Flagstones meet tumbled pavers in Beth Hallet’s garden. Small brick is just right for the size of this cozy patio. Sturdy plants that hold up under foot traffic, such as ‘Elfin’ thyme, fill in the gaps between stepping stones.

The Right Mix for Beautiful Patios

It used to be when we thought of a patio, we thought of a rectangle of concrete just off the back door right before the lawn. Boring, right? Well, patios and patio materials have come a very long way. Now your patio can be a natural-looking oasis for entertaining or relaxing. Even if it's brand-new, it can look as though it's been there forever. And nobody would ever call it boring.

"You can combine any materials as long as they are strong and structurally safe," says Pete Cislo, owner of Leave Your Mark Pavers and Landscape Supply. A wood deck can have stairs made of pavers, bricks or stamped concrete leading you down into the garden. Or use pavers for the patio and insert flagstone as a path through the pavers. Continue the flagstone through the garden, tying it all together. Use wood or shaped rocks to create patterns and change directions.

One thing to keep in mind when mixing wood with other materials is to use treated wood or you will need to put a metal flashing in between as a moisture barrier, to prevent rot. Also, the wood will have a more limited life span than the rock materials, says Cislo.

A mixture of materials can provide different textures, patterns or even styles in the same garden. For example, brick and symmetrical stone have a more formal appearance while irregular flagstones or river rocks create a more informal and natural look. Mexican tile can add a Southwestern flair. Mixing them together can break up the monotony of a large area and really jazz it up.

But can you mix too many materials or make it too busy? Not really, says Lynn Funk, designer and owner of Lynn's Living Designs. If your desired style is Japanese, you want it "cleaner and leaner," she says, but "cottage style could have lots of different materials and be busy, but not in a bad way."

One of Cislo's favorite combinations is a patio of flagstone pavers, but instead of the usual sand in between the pavers, use Mexican pebbles that have been treated with a sealer. The sealer keeps the pebbles looking wet and contrasts nicely with the dry look of the flagstone.

"It's just a matter of aesthetics or the look you want," says Stacy Page, owner of Green Time Landscape in Ashland. There is no limit to the combinations of materials in a patio. He says pavers are probably the most popular patio materials because they are larger, thicker, and come in a variety of colors and textures. They don't move once installed, as flagstone and smaller stepping-stones can, so they are safer to walk on.

Pavers are also environmentally friendly because they allow for drainage and the insertion of plants. He says plants can make the patio look like it's been there forever and give it a natural look.

Bricks have always been popular for patios, but try using different colors or sizes to change direction or make a traditional pattern, such as herringbone, basketweave, or pinwheel, look completely different. Leave holes in the pattern for small ground-hugging plants.

A change in patio materials is not only interesting, it can also alert visitors to the edge of the patio or changes in elevations, such as a step-down. Continuing with the same edging material from the patio onto a path, creates unity in the design.

September brings cooler working temperatures to build your patio, but you'll still have plenty of nice weather to celebrate its opening with a barbecue and lemonade.

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