Sandy’s Garden ... Sett in Stone

Sandy Simpson
Sandy Simpson

I was sitting in my garden on a recent sunny, warm evening, sipping a gin and tonic and feeling that all was well with the world.

How’s that for an excess of optimistic euphoria?

I glanced through a couple of brochures on hard landscaping which I had picked up at my local hard landscaper’s office when I was paying for a 25 kg bag of orange quartz pebbles to be used topping up the non-paved parts of my garage access. I was immediately struck by the wide varieties of colours, of types of real and artificial stone, of sizes and of laying patterns for paved areas. My own patio is laid with flat grey cement slabs, practical and efficient but rather less than attractively decorative. But it was laid more than twenty years ago … can it really be so long? … when my previously undesigned, randomly-developed and hard-to-maintain garden was being replaced by a professionally-designed, co-ordinated, easy-to-maintain leisure area; and I think, from memory, that the wide range of paving materials which we enjoy now was not generally well-known about; certainly I was then unaware of much in the way of options when I was content with plain grey concrete slabs. (I must add, in my own defence and that of my garden designer, that the slabs looked more attractive when they were brand new and before they grew careworn.)

Then there are all the laying patterns. My slabs, I learn from one of the brochures, are laid in ‘stack bond,’ a pattern in which single units are set with continuous vertical and horizontal joints. The many photographs in the brochures suggests that other patterns are preferred to stack bond nowadays, the most frequently-seen in the brochure illustrations being ‘stretcher bond,’ also called as ‘running bond’ apparently, which is created when pavers are laid with their stretchers … that’s their long sides if they are other than square … overlapping midway with the courses of slabs below and above. Stretcher bond is the commonest bond used today, I learn, is the simplest repeating pattern and is the least interesting in appearance. It can be made more interesting by the discreet use of different coloured slabs. Well, in my opinion, stretcher bond is a bit more interesting than stack bond.

And, of course, there are the variations on what I might call simple stretcher bond, with all the slabs the same size. A more interesting pattern can be developed using two sizes of slabs … let’s call them ‘large’ and ‘small’ … or three different sizes – large, medium and small. Adopt what is termed ‘long stone paving’ and four different sizes of slabs can be used in a stretcher bond pattern. It’s getting more interesting all the time! And that brings us to ‘herringbone pattern,’ in which the slabs are laid in such a way as prevents the development of extended continuous joints in both horizontal directions; this is described as ‘fully interlocked,’ making herringbone a popular pattern for pavements subjected to vehicular traffic because it resists the displacement forces generated by acceleration, deceleration or turning. The slabs used to create a herringbone pattern must be rectangular, for this pattern simply is not geometrically achievable with square pavers.

If the owner of the garden where paving is to be done still feels that they have not seen a style they like, they might opt for ‘courtyard pattern’ or ‘random pattern,’ although using a repeating design element of, perhaps, seven compatible sizes of pavers can create an attractive outdoor hard surface which is not truly ‘random.’ And there’s more! But, on reflection, no matter how much the brochure illustrations appeal to me, I think I shall stay loyal to my wholly-basic stack bond. It has served me well and at my age I have no right to discard something just because a contemporary replacement might appeal more to the eye!