Patio floors are most often paved with either paving stones or with poured concrete, but those are not the only flooring options for patios. According to landscape contractor Roger Cook, quoted in "This Old House" magazine, a crushed stone floor is one of the easiest ways to create more outdoor living space. A gravel patio is easy to build, easy to maintain and offers a wide range of decorating and design options.
Play with the Shape
If you're trying to fit a patio into an oddly shaped space, gravel may be your best option for a base. Unlike brick, paving stones and wood, gravel will conform to just about any shape you want to use without the hassle of cutting tiles or bricks to fit curves and angles. A gravel patio can curve along the border of a sweeping driveway or fit itself along the edges of a flower bed or vegetable garden. It's easy to build a gravel patio that surrounds a pool or pond, or has built-in insets for raised herb or flower beds.
Choosing the Right Gravel for a Patio
Gravel has a reputation for being unstable and difficult to walk on, but a properly built gravel patio is as stable underfoot as cement. In the book "How to Build Walks, Walls & Patio Floors," Steve Cory touches briefly on choosing the right materials for loose patio floors. He advocates using a fine-grained gravel like crushed granite for high traffic areas, and packing the stone with a drum roller after it's laid. Alternatively, lay a packed gravel base beneath looser stone to provide a firm footing under an inch or two of pea gravel or larger stones. For stability, choose furniture with thick feet or flat bases that are less likely to tip or be wobbly.
Landscaping Accents for a Gravel Patios
Crushed stone or gravel creates a subtle, natural background for landscape timbers, mulch and plants. Create a tranquil backyard spot by taking your inspiration from Zen gardens of the East. Use landscape timbers to create a raised platform for a rock garden or carve out curved flower bed along the corner of the patio. For a more rustic look, allow creeping sedum or another ground cover to infiltrate the edges of the gravel or sink a wooden tub several inches into the stone to create a small container water garden. Strive for a balance between soft and hard, using plants, water and wood to offset the hardness of the stone.