Sustainable paving

Issue 28 Words: Kate Smalley Photography: Sheryn Pitman

There are more outdoor paving options than you might think, and environmental and financial costs can be high. Landscape designer Kate Smalley urges careful consideration for hard-wearing surfaces with timeless appeal.

Planning the hard landscaping or built components of your garden may present many of the same dilemmas faced when building or renovating. Just as you might scrutinise the source, embodied energy and durability of your building materials, you should apply the same eagle eye to your paving choices. The purpose of the paving will obviously also influence your choice of product, and of course aesthetic is essential. If it doesn’t look good, it’s likely to be removed and replaced down the track, with additional financial and environmental costs.

Your material choice should be influenced by both the style of the building and what’s already in the garden. But aside from design issues, there is also the practicality of the material to be used and the permeability of the base. A permeable base, which allows rainfall to soak into the ground, is preferable.

The source of the materials used is also important. Most landscaping materials have come out of the ground at some stage. Quarried materials such as gravel and stone are non-renewable resources and their extraction can lead to vegetation loss, ground and surface water pollution and soil erosion. So, as with all building products, opting for recycled materials can help reduce demand for the virgin product. Transport miles from quarries to distribution centres and to the site should also be considered.

The Australian Institute of Landscape Architects (AILA) recommend the following tips for sustainable paving choices:

  •  Look at materials already on site and try to reuse as much as possible.
  •  Source recycled materials wherever possible.
  •  If possible, use products from your local region — enquire with your retailer about their source.
  •  Measure the amount of materials needed, choose the smallest size pieces necessary and design elements to standard size to reduce waste.
  • Choose materials that require minimal processing.
  • Avoid river gravels mined from existing river systems — ask the supplier where the material has come from.
  •  Limit paving to areas where you will sit, stand and walk.

Concrete considerations

  •   Consider preparing your own wet concrete mix including chunks of cleaned broken brick, recycled glass and salvaged sand instead of new aggregate.
  •   Use only as much cement in the mix as required for the project.
  •   Don’t dispose of concrete waste into waterways, open spaces and drains.

Kate Smalley is a landscape designer and garden design educator
To read all of Kate’s advice on sustainable paving solutions, see Sanctuary issue 28. For more tips on sustainable landscaping, see

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Cover of Issue 28
You can read more about Sustainable paving in Issue 28 of Sanctuary magazine.

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Did You Know?

Up to 60 per cent of the water used in an average home is used outside.

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