When I think of patios, the south of Spain always comes to mind. Ceramic tiles cool down interior courtyard gardens, while the sun blazes outside. The word patio is of Spanish origin and means the courtyard space open to the elements, often located at the back of the house. Our patios are created as an area to sit and relax outside in summer and enjoy as much greenery as possible.
In the UK, we don’t need quite so much shade on our patios, but we can certainly learn a few lessons from around the world about patio design and decoration.
What to consider when designing a patio
- Sun or shade? The first thing to consider with a patio is the location and whether you want to sit in a sunny or shady spot. Making a delightful patio area can be as simple as laying some attractive floor tiles and adding well-placed furniture and plant pots.
- Use: The second consideration must be how the patio is intended to be used. Will it be for al-fresco dining? Is there some rain shelter? Will it be a family space? What about plants? Does it combine as a cinema for summer films outdoors? Thinking about all this before you start will help you to achieve exactly what you’re after.
- Budget is next because installing a patio can be expensive. You can save money by purchasing salvaged pavers, making plant pots, setting up a hammock instead of an expensive new seating area or rejuvenating a set of old garden furniture with a lick of paint.
- Add plant pots to complement the area. For formal patios, consider matching the pots to the furniture and adding specimen plants like standard bays and box topiary. For more informal patios, you can add a variety of pots and change them according to the season. In winter, flowering hebes, pansies and cyclamen can adorn the space while in summer more exuberant blooms take centre stage.
Let’s look at some patio designs from around the world to inspire you:
In Spain, patios are shady spaces with plenty of greenery. The famous Patio de Los Naranjos was originally planted with native orange trees, the bitter fruits used to make marmalade. The planting was quite formal and tall trees such as cypress spiked into the skyline while closer to the ground, lemon and pomegranate trees scented the air with blossom and fruit.
Water and fountains trickle through the patio which is very welcome when the sun reaches a scorching 40-50°C in mid-summer! The colourful ceramic tiles cool down the air temperature and drought-tolerant, potted plants like lavender, rosemary, rudbeckia, roses and passionflower adorn the edges of the patio.
Spanish plant pots can be neutral coloured and contemporary in urban gardens but in this famous patio, they tend to be as brightly coloured as the plants! On your patio, try filling bright, Mediterranean-inspired pots with all your favourites like sweet peas, clematis, nasturtiums, geraniums, and annual flowers.
In France, patios are often used as eating spaces. Historically, many French patios had an adjoining potager, which roughly translates as a vegetable garden. Here the cook could browse and pick fresh herbs such as French tarragon, parsley, chives, and chervil, the 4 herbs of French haute cuisine.
In addition, the vegetable plot would grow thyme, bay leaves, rosemary, summer savoury and of course, garlic and onions. If you have space on your patio to add two cypress trees in pots, then voila! Your French-style patio is almost complete. For ideas on stones to pave the whole area, see more below.
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Surely no Italian patio would be complete without the array of herbs and vegetables we associate with Italian cooking? Think pots of tomatoes, basil, thyme, oregano and chives, and perhaps an outdoor pizza oven.
I’ve visited several vineyards and Parmesan cheesemakers in Florence, who had tasting areas tiled in blue and white, with crisp, starched tablecloths covering the tables. This idea would work well on a UK patio but you may need to factor in a shelter for the inevitable downpour!
Choose earthenware flower pots to suit the Italian theme and fill them with bay leaves, lavender and herbs. Place potted olive trees in a sunny spot and, if you’ve got the garden space, consider a pinyon pine tree for a supply of pine nuts, a vital ingredient in Italian pesto.
A final addition could be to add a Roman pergola arch to the garden, visible from your patio. Drape roses and passionflower over it and the Italian look is complete.
Brazil has an Equatorial, tropical climate all year round so living outdoors is the most natural thing in the world. Many back yards have swimming pools or ponds to encourage wildlife like birds and butterflies. Hand made stone walls are another feature of Brazilian gardens, enhanced by exotic climbing plants.
Palm trees are everywhere, along with the exotic sunshine-yellow coloured blooms of the Ipe or Guapuruvu trees and the purple shades of Jacaranda. Unfortunately, many of these plants won’t survive a UK winter but there are many exotic flowers and plants which can live outdoors here in summer and be cosseted indoors in winter. If your patio is close to a pond, water lilies and fish are popular Brazilian pond features.
If you decide on patio palms in planter pots, make sure they can be taken indoors or that they are suitable for our winter.
Korea has some amazing innovations in garden design and I stumbled upon this one in an architectural magazine, which might inspire your urban patio. “Steel Grove” was designed to integrate with other local gardens and uses a series of stainless steel pipes as one wall, allowing a partial view from the outside and the inside, a perspective on the neighbourhood.
Korea has a damp winter climate, not unlike the UK but a bit colder. I love the natural look of this indoor patio with its green planted floor with round stepping stones, as well as the delight of a tree growing in the inside/outside area.
Which tiles should I choose for my patio?
Depending on your budget, you can opt for concrete, decking, ceramic or mosaic tiles or paving slabs. Natural stone tiles can be loosely fixed or cemented into place. Ceramic tiles are expensive but they look fantastic and can last for years, provided that they are frost hardy. These will need to be cemented firmly into place. Here are a couple of patterns to give you some ideas!
Coordinating your plant pots with your patio
Spanish style patio pots
For a Spanish style patio, these glazed ceramic pots will survive the UK weather and bring some glamour to your outside space. Earthenware pots are also very popular in Spain.
Brazilian inspired basket planters
Brazilian pots usually include a lot of basketry and decoration made from bamboo which grows locally, and other trees and shrubs. These are some examples from a flower market in Holambra in Brazil.
Cheerful multi-coloured pots will instantly transform a bland patio area. Choose ceramic or lower-maintenance plastic pots and if you’re feeling creative, you can paint your own.
Aged terracotta planters can be sourced to make your plants look outstanding.
Tina’s patio flower pot arrangement tips
- Use different sized pots. You can have one huge pot to accommodate a citrus or olive tree, or a large palm. You can top the pot with a layer of smaller green plants if you wish. Place several smaller pots alongside this with contrasting foliage or flowers.
- Make a long shelf to stand your pots on and paint them in the same colour. The plants will provide the interest and the pots become a uniform feature of your patio, colour toned to either the furniture or the colour of the floor or walls.
- If you have coloured tilework, use plain pots. If your floor and walls are a neutral colour, then try adding coloured pots.
- Seasonal planting. Try to have some colour all year round. This is easy to achieve with potted plants. Have tomatoes, herbs and colourful annuals planted up so you can plug a gap left by a plant no longer in flower. Make sure you have a supply of fantastic foliage too because these will add structure and depth to your patio area.