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Patios - Alan Titchmarsh, Charlie Dimmock and the other one....

Who remembers Ground Force? The BBC gardening programme that brought us decking and the 2 day garden makeover.

Did you know that Alan, Charlie and Tommy - that was his name, Tommy - were responsible for a massive increase in the sale of timber decking in the last 1990s? Wikipedia tells us that the sales of decking at B&Q increased from £5000 in 1997 to £16 million in 2001! Can that be right?

Well one of the other things that used to amaze us was how much the three of them and their team could actually get done in such a short space of time. It still amazes me to this day, especially when I think about a patio that we recently completed.

The property was a relatively modern property, built about 20 years or so ago. Access was limited and the garden was overshadowed by a couple of large trees. The garden had a slight slope upwards away from the back of the property, the soil was a typical mix of clay and buried builders' rubbish and what lawn was left was more moss than grass.

We were asked to create a more open and sunnier area that could be used throughout the year, and with a relatively low maintenance planting scheme.

We'll talk in another article about other aspects of what we did but for now let's look at the main patio area - and wonder in awe how Alan and his gang managed it so quickly...

We always start by talking and listening. You tell us what you want, we ask questions to make sure we've understood and then we assess your garden - we measure it, do some sketches, make notes of what you have and where (we don't want to start digging only to find we've hit a water pipe!) and then we talk to you again about what is possible.

Sounds obvious and simple - but it's a vitally important part.

Part of that initial chat will involve "the look" that you want to create - in this case the customer wanted to use recycled stone, wood and a gravel that would remind her of trips to Chesil Beach!

So we then started to source the materials. Wooden sleepers were bought locally and we scoured the area for recycled hardcore, sharp sand and the actual surface stone.

Whatever we do we want you to be pleased with, and for it to last! We want to make sure that we leave you with exactly what you expected when you first started to think about your patio.

So to do this we do things properly. We don't just lay some slabs on a thin bed of sand - unless of course that's what you've asked us to do.

We dig down - often by hand - to a point where the subsoil is compact. Typically we'll dig to a depth of 350mm. We set the top soil aside so that we can use it elsewhere in your garden. When we get to the sub soil we'll take a look and if it needs further compacting then we'll use a vibrating plate to do so.

We then lay a geotextile membrane. A decent one. That's important as we don't want any weeds growing up through and eventually pushing their way through to the surface.

Where we need a retaining edge we add that now. In this instance we were using sleepers so, making sure they were accurately cut and level, we bolted them together.

Then we'll add a layer of hardcore - this might be something like crushed brick, stone or concrete. In this particular case we were able to use recycled material from a local supplier. The layer was about 200mm thick.

A layer of sharp sand follows. About 20mm. And out comes the vibrating plate again. It's heavy and noisy but is necessary to make sure that the layer of sand is pushed into any gaps that exist within the layer of hardcore. Where there are hollows, we add more sand until it's firm and level.

That's a lot of work and we haven't even thought about the final surface yet...….

Next though we dry lay the stone. This is where cut them and make sure they fit - both into the space we have and in the design that we agreed. This can often be fiddly but time spent here getting this right makes life so much easier in the long run.

Then we get the tried and trusted cement mixer out and make up sufficient mortar to bed the stone onto it. Typically we lay a mortar bed of about 30mm thick, bedding the stones in as we go. A light "jiggle" and tap with a rubber mallet, and frequent checking that the bubble is in the right place on our spirit level and we move along to the next stone.

Once the stones are all laid we leave the whole thing for a day or so to set properly. No walking on it is allowed!

We then come back and with the same old mixer we mix up a dry mix of mortar to point up the joints.

And this was the finished garden. The customer was delighted and so were we!

So there you go! More to it than Alan, Charlie and Tommy would have had us believe! If you'd like to know more then please get in touch either through my facebook page, at or on 07734 365028.


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