Clay bricks are affordable, timeless and durable. They can be laid in a variety of patterns and come in a range of colors, from red to buff to blue/gray. For paths and patios, bricks must be frostproof and hardwearing.
An even more economical alternative to brick is concrete block, which comes in a wide range of sizes, shapes and textures, and can be dyed to almost any color. You can also buy blocks set on a fabric backing (\"carpet stones\") or molded into a slab for easy laying. Bigger blocks can easily take the weight of a car and are ideal for driveways.
Granite blocks, shown here, have charm as both a reclaimed material and a hardwearing surface for paths and driveways. Individual blocks vary in size and depth, which can make levelling and fitting them together a challenge. Granite blocks tend to be moderately priced, due to their limited supply and \"fashionable green\" appeal.
Reclaimed Yorkstone is of particular interest to lovers of vintage crazy paving. It makes a hardwearing surface for patios and driveways, although laying a random pattern isn't as easy as it appears: you may need professional help, thus increasing the price of this otherwise affordable medium, to achieve a decorative mosaic effect.
Terra-cotta tiles offer the warmth and color of the Mediterranean, and come in a variety of shapes and sizes, but most are not frostproof. Their porousness creates a safe, nonslip surface, but makes them vulnerable to staining and cracking, so consider appling a sealant.
A great way to use any extra tiles you have around is to make a mixed surface. Laying assorted blocks and tiles - terra-cotta and otherwise - on a dry mortar mix will help you to adjust the different levels and avoid an uneven surface. Mixed surfaces allow you to use color to your heart's content and save on cost, especially if you're a good bargain designer who can see vision in other people's clearance items and leftovers.
A popular stainproof surface for kitchens, polished granite is diamond-hard and tough enough for use in the garden. It comes in a huge range of colors, from black and greens to pinks, reds and cream; some also include speckled and streaked detailing. Affordable composite and terrazzo (granite chips bonded with cement and polished) are good alternatives if you can't afford the real thing.
A sedimentary rock, limestone often has shells and fossils embedded in its gray, white, pale red, yellow or black surfaces. Riven stone, shown here, is popular in gardens for its roughened, nonslip surface, but it can get expensive. Limestone darkens when wet and can stain, so consider sealing it. It is also available as composite. Travertine is a good alternative for someone who wants durable white rock that gains character and color variation from natural imperfections.
More familiar in sunnier climates, marble is increasing in popularity as a sophisticated landscaping material available in a variety of colors. When sealed and polished, its luster adds an elegant quality to any patio. Because marble can be quite expensive, consider a composite version to keep costs down.
Made up of small mineral grains, sandstone is easy to cut and lay. Sandstone comes in gold, white, rose and other colors and streaking, stripes and other patterns; its color darkens when wet, and sealing is advisable. Reclaimed sandstone paving and composite are often more affordable options.
Stylish and modern, slate is a hardwearing fine-grained stone whose color darkens beautifully when wet. Unless polished, it's nonslip, even when wet, making it ideal for pathways. Various surface textures are available, including rough cut, sandblasted and polished; all benefit from sealing.
Kits can be valuable allies for finding affordable, durable landscape surfaces. Composite stone flooring kits, like the one shown here, allow you to experiment with different textures while maintaining uniformity of color and material. What looks like a complex pattern of blocks, cobbles and slivers of stone is, a much simpler-to-install collection of molded slabs available in a variety of colors.
Patio kit come with pieces ready to fit together like a jigsaw. Usually made from hardwearing molded composite stone, they can add a decorative design to a patio, such as a sunburst, butterflies or geometrical patterns.
Hardwoods, such as balau and oak, are a popular choice for decks. They are warp- and weather-resistant and more durable than softwoods. Most decks, however, are made from pressure-treated softwoods, which are less costly and also available as kits. Wooden decking can be stained or oiled to a variety of shades and, if well maintained, should last 20 years.
Wooden decking tiles make an affordable alternative to traditional wooden decking. Made from softwood, they are lightweight and ideal for roof terraces, balconies, patios and anywhere else that has a level concrete or asphalt surface. Replacing them is easy: lift worn or damaged squares and replace them like carpet tiles.
If you're looking for an affordable, durable alternative to wooden decking, consider plastic decking, which improved substantially, not least in its aesthetic; some of the best varieties approximate natural wood very well. Made from recycled waste, plastic decking is weatherproof, UV stable, rot-proof and low maintenance. It needs no oiling or re-treating, just an occasional washing.
Although original railway ties are no longer available, you can buy untreated timber lookalikes (often oak) that are just as heavy to lift and as hard to cut—you will need a chain saw. Wooden ties are inexpensive, durable and good for stepping stones, but slippery when wet.
Concrete ties offer an alternative to wooden ties that are amazingly realistic, very hardwearing, available in varying lengths and easy to lay on a bed of mortar. The wood-grain pattern provides a sure grip in wet conditions.
Bark provides a springy surface for paths and play areas at an affordable cost. Finely shredded varieties are kinder on children’s knees, but will break down and need replacing more frequently than coarse chipped bark. Laying bark directly can improve the soil, but you'll get better, more long-lasing results from spreading it over a weed-suppressing impermeable barrier.
As a decorative mulch, shredded rubber can be a chic, affordable, durable alternative to bark. Its spongy quality also makes it useful for play surfaces, but its distinctive odor makes it unsuitable for areas close to seating and dining tables. It does not rot, so it won't need replacing.
Gravel comes in a wide range of colors and sizes at a reasonable price. It is a tough, easy-to-install surface for paths and drives, when layed thickly over an impermeable barrier or a honeycomb gravel containment mat. Guests—welcome or not—are announced by loud crunching.
Cobblestone is a durable, inexpensive choice that comes in an array of hues along the black-and-white spectrum. The biggest cost associated is your time and patience, as laying a cobblestone path—whether patterned or plain—can be a painstaking exercise; the rewards are, of course, huge too. Set the cobbles on a bed of mortar, then brush a dry mortar mix into the joints for a hardwearing surface. Use only smooth rounded stones; others are hard to walk on.
If you use slate chips on a well-trodden path, they will crack and slowly break down. Replenishing them every few years, however, is a small price to pay - and they are affordable - for their beautiful gray, purple and other muted colors, which provide contrast beautifully with edging plants. Lay slate chips over a weed-suppressing impermeable barrier. Parents and pet-owners beware: sharp pieces of slate are not child- or pet-friendly.
Soil and small stone particles are usually washed off gravel, but in this form, which comes in a great variety of colors, they are retained and help bind the gravel together to form a more solid surface. Tamp down a thick layer of self-binding gravel over a solid bed of graded base to form an affordable hardwearing surface that is easy to walk on.
Shells are much too fragile to walk on, and should only be used for decorative surfaces that need to be lightened up. Layed over an impermeable barrier, they can help to suppress weeds.
Glass pebbles form a colorful, light-reflective surface, but, be warned, they are easy to slip on when wet and should only be used as a decorative detail on paths or patios. Lay them on a bed of mortar, brushing a dry mortar mix into the joints. Hose them down occasionally to retain their lustre.
Usually made from glass fragments that have been tumbled to remove their razor-sharp edges, aggregates can be used between plants, or for secondary paths—they are not suitable for play areas. Lay the aggregate over an impermeable barrier and hose it down occasionally to refresh the colors.