The patio is the heart of the garden. It is where you will spend the most time, so it needs to be a place where you can relax and enjoy your outdoor space. It is here that a little extra thought can reap dividends in creating atmosphere and interest. So, if your patio is looking a bit lacklustre, bring it back to life with some planning and some pots.
Before you dive into making changes, take a step back to look at the surrounding garden; think about the existing style, textures and flowers. Can you link those into your revamped patio, so it blends with what is there already? Perhaps you can use similar colours, or repeat some of the plants.
And on a practical note, what do you want to use your patio for? Is it just for sitting, or will you need a table for eating? Or, a barbecue for cooking? Or, if your garden is very small, should you reserve your patio as a ‘still space’ to look into, but not actually for use?
Patio ideas: Don't try to do everything
A common mistake is to try and cram in too many things and also too many ideas in the space. Choose a few elements that you really love, so they will hold your interest for months or years. For example, a few large pots (which might be a bit more expensive) is much better than a random collection of small ones. And the plants, too, will thank you for the larger volume of soil to grow in. Hold to your chosen style and be bold.
If you have inherited paving that goes right up to the boundary fence or wall, you could lift some paving slabs or break a hole through the concrete to allow you to plant a climber in new topsoil. Bare boundaries can be too stark; better to clothe them in greenery and colour to soften the atmosphere and create a sense of escape. Some very useful climbers for shady walls are: Chaenomeles, the Japanese Quince, which flowers in March/April, giving a much-needed splash of bright, pink, red, or white; and hydrangea seemanii, the evergreen climbing hydrangea, which takes a while to establish, but will romp away once it’s happy.
Growing vertically is a great way to expand the space on your patio. As well as climbers, you could hang pots and planters onto the boundaries. There are proprietary vertical planting pockets, but they are expensive – anything such as recycled guttering, or even re-purposed drawers can be another place to grow. This is where things can get quirky!
Patio ideas: Think about clever storage
Try to think outside the box, especially if you are limited for space. Every nook and cranny can be utilised for storage: under seats, behind fences and there is nothing to stop you having shelves on your garden walls, just like you would indoors.
Fabrics too, needn’t be limited to inside. There are loads of water-resistant cushions, and cloths to choose from. They make sitting outdoors much more comfortable and add a splash of colour, particularly when the flowers are beginning to fade.
It can be expensive to completely change or re-pave your patio, but a lot can be done with a quick spruce-up. The sound and movement of a water feature can completely transform a space; the easiest way is to buy a kit, complete with cable and reservoir, so it can be plugged in to an exterior socket and it can sit on the paving or amongst the planting, surrounded by plants. You will need to disguise the electric cable, so tuck it behind pots or under evergreen leaves.
Patio ideas: The best container plants
Some of my favourite plants for patio containers include: agapanthus and canna lilies, both of which do better with some reflected warmth from nearby walls; and grasses, such as hackonechloa and Pennisetum, which waft in the breeze and give a nice contrast to the solid-ness of the pots that they sit in. If you want to have a high impact plant as a focal point, you can’t do better than an acer for shape, dahlias for colour, Fatsia Green Fingers for personality or a gnarly old olive to transport you to a warmer clime.
Juliet Sargeant is an RHS Chelsea Gold Medallist and award-winning designer. She is a familiar face on Gardeners World and Gardeners Question Time.
Juliet runs garden-inspired courses at garden venues around Sussex, where she shares her passion for creating ‘feel-good’ outdoor spaces. In June/July 2021 she will be holding courses on how to successfully design and plant small gardens. Find more information here.
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