The Patio – Wild or Tame?

By Deborah Clark

NABBW’s Gardening Expert

A few years ago I designed a front yard patio encircled by a low wall, in Phoenix where this is a popular style. A garden of native perennials and shrubs adorned the outer side of the wall and potted plants within. In such a climate the patio is like a room with no ceiling, and can be used any time it\’s not too hot outside.

In the mid-Atlantic, like most other places, our weather varies more so our use of outdoor spaces is more complicated. We\’ve insulated and installed double-paned windows and a screened porch, and from April to November we eat dinner there, but it\’s not an outdoor patio where we can eat under the stars and among the singing birds.

We also converted the attached garage to living space and removed the asphalt driveway that ran up to it. Converting that thick asphalt with the foot deep layers of sand and gravel that supported it was a gargantuan task, made worse by the unfortunate choice of a person I hired to do the work.

The patio is a 12 by 12 area carved out of that larger space, the rest having been dedicated to edibles, perennials, vines and shrubs. But the stones he used for the patio were inferior quality, the foundation wasn\’t prepared well and the level wasn\’t done correctly.

I tried to rework some of the mess but it\’s still such a sorry site and I get no pleasure out of using it or even looking at it – and I see it every time I stand at the kitchen sink. It\’s one of those cases where, yes, I should\’ve used someone with a good reputation rather than the convenient person with the low price!

I wheeled in bushels full of compost to lay between the stones to try to stabilize them. A side effect was that this made fertile ground for perennials to seed themselves, which they do. And they get tall — spiderwort, Joe pyeweed (eupatorium), evening primrose (oenethera missourensis), and anemone Canadensis have been the most prolific invaders.

Because I want to take the time to move aside the stones and carefully transplant these perennials (to sell in our annual plant sale) and because I don\’t have that luxury of time often enough, the plants grow and the patio becomes more of an eyesore.

But help is on the way. I\’m planning to hire someone whose work I know But now I\’m stymied: Do I go with the saw cut blue stone or the irregular flagstone? The stereotype I – and others – have of myself is Ms. Natural, with the flagstone patio where thyme and chamomile are encouraged to grow. But what I really want – what my heart says – is something neat, with a floor I can sweep. Something environmentally friendly. He can do it nicely, either way.

I\’m now en route to Phoenix where they do wonders with stone. Maybe it\’ll push me toward deciding on the saw cut patio. I hope my head will follow my heart.

Deborah Clark says she might never have taken up gardening if she hadn’t had neighbors who shared their love of gardening with her – but moved away. It all started in 1973, she says, when a departing neighbor invited her to take care of an already-planted community vegetable garden plot: all she had to do was weed and harvest. She was hooked.