Monthly Archives: May 2013

How to do Garden Pointing (or Grouting) for Patios, Paths and Drives

garden pointing for garden construction

Pre-pointing stage

You will find that this will be a key skill to learn in many garden construction projects that have the aim to emulate some aspect, at least, of an English Country Garden. For example pointing garden slabs will be a relatively common occurrence.

Please note that this post on laying paving slabs will be useful for this post on garden pointing.


Sharp sand cement mix for patio garden pointing (This is also known as grouting or ‘garden’ pointing mix)

You will need to make sure that you choose a dry day and to use fine sharp sand (known by other names as rendering sand or plastering sand)…

Using a 3-to-1 fine sharp sand/cement mix ratio, mix by hand in a wheel barrow with a spade, (please make sure that you do not use soft builders sand).

Mix small, manageable amounts – on hot days a strong mix like this will go off in 20 minutes, on a cold day the same mix will be good for 3 hours. Adding frost proofer additive in really cold weather is prudent, in any event, make the mix carefully so the result is damp but not slurry-like – so it will form a clump in the fist but not so it’s squelchy and runny.

Sometimes a little p.v.a. glue added to the water mix will help the pointing mix to clump together and also help with spreading and compressing the mortar into the pointing gaps.


Pointing or grouting tips

Use a curved brick pointing trowel for a curved finish or a finger tuck trowel for a flat recessed or flush finish. A fine brush is useful also.

It is very important that the pointing mix is tooled down into the gaps and compressed down to ensure a weather-tight and durable finish – loosely filled gaps will allow the frost and rain in and eventually it will break down.

Good pointing will finish off a project very nicely. Bad and shoddy pointing work can conversely ruin an otherwise competent job – so please take care with this stage.


(c) Copyright 2013, Mark Cook, All Rights Reserved. Written For:

How to Lay Paving Slabs for patios, paths and drives

To lay paving slabs is a skill which we believe will need to be perfected.

With the compacted sub base already prepared (see here), consideration can be given to laying your chosen paving.Lay paving slabs

Stretched brick lines between fencing pins must be accurately set out to mark the edges and levels of the paving – make sure that you take the trouble with this procedure (as a mistake at this stage is costly). Check for dimensions and levels – allowing for a reasonable drain on the paving surface into a linear drain or onto the garden.

You will need a 4-to-1 course sharp sand to cement mix ratio with a little plasticiser (or plasticizer)  added during mixing. So for example a 12-to-3 cement mix ratio in the cement mixer, with a cap of plasticiser, will fill a builders barrow sufficiently to make a useful amount, thus allowing a few slabs to be laid (depending of course on the thickness of the bedding mix).

It is important to get the mix just right (in consistency terms) for laying your paving.

Too wet – and the paving will just slide and float around with a tendency to sink. Too dry – and the slab might crack whilst being settled into position (with a mallet) and probably will not stick onto the mortar. The idea is to most definitely stick the paving down!

A hint for getting the ‘muck’ just right is to watch as the water is added – just enough to get the mix folding but not flowing whilst in the mixer. The plasticiser helps a lot with the workability of the cement by introducing air – which makes it more slippery and easier to squash down when laying the paving.

Getting the mix right is an important aid to a successful days paving and a competent assistant who understands this can make all the difference. As always, attention to detail even at this stage reaps rewards.

So the next thing to do is to tip the 1st barrow of cement mix out where you want to start (always in a corner and along a stretched line). Using the back of a metal rake, spread it out onto the compacted sub base, squeezing out the air and pushing the muck into the nook and crannies – a barrow  load might do roughly a square meter of paving.

Judge roughly what thickness to spread it out to – getting this right is tricky, but this will very quickly become second nature (however it may at the first take some getting used to). Make sure that you are patient (most people with general practical skills can pick this up).

Next, using a brickies trowel, score a couple of deep lines in the mix the in the area of the 1st slab – this will allow air to escape when tapping down your slab and thus compressing the mix.

Lay the slab on the prepared mix, against a line (or lines), tap down with a rubber mallet or club hammer using the wooden handle. Making sure that you tap gently and mainly in the centre of the paving – watching the slab edges against the lines all the time.

Lay the slab to the correct height and level. The mix should ‘squeeze’ out .

PatioIf you find that the paving slab sits down too easily then re-lay it with a little more mix added to the bed – it is important to stick it down!

Clean up as you work, removing and washing down cement stains that have transferred onto the paving.


Leave the required pointing gaps, be thorough and workman-like at every stage checking alignments’, levels and pointing gaps.


