porcelain tiles outside

Many self builders make the mistake of thinking about their landscaping at the end or their project, rather than planning for it as part of their build. But this often results in it not being budgeted for. Self builders easily overspend on their journey, sometimes due to the unexpected, but sometimes as they upgrade elements or choose renewables that require upfront investment.

The result can be that landscaping can be an afterthought, but why let your build down when you’ve invested so much money and time to create your perfect home? Plus, your planning permission may include a reference to the completion of landscaping too.

Planning early will ensure you have a ring-fenced budget for landscaping and can also ensure that any heavy lifting or tree planting can be done while you’ve the right machinery on site.

We caught up with NaCSBA member Arbour Landscape Solutions, which has in-depth knowledge as a trade landscaping supply company with more than 60 years in the industry.

Richard Bickler, MD of Arbour, filled us in with this guide to getting started with garden surfaces, as he explains:
Hiring a garden designer is always the most efficient way to get the garden you want, and they will be able to advise on the right garden surfaces for you. But on a self build where all costs are carefully monitored this might be beyond your budget.

However, when it comes to purchasing materials, self builders can register as customers on Arbour’s site, which gives you the advantage of being able to buy landscaping materials at wholesale prices.

When it comes to garden surfaces the preparation of the ground is vital on a building plot, where compression, rubble and contaminants can all be an issue. Time spent managing and preparing the ground – and looking after it during a build – will be well worth the effort.

It helps to keep a tidy site and ensure trades are clearing up after them and that skips are used for waste that cannot be reused on site.

Many selfbuilds are knock-down-and-build opportunities, and planning can often require materials to be reused as much as possible on site. In which case consider crushed brick or concrete to create sub-levels for surfaces, but these need to be the appropriate size and properly compressed – so always seek professional advice if this is what you plan to use these materials for.

One final consideration is that architects on high-end houses love taking an internal material outside via level thresholds, so a stone floor flows straight onto a terrace to create a seamless look.

This needs careful specifying in terms of levels and drains, as well as the type of stone, so again get professional advice if this is a detail you are hoping to achieve.


Check out Arbour Landscape Solutions’ guide to materials:

The instant appeal of a turf lawn, or the more economical seeded lawn, is a great solution for large areas. It is economical, quick and easy to work with, and can be easily removed for landscaping projects that are planned for the future when money has eased post build.

Ground care is important, as is levelling, and you can choose from different grass mixes to improve biodiversity, create interest or manage tricky areas, such as more shade tolerant plants. Shady or small areas can be hard to maintain for a lawn, so again choose the right product for the location.

Beloved by all, natural stone can often be reasonably locally sourced and makes a garden bed in with its landscaping relatively easily. Stone comes in a range of colours and textures, from inky-black slate to buff sandstone.

If you’re building with sustainability in mind consider where your stone is coming from, and also consider the finish. Highly polished stone can be slippery when wet, so may not be practical on steps or by pools.

Porcelain is one of the most flexible materials in terms of finish, as it offers colours, textures and patterns not available in other garden materials (see main picture). Stain resistant, stylish and durable, it creates a sharp look that works brilliantly in modern gardens.

Specifying is important – external porcelain should be winter-hardy by default if sold in the UK, and you can specify textured or matt finishes for extra grip.
There’s a lot to choose from so do your research, and think about how it will be used. On steps it can have hard edges that can be chipped, so consider the final design and use of the space.

Much is imported from abroad, so when researching ask about availability and lead times for orders – and ensure you order sufficient, with extras, so you have spares in case a line is discontinued or some are damaged during storage.

Gravel can be used beyond the drive to create interest and an easy-to-maintain surface for your garden, ideal if you’re future proofing your home. Used with membranes you can still plant in it and keep weeds to a minimum, and it is ideal for sloping, exposed or high-traffic areas where a lawn would struggle. 

Plus its permeable, meaning more water is absorbed across the garden, unlike with solid pavers or porcelain. 

For paths or seating areas you can opt for self-binding gravel, which can be compacted to make a more resilient surface, but it won’t stand up to car tyres. 


Whether you choose timber or composite, decking remains a popular choice for patios. Composite is available in range of colours and is very low-maintenance, and is often made from, or partially from, recycled materials.

If a natural material is more important, only use FSC certified timber and opt for good quality preservatives or pressure treated wood, but be aware that these are chemical processes. Also, if you’re considering hardwood decking do your due diligence about where these are sourced from and if it is sustainably sourced.

For more self build tips on landscaping visit Arbour’s blog or case studies

Images: Gravel Tapestry Landscape Designs; Millboard decking by Grow Gardens

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