The main advantage of concrete is dial it is cheap and easy to lay. It is also hard-wearing and does not require much maintenance. Concrete is an extremely flexible material and can be bought as slabs, poured into moulds to make shapes or laid direct on to a hardcore base and then finished either by smoothing or by imprinting to create any number of patterns. It can also be colour tinted numerous shades.
The rather harsh look of a large expanse of concrete can be lessened considerably by combining it with large pebbles, brickwork or cobbles. These provide a visual distraction and break up the monotony. If you already have a concrete drive or path and want to smarten it up, then dig up sections, breaking up the concrete with a pickaxe or drill, fill with concrete then inset any of the above materials. Keep your design simple and. if in any doubt of your abilities, call in a professional.
Stone and paving slabs
Original, stone slabs always look extremely handsome, with their feeling of solidity and patina of age. Reclamation yards usually have good stocks, but they are expensive. A cheaper but equally attractive alternative is reconstituted stone slabs. These are man-made from precast concrete and aggregates. There is a huge range and they are so realistic it is virtually impossible to distinguish them from stone. Like the real thing they also age, improving with time and exposure to the elements until they become pleasantly mellow.
Cobbles and precast setts
Cobbles and sells look wonderfully natural and are extremely hard-wearing, although, cobbles are not very comfortable to walk on for long distances. Original cobbles can be difficult to obtain and laving them is a job for a professional. If it is not done expertly individual cobbles can work their way loose and be difficult to reset.
Another option which looks just as good is precast setts. This is a relatively new process which uses variously coloured concrete or clay in a mould to produce a surface indistinguishable from the real thing. The end result is very tough, and the wide choice of tints allows you to find just the right shade to suit your house and its surroundings.
Tiles, brickwork arid pavers
The patterning in bricks and pavers comes mil from the material itself but from the pattern of laying. Among the most common patterns are herringbone, stretcher bond and basket weave. Tiled paths work very well in an urban setting, particularly on the path leading to the front door, where they look suitably formal. They are probably not suitable elsewhere in the garden where they are liable to crack and become dangerously slippery with heavy use and exposure to planting. Slipperiness can also be a problem with bricks and some pavers, although a thorough clean with a high pressure jet or a scrub with a stiff brush and soapy water will help keep the problem in check. Avoid special moss and algae treatments as they are unnecessarily harsh and will eventually lake the .surface off the tiles or bricks.
When choosing tiles and bricks check dial they are frost-proof, otherwise they will soon start to flake and crumble. Pavers are very tough, being designed to withstand the weather and wear from cars and feel.
Clay and concrete tiles are available in every pattern and colour imaginable, and while the choice of colour for bricks and pavers is slightly more limited, it should be possible to find some to match your house without much difficulty.