(c) Copyright 2013, Mark Cook, All Rights Reserved. Written For:

How to do Garden Turfing for an English Country Garden

English Country Garden 1.If you wish to build an English country garden then you almost always will have a lawn making up at least part of it and hopefully by using the perfect garden turf…

Garden turfing (for garden construction) is best done in the spring or in the autumn. Weather conditions are also very relevant for this type of work. Preparation on a wet day can be difficult (sometimes impossible) with successful turfing also dependent on the soil type i.e. heavy clay soil or light sandy.

For Small Lawns

Remove the existing grass/weeds with a sharp spade or mattock and dispose of. Next use a fork or spade to dig the ground to a maximum of 4 inches depth (10 cm) – very important! An even, shallow depth is the goal – not uneven deep pockets of ground which will sink later on and cause depressions in the lawn.

When all dug, use a good metal rake to refine and grade the ground, pushing back and forth with the rake sifting out the debris and breaking up the soil clumps. Work methodically, starting in the corner, working across the area in (say) 1 m wide strips, making sure that the debris is cleared into small piles and then cleared away using your builders bucket and shovel.

When raked and cleared, tread the entire area with the heels to concentrate the weight, again in a methodical way, with attention to detail.

Repeat these steps at least twice more. The final rake-out should leave a fine even tilth good enough for seeding ideally, but, as always, this will be dependent on the weather!

In between raking, hollows and bumps can be addressed – shaving away the rises and filling-in the hollows as you see them. A good eye is an asset for this task but if it is a flat lawn, then stretching a brick line across the site will certainly help.

In wet weather conditions (as already stated) work is best delayed. There can be situations where the project has to go ahead, in cases such as these a bulk bag of course sharp sand from the local builders merchant will be a life-saver. This sand should be spread over the dug area, where raking/treading will be possible (although still difficult), this will stop the soil from clogging and rolling into lumps.

Please Note: the sand needs to be raked in and not simply spread over the top as a screed.

For Large Lawns

You will need to borrow/hire a self-propelled rotovator, preferably with a reverse gear as the larger ones can be awkward to handle and to pull around. The rule for rotavators’ is, the larger the machine the better and quicker the result (access allowing of course).

An old lawn will be compacted and firm. This will therefore take a lot of breaking up and the first pass with the machine will be tough going. Again, make sure that you work methodically. Don’t worry if the rotavator lurches forward from the stones and various buried debris hitting it. It is important, whilst the rotavator in use, to keep a ready hand on the clutch lever (this is necessary to disengage the drive) and to note that the reverse gear on it is used to back up. The re-digging of hard patches may be necessary and if this happens the lowering of the blades needs to be done gradually back onto the area. In essence, the heavier and more powerful the machine, the better the result in breaking up the ground.

When all dug over, a small tractor with a soil grader (or some assistants armed with rakes) are needed to achieve the smooth fine surface suitable for turfing or seeding.

Following on you will need some lengths of short scaffold planks and a sharp half-moon turf cutter, plus a metal rake is always good to have at hand to make last minute tweaking to the surface preparation.

If your lawn is irregular in shape, then make sure that you lay the whole perimeter out first – in effect framing the entire area. You will need to cut the turves around any tight corners very carefully and keep checking that the tool has not pushed divots into the preparation below.

Starting from a corner chose the longest run (the idea is to lay a continuous straight line of turf with the edges butted together and with no gaps). Try not to stretch the turves as you lay them – as this will encourage shrinkage if they dry out.

Cut each end of the run into your edging turves with the half moon (again checking for disturbance in the preparation underneath as you cut through).

Lay the next run, bonding the turves like brickwork (see above picture), all the while making sure that you are using the planks to walk on the previous turf run (thus avoiding sinking).

When all laid and cut-in successfully, if the level looks slightly bumpy, then water thoroughly and then compact the grass down with a plank laid across the bond with a heavier-build (chunky) landscape assistant walking up and down. Avoid using a roller at this stage. In any event, always finish with a thorough watering!

The Perfect Lawn care

Your new (hopefully) perfect lawn might well need rolling after 2 to 3 weeks.

In the growing season cut after 2 weeks leaving the grass approximately 1.5″ to 2″ high – do not scalp the lawn at this stage! It needs the green to photosynthesize for root growth.

Water little and often in the growing season – evenings are best!

Dogs and children are generally not good for new lawns. Efforts should be made to keep off the new grass until there is sufficient root growth for ground stability.

(c) Copyright 2013, Mark Cook, All Rights Reserved. Written For: is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to and

English Country Garden 2.

How to carry out the Groundwork stage of Garden Construction (for patios, paths and drives etc.)

Garden Construction groundwork 1.The groundwork stage of Garden Construction will be relevant to front yard gardens and back yard gardens:

To landscape your garden for such things as paving it is very important to decide early on how the waste is going to be disposed of. Sometimes this will be via a skip on the road (in which case a road licence will be needed from the local authority) or a skip on the drive, or occasionally via a grab lorry service which will require an area of garden (or driveway in the front) to be boarded-out for protection.

