Material Matters


By Katie Costain and Ben Freeman

The materials used in your garden are crucial to the overall success of your landscape and how it functions as a series of outdoor spaces. Planting is only one part of the garden; the hard materials and surfaces are an integral part of the design.

When selecting landscape materials, consider the view from inside: do you want to soften large areas or differentiate between prominent and secondary paths? Using the same material across multiple spaces creates continuity, whilst a change in material says, “this is a different part of the garden”.

If you are planning to design and build your own landscape, here are a few things to remember about the most commonly used materials and how to select the right product for your job.

Timber: Wood is a sustainable choice that blends well into its natural surroundings. Some timbers can be cheap and easy to install, and come in a wide variety of styles. Using the right timber for the right application will mean your deck, fences, garden beds and other timber structures will look good and remain strong for years to come.

Concrete: Concrete will stand the test of time and is one of the most versatile construction materials. It can be poured onsite with an array of finishes, from plain/smooth, coloured, exposed aggregate or stamped with decorative cuts and patterns. Poured concrete is a cheap and fast way to create a hard surface in your landscape. As a natural product, concrete will often behave in unpredictable ways. It can cure with mottled or darker areas swirled with lighter parts. If you are after a more uniform finish, consider using asphalt or exposing the aggregate in concrete.

Pebbles and chip: Gravel, stone chip and round pebbles create a natural surface option that is great for garden retreat areas, secondary pathways, around vegetable gardens, changing textures in your design or creating a style with a more natural aesthetic.

Bricks and paving: There are so many different types of bricks, paving, cobbles, setts and flagstones that you are spoiled for choice. Some are designed to carry heavy loads, while others are designed to be easier to lay. All require different laying methods, so be sure to talk to the manufacturer or retailer about which is the best method for your particular project.


Your style

Material selection needs to reflect the style of your home and garden. It should work with your plant and colour themes, outdoor furniture and garden ambience.


Base your choice on the durability of the product and how well it will hold up in your landscape.


We all know you get what you pay for, and landscaping isn’t any different. If it is cheap, then chances are that it won’t last or look good for too long.

Thinking outside the square

Be imaginative with materials. As well as the off-the-shelf materials available, there are many more limited only by your imagination. Old bottles, rope, tires, dinner plate pieces — all can be used to define the spaces in your garden and reflect personal style.

Katie Costain and Ben Freeman are the directors of Billygoat Landscape Architecture (BGLA), based in Canterbury and Wellington. For more information, visit

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