6 steps to a beautifully designed patio: The Garden Ninja's paving choices & plant selection

Lazy Susan's resident garden expert Lee aka The Garden Ninja has 6 steps for creating a beautifully designed patio and how to choose the right paving materials and plants...

Creating a beautifully designed patio is not only about selecting the right paving materials but also about integrating plants, proportions and design flair to enhance the overall appeal of your outdoor seating area. Don't just settle for a bog standard rectangular patio that seems to sit on top of the garden, let's discuss how we can integrate your seating area so you're sitting within the garden. I guarantee these tips will ensure a far more usable and delightful gardening space!

In this expert guide, I will show you six essential steps to help you design a stunning patio that seamlessly combines elegant paving choices with carefully selected plants, resulting in a stylish and inviting outdoor space.

Step 1: Define Your Patio's Purpose

Before diving into design decisions, take some time to consider how you intend to use your patio. Will it primarily serve as an outdoor dining area, a cosy lounging spot, or a multifunctional space for entertaining guests? You can tailor the design to meet your specific needs and preferences by clarifying its purpose. The most significant error that gardeners make is that they don't consider how large the space needs to be when the chairs and tables are in use, i.e. pulled out with people moving around them. 

The dimensions for your new furniture will tell you their size, but you also need a good 50-70cm space around chairs for people to walk. Consider how big the space should be if everyone pulls a chair out to stand up! It is better to have a few comfortable pieces of furniture that you use most of the year than lots of smaller, uncomfortable chairs for that once-a-year gathering. 

Consider whether the space is for a morning brew before the commute to work, for a large family weekend BBQ or for evening relaxation with a nice cold drink. This will help define both the size and the feel of the patio. Plan the space for how you will use it 90% of the time so you get the most use out of it.

Step 2: Choose the Right Paving Material

Selecting the perfect paving material is crucial for achieving the desired look and feel of your patio. Options range from natural stone, such as sandstone, limestone, and slate, to man-made alternatives like porcelain tiles and concrete pavers. Consider factors such as durability, aesthetics, maintenance requirements, and budget.

A top tip is to be creative with the layout of the flags. You don't need to settle for brick course fashion you can play about with different layouts. Maybe you want the flash horizontal to the house or even at a 45-degree angle to elongate the space. Paving isn't just functional it is a design statement. Smaller pavers, flags or bricks will give detail and texture whereas larger-sized pavers will make the space feel lighter and larger. So, depending on your patio's purpose, pick a design that works for you. Detail works better in smaller, cosy seating areas, whereas larger, clean, light paving works better for a larger patio.

Step 3: Plan the Layout and Design

Once you've chosen your paving material, it's time to plan the layout and design of your patio. Determine the patio's size and shape, considering factors such as available space, architectural features, and traffic flow. Experiment with different layout options to create a functional and visually appealing arrangement. It must be functional if you're going to use your patio frequently. I see so many patios that are awkward to walk around or littered with pots of pick-and-mix plants. Do a few things well rather than using your patio to display all of our design trinkets!

Sometimes, positioning the patio further into the garden rather than right outside is a better use of the space. It can also open up the sizes and shapes more than a set of slabs right outside the French doors! Moving the patio away from the house allows you to create a flow and journey into the garden rather than just a 'viewing platform' outside the house. This trick also pulls your visitors and guests into the garden to immerse them in your wonderful plant choices. I nearly always move the main seating area into the garden rather than around the edges where possible. It's a design game-changer!

Step 4: Integrate Plants and Greenery

It wouldn't be a garden with plants now, would it? Adding plants and greenery to your patio design adds richness using colour, texture, and form to the seating space. It may ruffle a few feathers, but a couple of pots with low-maintenance shrubs simply don't cut it on a patio; they look awkward and often pull focus away from the garden. Consider using deep herbaceous beds around the patio to hug it or even miss out on a few flags around the edges to plant directly into the ground to connect the garden with the patio. Multi-stem shrubs are an excellent idea for these kinds of planting pockets. 

Choose a variety of plants, including perennials, shrubs, ornamental grasses, and climbers, to create visual interest and enhance the ambience. Consider factors such as sunlight exposure, soil conditions, and maintenance requirements when selecting plants for your patio. Always plant in multiples of 3, 5 or 7. It brings consistency to the garden design. You can repeat these plants further into the garden, which connects the patio with the rest of the garden design. Remember, the patio is not a spectator box but a fully immersive part of the garden. Plant around and in it as such!

Step 5: Be Cautious with Decorative Features

It is easy to get carried away when designing a patio by including a few extra trinkets or features. I'm talking about your plug-in water features and spinning light-up decorations. As with the planting consistency you want to try and avoid adding extra bits and bobs that then distract from the rest of the garden. Solar lights are great here and there to pull focus onto certain shrubs, trees or parts of the garden, but if you go overboard with festoon lights, flood lights, candles and fire pits, suddenly, the atmosphere of the garden evaporates, and it feels overexposed. 

Remember, the beauty of your garden is in the plants and overall feel. If you end up looking at decorative features that distract from that, ask yourself if they add to the garden or take focus away from it. You'll be amazed at how much more interesting a clutter-free patio surrounded by gorgeous plants and paving detail is compared to lots of quirky ornaments.

Step 6: Maintain and Enjoy Your Patio

Once your patio design is complete, it's important to maintain it properly to ensure its longevity and beauty. Regular cleaning, sweeping, and sealing of the paving materials will help keep them looking their best. Sealing porous paving is a lifesaver when your best friend knocks over a glass of wine while laughing at your jokes! Ongoing care and attention to your plants will ensure they thrive and continue to enhance the overall appeal of your patio, especially with winter pruning for herbaceous perennials and the odd evening spent deadheading throughout the season. 

By keeping the patio and furniture clean, they will always be available when the mood takes you. While furniture covers can protect the sofa from the winter months, you don't necessarily need them on all summer. What you will find is that any blocker to using the area, like covers that need removing or leaves that need sweeping, will cause you to pick an easier alternative, like that pile of washing that needs doing!

If you keep the patio looking inviting and ready to use, you'll be out on it much more frequently. 


Finally, now that you have rethought your patio area and applied my design tips, it's time to relax and enjoy your beautifully designed outdoor space with family and friends! The biggest takeaway tip with any garden design is to do a few things well and consider how the area will look, function and feel. If it feels inviting and relaxed, you and your guests will mirror that feeling. If your patio is chaotic, busy, and awkward when getting around, then so will you!

Enjoy the process of editing plants, features and furniture until you have a more relaxed patio area even if it means putting some spare chairs back into the garage until your guests need them for the huge family BBQ.

Happy gardening ninjas!

Until next time,

Lee Burkhill

About Lee

Lee Burkhill aka The Garden Ninja

Lee Burkhill aka the Garden Ninja is a multi-award-winning garden designer, horticulturist, garden blogger, vlogger, TV Presenter and YouTuber. Hailing from the North West of England, Lee has an infectious enthusiasm for helping gardeners all over the world. The Garden Ninja is his garden design business and online gardening blog, and he was recently voted one of the Top 10 Gardening Bloggers and Garden Vloggers in the UK. Lee is also part of the BBC Garden Rescue Team, which you can watch on weekdays at 3.45 pm on BBC One or on BBC iPlayer. Here at Lazy Susan, we’re looking forward to sharing his exclusive horticultural tips, tricks and advice on our blog.

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