The next thing to do is to scale off your working drawing and transfer your layout onto the area to be landscaped. This may involve breaking out and removing any existing concrete/paving first.

It is Important to decide early on if any materials can be re-used, I.e. topsoil (for lawns or beds) or hardcore (for sub-bases).

As you demolish the old work, a certain amount of sorting can be done if schedule and room allows. A tarpaulin is a good idea to store such materials on – so that the mess and creep is confined, however it is important not to put them in the way as you do not want to move them again – a little forward thinking goes a long way at this stage!

The skip can be used in the same way: e.g. stack all the good soil at one end and usable sized hardcore at the other end… Often the skip is a great storage place for these materials, making them readily available when the time comes.

Then use fencing pins and set up an orange brick line to accurately mark out the area – the stretched line can be used as both level and edge so accuracy is important.

You will need to bear in mind surface drainage at this point (very important for garden construction). A good drain will be required on your drive or patio, either onto the garden or into a drain/channeling. – so this will show in at least 2 of your lines. Use a good long level to determine a healthy fall along the lines.

Next, cut some spacers from timber battens to the depth required of the dig-out. Depending on ground conditions, a block drive for example, would need a 150 mm to 200 mm compacted sub-base of hardcore or roadstone, 50 mm of sharp sand plus the 50 or 60 mm block thickness, making a total of 250 to 300 mm for your spacer. A patio would not need this much groundwork, it`s rather up to the individual to assess the ground conditions first and then to make the appropriate decision.

Using a mattockshovels, or mini digger: chop out the waste ground/rubble/turf, load into barrows and cart to the skip or dumping area checking all the time the depth!

Work methodically (again), leveling a small area at first then proceeding, clearing up as you work and keeping mess to a minimum.
Garden Construction Groundwork 2.
Man-holes are nearly always something to be addressed on patios and are nearly always encountered in garden construction. If breaking up concrete around a manhole make sure you always lift the lid up first – this is so you can keep an eye on debris falling into the sewer and remove it before it gets washed down and  inevitably blocks the drain.

A youngman board can be hired to run barrows safely up into the skip (this is a sturdy length of scaffold plank).

Being particular and fussy at the groundwork stage of garden construction may seem unnecessary but this will reflect through to the finished article.

(c) Copyright 2013, Mark Cook, All Rights Reserved. Written For: is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to and

How to Plan for Garden Construction

garden construction

You will need to plan your garden for garden construction…

At the beginning of any English country garden construction project (possibly involving both front yard gardens and back yard garden construction) comes the planning of the garden for construction – to build a garden that is ultimately reflective of all requirements.

This can cover a huge amount of information but for the purpose of this post it will be condensed to a standard garden size (small property) given predominantly in a town or village.

Generally, we find it is best at first to list the priorities needed in your garden. For example: Patio/path, borders (shrubs, herbaceous, bedding) arbour/pergola, lawn, water feature etc. etc.

For front yard garden construction it almost always revolves around off-street parking – this is becoming more relevant in recent years with council restrictions, parking permits etc. We believe that a good drive for most small houses should take 2 or more cars, with room for the occupants to get in and out of the vehicle without standing on grass/borders etc. This will need to be planned out carefully as it has to be right.

As with the back – lawns, paths, borders will reflect off the drive and should also relate to the house, i.e. front door, side gate, bay windows etc. etc.

We believe that in the back [garden] the aim is to create a focal point for the vista from the house. This will basically mean making a main feature in the center or at the end of the garden, with maybe a curved path (leading to and from) and also borders incorporated with a lawn (as you wish).

The feature could be a seating area with an arbour over, a raised brick border with specimen planting, a decorative sun dial/statue or free-standing fountain standing on bespoke paving or simply a planted shrub border of say, evergreen shrubs of varying heights…. it’s entirely up to you!

If you have small back garden, one option we feel is to not have a lawn but have a large seating area instead (either paved or gravel), with planting around either raised by stonework or sleepers, or more simply, just level with the paving – this gives the planting the less formal effect of melding into the seating area.

A very small lawn can be bitty and awkward – sometimes not worth the bother of owning a lawn mower (especially if there is no lawn in the front garden) this is of course subjective to the individual. However, our own experience shows that a lawn under 20 M2 generally lacks impact and takes away from a small layout.

All the above points need to be carefully considered when the goal is to plan your garden for construction with the overall aim (of course) being successful English country garden construction eventually occurring.

Please look out for future posts about garden construction on this site. They will help you to get a very good idea on many aspects of landscaping.


(c) Copyright 2013, Mark Cook, All Rights Reserved. Written For: