quicker. Kilkenny or blue limestone seems to buck the trend when it comes to soft stone. Even though it is soft and absorbent it doesn’t get as dirty as others.

Our biggest problem in Ireland is wet weather followed by damp weather followed by sunny spells and showers. All paving will get dirty in the Irish climate but I think if a stone is harder the water, algae and moss does not penetrate it.

When it comes to cleaning the stone the job is all the easier as a result. Hard is good, soft is bad. I think as a general rule but the preparation, laying, fall, pointing and the aspect at which the paved surface is laid has a huge bearing on its long term appearance.

I haven’t specified or laid concrete paving slabs in a long time but I keep meaning to do so. I particularly like the look of polished terrazzo style slabs. If I started to use these more, then at least there is potential to buy locally. This would be more sustainable from a transport point of view and if eco-concrete is used, then even better. I am currently trying to get gravel
for the driveway and pathways and intend to get it within a 10 mile radius. I see this as important for an old house in a rural area, but because it is my house and I have no client or commercial influence I think I challenge myself to be more sustainable and light footed in the experiment. The same goes for any other materials, I buy local. This idealistic stance I take at home is something I would like to adopt in ethos when designing for clients while recognising to that we do have a world economy too. So in conclusion, form follows function, local is good, but if, like my bananas, the material I really want is from halfway across the world I will consider using this too.

David Shortall is an award winning designer, garden builder and former Chairman of the Garden and Landscape Designers Association (GLDA).


In my experience, when it comes to creating a new garden, there are essentially three very important P’s, each requiring specific and careful consideration: Planning, Planting and Paving. Planning will not only set out the overall form, functionality and constituent elements of the garden space but also more crucially, focus on setting the balance between planting and paving aspects, and reflect the client’s preferences and use requirements.

The scope for determining how this balance is achieved will vary and widely differ, from an ornamental garden in which the plants are the leading feature, to gardens where the space is exploited for the purposes of an outdoor living area, and in such sites the garden planting has perhaps a secondary role and would be complementary to a space where large areas are paved and/or constructed in stone finishes. The challenge confronting the designer/landscaper and client is to seek a solution to blend the form and functionality. The hues and textures selected will reflect the preferred characteristics and attributes for the new garden.

In spite of the ever increasing choice of paving materials available, we remain committed to using natural stone as our preferred paving material. We believe that the appealing and often unique physical and performance attributes of natural stone is an ideal choice, and integral to achieving a seamless and pleasing design which blends the natural aesthetics of planted spaces and the structural characteristics of paved areas. Another distinguishing appealing feature of natural stone is that rarely no two pieces are identical. This variance is also further enhanced and influenced by the prevailing weather conditions, eg, on damp ‘soft’ days, the hues of the natural stone are more vivid and visible which contrasts starkly to dry sunny days when the stone’s hue appears to be more bleached and uniform.

“I still hate anything pink. I try to steer clear of soft Indian sandstone such as mint”

The appealing design and intrinsic enduring characteristics which are unique to natural stone finishes, together with the wide choice, availability and price competiveness, makes a compelling case for not choosing any alternative paving material.
Owen Chubb is one of Ireland’s leading landscape and garden creators. He is passionate about all things landscape and his business website is a well-used resource for landscape products and insight into their e£ective use. Owen can be contacted through his website at


There are a number of key factors which influence the choice of hard landscaping materials. These include quality, light levels, safety, maintenance, colour, texture and association with the theme, area and other materials on site. While as designers, we may be involved in a vast number of gardens throughout our careers; our clients will only every do this once. Therefore, the quality and longevity of the material is vital. The colour can bleach out of some brands of concrete block pavers over time. There are many great concrete products out there but it is important to ask how long the colour is guaranteed for.

Light levels have an important impact on the selection of hard landscape materials. Bu¤ sandstone may look less intense in Cork but in Belfast it can appear to have a more orange hue. The colour of hard landscaping materials intensifies when wet. My top tip for clients is to take a bottle of water with them when visiting a paving centre. If the main paving is warm in tone it should be accented with a cooler colour and vice versa. A house with a warm tone needs to have a cooler coloured paving to create a colour balance. The choice of hard landscape materials should complement the architecture and create a link with the building. By-fold doors have encouraged people to use the same flooring in the interior and exterior to create a seamless transition between the house and garden. A modern house with polished concrete flooring is not going to be complimented by a Liscannor stone patio.
Personally, I love granite as a landscape material because I grew up in a granite house and I associate it with home. Association and memory are important design considerations when creating a garden unique to a client. Hard landscaping materials can create a link with a region, the past or a memory. The safety and grip of the product are key considerations. Client mobility and family needs can inform the selection of materials and influence the time needed for maintenance.

No product is maintenance free and all will need to be cleaned at regular intervals. The selection of hard landscaping materials should be kept to a maximum of three. When too many different materials are used, the garden appears disjointed and incoherent.

Texture is often not considered but can really lift a hard landscaping scheme. Gravel is an easy way to bring a contrasting texture into the garden.

Ingrid Swan is a highly respected landscape and garden designer renowned for an eye for detail in both hard and soft landscaping. She is based in Cork and can be contacted at 087 629 2437.


In my mind, garden paths are an invitation to walk through a garden and the material used is a very important decision to be made at the outset as it’s unlikely to be changed.

The shape or layout of the path can sometimes determine the material I chose. For curved pathways, I use smaller paving units such as granite setts or bricks as they can accommodate the curved shape gradually. The material I select also depends on the style of the garden. Where there is a more contemporary feeling to the garden, a clean cut reconstituted stone is more suited, whereas a rustic or country style garden is more suited to textured stone or brick.

I particularly like self-binding gravel as a material for pathways. I love the feeling underfoot as it has a texture of gravel but is suitable for wheelchairs and buggies as it forms a rigid surface. The mix of gravel, sand and clay bond together when compacted to form a firm surface; yet it is also permeable. This type of surface, similar to any gravel, needs to have an edge to contain it. I like the contrast of a darker material, such as the black granite setts in the image. The warm colour of bound gravel surfaces complements any planting scheme.

When I’m planning a garden design, I steer clear of paving materials which are brightly coloured which may fight for attention in the overall garden design. I tend to avoid any patterned material, particularly when it’s trying to be something else, such as timber patterned concrete paving. When it comes to health and safety, I avoid specifying smooth surfaces such as old style cobbles, except where conservation requires they are used. I love the look of them but they are very slippery under foot and are uncomfortable to use a wheelchair on. When deciding on which materials to use for a pathway, I always try to select natural materials where possible and specify permeable surface/joints to avoid too much run-off.

Deidre Prince is an award winning garden designer and landscape architect. She is a member of the Board of Management at Grangegorman Development Agency, a regular gardening article contributor at Ireland’s Homes, Interiors and Living Magazine and Director at Deirdre Prince Landscape Architecture.