The RHS Great Chelsea Garden Challenge Garden Designed by Sean Murray front garden parking space for car low ground cover groundcover perennials planting of chamomile Geranium Ajuga grey slate mulch in paved area with slab paving 18/05/15 18/05/2015 180515 18052015 18 18th May 2015 Early Summer RHS Chelsea Flower show 2015 Photographer Jason Ingram design ideas plant portraits

Alternatives to garden paving

We recommend alternative ideas to paved gardens, including low cost and low-maintenance options.

A paved area is the perfect spot for a bench or table and chairs, but a totally paved garden can look stark and has a detrimental effect on wildlife, as well as increasing the risk of flooding in heavy rain.

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Fortunately, there are plenty of alternatives to paving, including solutions that give existing areas of paving a facelift.

Of course, this doesn’t mean you can’t or shouldn’t have paved areas within the garden – there are lots of beautiful hard materials to use – and they’re ideal for frequently trodden areas and paths.

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Take a look at these alternative to paving ideas.


Lawn

Lawn with herbaceous border surrounding
Lawn with herbaceous border surrounding

Perhaps the most obvious alternative to a paved garden is a lawn. It provides a soft surface for relaxing or playing and can be formal – closely cut and striped – or more natural, with lawn daisies allowed to remain and naturalised bulbs planted around the edges. Avoid creating your lawn on ‘desire lines’, such as the quickest route between your back door and compost bin or shed. Lawn in these frequently trodden areas will soon become muddy and worn. Find out how to lay lawn turf or start a new lawn from seed.


Ponds

Garden pond with surrounding planting
Garden pond with surrounding planting

Garden ponds are a wonderful thing – they’re a real hub for wildlife and present the opportunity to grow lots of aquatic plants such as water lilies, pickerel weed and water forget-me-not. Be sure to leave room for a seating area to enjoy the view. Discover some of the most important features of a wildlife pond.


Plant trees

Multi-stem birch trees planted amongst paving
Multi-stem birch trees planted amongst paving

This small paved area (pictured) has been broken up by the addition of multi-stem birch trees, creating a serene and private ‘room’. Such an area could mark the transition from one garden ‘room’ to another, or contain a bench or other form of seating. Don’t be afraid to plant trees closely together to get the best effect. Take a look at some of the best trees for small gardens.


Cut flower patch

Cut flower patch with anemones
Cut flower patch with anemones

Cut flowers are great, but they can be expensive to buy, particularly if you like to always have a bunch or two in the house. Put together your own selections and save money by starting your own cut flower patch. There are lots of growing options, from dahlias, to annual cornflowers, to zinnias. You don’t need acres of space to do this – even a square metre will do.


A space for wildlife

Insect hotel created with wooden pallets, bricks and hollow stems
Insect hotel created with wooden pallets, bricks and hollow stems

Paved areas don’t do much for wildlife, but you can transform them into spaces that do work for wildlife. There are lots of ways to do this, from providing areas of dense planting that provide cover, to growing pollinator-friendly plants for bees, butterflies and hoverflies. Insect hotels and deadwood stacks will ensure invertebrates have a place to hide, too.


Herb garden

Lavender with a visiting bumblebee
Lavender with a visiting bumblebee

Unless your paved area is in deep shade, most can be transformed into a herb garden – potted or otherwise – to provide you with fresh, aromatic pickings. For shadier spots, go for herbs like lovage, dill, mint and parsley. As for sun, rosemary, thyme, lavender, sage and tarragon fit the bill.


Scented planting zone

Night-scented stock (Matthiola longipetala)
Night-scented stock (Matthiola longipetala)

Paved areas do provide useful areas for seating and other garden furniture, so if you want to continue in the vein of creating a space to linger in, then you could dedicate an area to scented plants. As well as plants with scented flowers, consider plants with aromatic foliage, too, which will give the space extra depth. Add a bench right in the midst of the planting to take full advantage of the wafting scents.


Raised beds

Wooden raised bed on a patio
Wooden raised bed on a decking area

Sturdy, well-made raised beds will last years and serve a number of functions. From growing fruit, veg and herbs, to providing seating, to cut flowers. The well-trodden areas surrounding them are probably best paved or gravelled, as lawn will wear away with frequent footfall. Try this contemporary raised bed and take a look at these gardening tips for raised beds.


Partially paved

Stipa gigantea
Stipa gigantea
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You needn’t do away with all of a paved area if you don’t want to. An existing paving area can be adapted and improved by taking up certain areas and replacing with planting. These could be low-growing plants like sempervivums, chamomile, erigeron, forget-me-nots and thyme, or tall, airy grasses like Stipa gigantea to provide partially transparent screening.