Garden flooring tips for every lifestyle
We’re spoilt for choice with outdoor flooring. From the warmth of classic timber to the cottagey charm of gravel, there’s a plethora of options to suit every space and lifestyle. Use these tips to turn a scrappy garden into an asset
Timber connects simply and beautifully to the indoors. Rising above sloping, patchy, uneven ground, timber decking creates a stellar entrance or backyard entertaining space. “It is timeless,” says landscape designer Janine Mendel of Cultivart. “It can be laid at the internal floor level for that seamless indoor/outdoor connection and, if installed to a high standard, is extremely low maintenance.” A deck means no weeds or falls required for drainage, which Janine says gives the surface an indoor quality in an outdoor space.
An annual slick of oil or stain keeps timber in good nick but if you’ve skipped a year or two, it can be sanded back and reinvented time and time again. Right now, the silver, weathered look of exposed timber is popular – it looks especially resort-chic around swimming pools. Try Feast Watson water repellent timber and deck oil, which lets timber grey over time while protecting its integrity. Landscape designer Adam Robinson suggests using FSC-certified Australian hardwoods, such as blackbutt. “These hardwoods are grown locally and can withstand our harsh conditions,” he says, adding that decks ideally need to be raised 300mm off the ground for enough airflow to prevent them rotting. With a quality build, he says, a deck should last 10 to 15 years.
For renters and weekend renovators, modular decking is a D.I.Y. dream. Frames and deck panels are prefabricated to fit together quickly and easily. Modules can be set at varying heights to form platforms, stairs and to define zones. Good Times modular decking is a pre-engineered system that can be assembled with just a cordless drill. Use treated pine for a cheap, chic temporary solution, or upgrade to a composite if you’re in it for the long haul.
If you like the look and feel of a traditional deck without the maintenance of timber, consider a composite product like Ekodeck, which is made from reclaimed timber and recycled plastic. Composites don’t require oiling or painting, are unlikely to rot, splinter and warp – and, according to Adam, are worth the investment. “Composite decking is nearly twice the price of timber, but you have to weigh up the annual costs of upkeep that you won’t have to put in,” he explains. Composite decking is non-porous and non-slip (look for a commercial-grade R11 slip rating) so it’s great around swimming pools and on ramps and steps. Aside from the cost, the onlydownside of composite decking is that it can’t be refurbished, although Ekodeck is coloured all the way through so it can be lightly sanded to buff out scratches and stains. Choose a tone and texture you’ll be happy to live with long-term, and clean regularly with hot water and dishwash liquid, working along the grain with a stiff brush and then rinsing off. Squeegee away excess water and you’re done.
Another low-maintenance option is HardieDeck, made from James Hardie’s premium fibre cement. Unlike timber, it’s resistant to damage from moisture and termites and won’t splinter or warp, even when the sun beats down. You can paint the smooth, wide gap-free boards to match your home’s interior flooring or stain them in a timber-look finish. HardieDeck is deemed non-combustible, so makes an ideal bushfire zone deck or fire pit deck and it’s also suitable for around pools and spas (when installed in strict compliance with James Hardie install guide) as it’s designed to resist rot and fading from baking hot sun and pool water.
For a sleek surface, look no further than outdoor tiles. “Vitrified porcelain doesn’t mark or stain as stone pavers do and gives a high-quality finish that is extremely easy to maintain,” says Janine Mendel. Tiles are a beautiful option for alfresco dining spaces, and also work well as pool decking, provided you go for an unglazed, non-slip surface. Go by how they feel – the rougher the better – and look for a commercial-grade slip rating of R10 or above.
Porcelain is strong and the colour continues all the way through the tile so damage won’t show. Ceramic tiles (basically baked clay with a coloured top layer) are more porous than porcelain but still a good, affordable option. Other varieties include patterned encaustic (pressed cement) tiles for bohemian appeal, old-school tessellated tiles that suit heritage houses, and natural stone versions, such as travertine, granite and sandstone, which are stunning in a garden setting but porous, so will need resealing every year.
Gravel and pebbles
From overgrown paths to messy driveways, gravel and pebbles are a garden cure-all. Scatter, compact, rake, repeat. A few layers will even up bumpy terrain, define passageways and dress up dirt patches for instant polish.
Made from crushed rock, the crunch of gravel underfoot is satisfying – it’s also a burglar deterrent – but pebbles, smooth stones that have been shaped by water, are more likely to stay in place. First, remove weeds and put down a weed control mat. Generally, a thicker layer of gravel or pebbles is better (60mm to 70mm) to deter future weeds and to keep stones in place. Even so, a path or driveway will still require raking, weeding, shovelling and an annual top-up – keep a bag on standby in the garage. Be aware of wayward stones, which can flick up under the pressure of wheelie bins and cars to be caught later in lawnmowers.
With the lovely texture of pebbles, but few of the maintenance issues, a resin product like MaxPRO pebble resurfacer could update your space in no time. This innovative new product in a D.I.Y. bucket has an easy-mix finish, which resembles exposed aggregate. It can be spread over an existing surface like concrete or even bare earth for a whole new look, and is a relatively straightforward project.
An outdoor flooring hero, with myriad options, it’s easy to find a paver to complement your home. The location of the area, in full sun or shade, will influence the materials chosen; pale pavers can brighten a shady area, but are glary in the sun, while too-dark pavers can be scorching underfoot.
Natural or man-made, imperfection is key, says Adam. “We are moving away from anything that feels manufactured or too perfect, with machine-cut edges and no texture in the finish,” he says. Even if your budget is only for entry-level materials, you can still play with sizes. “There is a trend to random length paving sizes, where the widths are all the same but the lengths are varied,” Adam explains. “It provides a softer, imperfect aesthetic.”
Man-made concrete and porcelain pavers are durable, versatile and cost effective, while natural stone pavers give a great organic feel but need to be sealed every year. Janine prefers darker colours for the driveway, as they look clean longer and ground the house, while for paving around swimming pools, walkways and alfresco areas, she says light colours are best. “They reflect the heat so are cooler underfoot,” she explains.
Weeds love the cracks between all pavers. Topping up jointing sand when it runs low will help, while a sweep with a stiff broom and the occasional pressure clean will help to stop moss growing on the surface. A good-quality installation will also keep weeds at bay. “A wet mortar bed is best for large format pavers,” says Janine.
Change up your garden floor’s look
Head into your local Bunnings to completely transform your outdoor space with garden flooring solutions.
Photo credit: Three Birds Renovations, Getty Images and iStock.