More in Outdoors
To get started, mark the point where the patios' surface will reach on the wall where it joins the house. Use a tape measure to determine the desired grade of the patios, then mark it on the wall with a pencil. Then continue making small guideline marks down the length of the wall, using a level to keep the grade consistent. Mark the perimeter of the patio and path using landscaper's spray paint. In this example, the two patios will measure 12'x10', with a seven-foot-long walkway in between. Finally, use lengths of bender board to create the framing for the layout, flexing them so that they follow the marked curves. To hold the framing in place, simply insert stakes into the ground at regular intervals along the outline, then nail the bender boards securely to the stakes.
It's important to lay in-ground access sleeves or pipes prior to installing a patio; otherwise, any electrical or water lines that need to be added later may require digging up the patio. In this example, a pop-up irrigation system is installed that features a series of connected pipes and an above-ground spout (the irrigation will provide water for the groundcover that will be added later). After digging shallow trenches for the pipes, simply lay the system in place and cover it with dirt, allowing the spout to remain exposed.
To fill in the framing and create a solid base for the flagstone that will be laid in place next, use a filler mix of soil, sand and organic matter. This type of mix will create a compact, supportive base for the flagstone and will also facilitate drainage; the organic content will nourish the groundcover, which will be added once the flagstone is in place.
After dumping an ample amount of the filler mix into the framed area, use a rake to spread it evenly over the ground. (It's important to use a sufficient amount of filler mix; a base of five to six inches is needed to ensure adequate stability.) Once the filler has been distributed across the area, lay a long board across the surface and pull it from one side to the other to further smooth the layer (this is referred to as screeting). Then, use a vibratory clay compactor to pack down the entire area and ensure a firm foundation (this type of compactor rents for about $75 per day). A hand tamper can also be used for this process but will need to be pressed over the entire area several times to ensure the filler is properly compacted. Before moving on to the flagstone, turn your attention to the planting plan, which is designed to accent the patio and bring out the flagstone's beautiful color. Two beds on either side of the patios will be filled with plants featuring foliage and blooms in shades of peach, maroon and purple; low-growing groundcover will be planted between the flagstone pieces later. Featured plants include: Abelia grandiflora 'Sunrise' Zones 6-9, Phormium cookianum 'Maori Sunrise' Zones 9-10 (unable to tolerate hard frost), Yucca filamentosa, Zones 5-10 (cold-climate alternative to phormium) and Euphorbia martinii, Zones 7-10 (a good deer-resistant plant)
This demonstration patio is using Canadian Sunrise flagstone, a beautiful variety that features a mottled pattern of rose and peach tones running throughout. The price of this flagstone, however, is considerably higher than many other types; it usually costs about $550 per ton. For those looking to spend a bit less, consider Arizona flagstone, which is available in four or five different shades but doesn't boast the mottled pattern of Canadian Sunrise. Regardless of the type of flagstone used, it's essential to find one with substantial thickness when building a patio. It's a good idea to find a type that includes a number of large pieces, which should be laid in the areas that will have to withstand heavy foot traffic. Begin laying the flagstone next to the house, working outward to fill in the area. (It's a good idea to get help for this phase because of the labor-intensive work involved.)
Position the flagstone pieces so that the best-fitting edges are next to one another, eliminating large gaps; larger pieces are laid in "heavy-traffic" areas, then surrounded with smaller pieces. Study each piece carefully so that the "best" sides are laid face-up. After positioning each piece, press it down firmly by hand to help it stay in place (a rubber mallet also works well for this purpose). Extra-small pieces are used to fill in some of the larger gaps. Walk across the path area before laying the stones in place to make it easy to see where the natural foot paths will fall. Step down firmly to create footprints in the compacted filler, and simply lay the larger pieces of flagstone over the prints. Finally, spray the entire area thoroughly with water to help settle the stones in place.
To complete the patio, plant woolly thyme in the spaces between the flagstone, placing anywhere from one to three plants in each space, depending on how quickly you want each particular area to fill out. (Woolly thyme is a great heat-tolerant plant that works well for full-sun areas, but blue star creeper makes a better choice for areas with dappled light; baby's tears is an ideal choice for full shade.) After all the spaces have been planted with the groundcover, sweep a high-quality organic vegetable garden-blend soil into the spaces, surrounding the young plants with the mix; this will provide them with the nourishment they need to thrive. Finally, sweep the excess dirt off the patio to reveal a beautiful, polished surface perfect for entertaining friends or just relaxing.