Patios come in all shapes, sizes and styles, but the one thing they all have in common is drawing people to them. They act as a focal point, adding interest to an outside space, and it’s here where you’ll sit and linger. A patio can be a private, tranquil spot – a place for contemplation and relaxation – but it can also be a space for entertainment and fun. Designing a patio as your very own oasis rather depends on what your idea of an oasis is. One person’s ideal water feature is a zen-like reflective pool, whilst another person’s is a bubbling hot tub with a bar, music and lighting.
In a small city garden, a patio area has to work extra hard and may be the only space that there is, whereas in large or rural gardens, a patio often functions as one of several elements.
Connect to the architecture
Some of the most successfully designed patios connect garden and house, picking up on the architectural style of the property and perhaps even improving upon the look of the house. ‘For me, linking the building and the garden is key to the flow of any house,’ says Simon Baker of Nash Baker Architects. ‘My schemes often lead outwards and treat the garden as a continuation of the internal spaces.’ In this London project by Nash Baker, the garden designer Luciano Giubbilei has created a courtyard patio that links the main house and its mews, echoing the contemporary lines of the interior with sleek stone, topiary and a large singular tree as a focal point.
Create an outdoor room
‘Nearly everyone asks for an outdoor room that acts as an extension of the house,’ agrees Barry Burrows, managing director of Bartholomew Landscaping. ‘That really does mean a room – fully integrated with music and heating, an outdoor TV, a fridge, even a kitchen with perhaps an electric overhead canopy.’ In a recent Chelsea project, the landscape designer has created a number of ‘rooms’ – for dining, entertaining, contemplation, car-parking and displaying art, which were incorporated into a challenging site with multiple levels.
Choose quality materials
Most patios utilise hard landscaping and these quality materials, professionally laid will always help to create the feeling of an oasis; polished stone – for example – is very tactile and luxurious underfoot. Stone is available in so many colours and finishes and even cuts – sawn-cut or rumbled edge – that it’s easy to give your patio its own distinct character. Precise edges give a crisp clean effect as in a Giubbilei-designed garden for a Hill Mitchell Berry project, whilst a rounded-edge stone can be very rustic. Grouting or butting up also alters the effect, not to mention how you arrange the paving slabs.
Add planters and raised beds
What is chosen to accompany the floor surface affects the overall look of the patio. Utilise planters and raised beds to create visual interest and a variety of levels with the materials of these adding colour or texture. White rendered raised beds offer a more contemporary feel to wooden planters, railway sleepers, stone or brick walls. ‘It’s all down to how it’s dressed,’ says Barry Burrows. ‘We use a lot of timber in our schemes to try and soften them.’ Whilst timber is very flexible, attractive to the eye and can be painted, it is worth considering other surfaces such as metal, glass, ceramics and man-made alternatives. Fibreglass planters such as those available from LivingGreen Design can replicate metal and are a lighter weight option that come in a wide variety of colours. Bronzino make some very impressive handmade containers in solid copper and zinc.
Think about privacy
Screening is important, too. Recycled wooded decking that’s been painted a pale shade of grey-blue works brilliantly as boundary cladding in this small urban garden designed by Ruth Willmott (shown above), but if you’re not painting or treating your wooden screening look for hardwood varieties of fencing or trellis rather than softwood as these require little or no maintenance. Quercus in Somerset offer patented woven screens and fencing panels in sustainable English oak that can even be rounded into sensual, curvy shapes. Oak will not require preservative as the natural tannins protect the wooden exterior.
Use strong structure in your planting
When it comes to turning your patio into an oasis, nothing can be more enchanting than a well designed planting scheme. Of course it takes skill to achieve this, but combining plants that will give year-round structure such as topiary and evergreen plants can help. ‘If you’re looking to create a garden oasis, green is very refreshing and serene,’ says Ruth Willmott, a multiple Chelsea Flower Show medallist. ‘When considering the planting mix try to rebalance your evergreen plants.’ For blasts of colour, use pots and raised beds that can be filled with displays of dramatic colour. ‘And don’t forget scent,’ says Willmott. ‘Try to create a garden that will work with all your five senses.’
Opt for a water feature
No oasis would be complete without the calming influence of water. Whether it’s an English cottage garden pond full of fish and frogs or a sleek infinity-style pool in a Spanish villa, water features make excellent focal points on a patio and also rejuvenate the spirit. This contemporary development in southern Spain by Abaton, created in conjunction with Woods Bagots architects, combines white-rendered cubes and serene rectangular pools to give a modern spin on the Mediterranean villa.
Warm up with an outdoor fire
It’s wonderful to be able to continue using a patio late into the evening, so consider including sources of heat. ‘A lot of people are still loving firepits,’ says Barry Burrows of Bartholomew Landscaping. ‘They create a warm, cosy environment outside.’ Also popular are outdoor fireplaces such as those made by Cathy Azria of BD Design. Even when it’s unlit, her Loop fireplace is stunning to look at. The designer also makes firepits, nests and planes that are functional heat sources, but also fabulous pieces of sculpture.
Shade your patio
Even in an English garden, shade is surprisingly important and a parasol, awning or shade sails will protect against mid-day sun as well as provide cover should a rain shower threaten to spoil the fun. Indian Ocean has a variety of parasols including cantilevered models with an easy-to-use winch mechanism. For a more natural effect, you could also consider introducing trees on the perimeter of the patio or a pergola over all or part of it. Mix evergreen trees that will screen year round with soft gentle deciduous trees, recommends garden designer Ruth Willmott. ‘This allows dappled light and a gentler screening solution.’
Chill out with some cosy furniture
Encouraging your patio to be a relaxation zone is easily done with some comfortable and attractive patio furniture. There’s no shortage of suppliers offering stylish, weatherproof solutions. Whether you’ve got a sofa and armchairs for lounging or prefer tables and chairs for dining, you can choose from a variety of materials including rattan, wood or metal. French manufacturer Fermob offers a palette of 24 colours for their painted steel furniture that will brighten and be a quick fix for even the simplest of patios. In this Parisian outdoor space, an Opera table and Dune chairs in Honey provide a splash of colour.