We tend to think of paving as essentially utilitarian. After all, it’s one of the most practical elements in a garden, serving as the outdoor floor beneath our feet or the path that leads us from one place to another. But that doesn’t mean paving can’t also be decorative.
Of course, a single material can be used just as creatively. Bricks laid in interesting ways, with header courses and changes in pattern that make them look like throw rugs or runners, is a perfect example. Tiny round river cobbles or broken pieces of tile mortared mosaic-style is another.
Some of the most inviting paths and interesting terraces I’ve seen combine two or more paving materials—pea gravel and cobbles, stained wood and cut stone, brick and tile, flagstone and river rock, mulch and timbers, decomposed granite and marbles. You can edge one with the other, create a repeating pattern, or mix them randomly for effect.
Sometimes it’s a matter of mixing paving materials with plants, allowing a few plants to spill casually from their beds into an adjacent path, or placing them in the path intentionally. A grid of square stepping stones placed like a checkerboard in the lawn is always an eye-catcher. And filling the cracks between small, randomly laid pieces of irregular flagstone works well to soften paths or terraces. You can even remove occasional stones, cobbles, or bricks from existing paving to create small planting pockets for succulents and other tough plants.
We have more options for paving today than ever before. Stoneyards are filled with irregular flagstones, uniformly cut stones, boulders, cobbles, and river rocks. Brickyards stock an ever-expanding assortment of both new and old bricks, plus thin brick pavers in myriad colors. Pea gravel and decomposed granite can be found to match almost any color scheme. And precast pavers can be laid with ease to create intricate patterns.
Even ordinary concrete can be brushed, etched, sanded, stained, and combined with aggregate. Mortar can be used as the base for one-of-a-kind mosaics made with pieces of tile, pebbles, or other materials. Of course, it’s the inventive way any material is used that gives paving that extra spark.