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How Do You Soften the Straight Edge of a Patio?

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Photo of brick patio laid in basketweave pattern.

Photo of brick patio laid in basketweave pattern.

David Beaulieu
Question: How Do You Soften the Straight Edge of a Patio?

When given a choice, most people prefer a rounded edge on a hardscape feature, as opposed to a sharp, straight edge. A curve "flows" better and takes some of the "hard" out of hardscape (it's softer on the eyes).

There's a potential problem, though. Most people also prefer to make their lives easier rather than harder when undertaking a project! And building a brick patio with rounded edges is more difficult than building one with straight edges, because you're working with a material (brick) that is rectangular. So you may have to make a choice between what looks better and what is easier to build...

Answer:

Thus in my article on building brick patios using a basket weave pattern, I focus on keeping the project as easy for beginners as possible. The drawback? Well, you'll end up with a square or rectangular patio -- in other words, one with straight edges. If you do not mind making your life a little more difficult, though, you can cut pavers and give your patio rounded edges, as long as you have the right equipment.

Is it possible to have your cake and eat it, too? That is, is there a way to build a patio with straight edges but then somehow soften them later? Yes there is: it means complementing your hardscape with softscape. Specifically, what I have in mind in bringing up softscape here is the use of container gardens (or potted plants, at least) along the straight edges of your patio to soften them.

For practical purposes, however, this method for softening sharp edges probably works best for small patios. Why? Because a bigger patio means a longer edge, and a longer edge means that more container gardens will be required to achieve the softening effect. How much money are you willing to spend on container gardens?

Only you can answer that question, which is why I cannot put a number on it when I state in my article that building bigger patios will require a different approach. While I can't quantify "bigger," the fact is that, after a patio reaches a certain size, the cost of having to soften the edges with plant material becomes prohibitive. In such cases, it is probably best to use a curved design if you want to avoid straight edges.

Reader, Luke and I had an exchange on this subject recently. Luke wrote:

Thanks, David for the information on building a brick patio. I am about to start my currently 20'X17' brick patio and am wondering what you meant by your statement about taking a different approach for large patios (i.e., consider using a curved design for them). Is my 20'X17' patio a "large" or "small" patio? Should I be thinking of a curve to soften the edges?

And my response:

"What I meant by that statement is this: the smaller the patio, the easier to soften the edges with potted plants, because you would need fewer plants to pull it off. When you start getting into large patios, you're talking about having to use a lot of potted plants to achieve this softening effect. Now, just what constitutes "a lot" will vary from individual to individual; so unfortunately, I really can't quantify it.

"Injecting even more subjectivity into the issue is the fact that a patio edge that I consider "softened" might not pass by someone else's standards, and vice versa. In other words, how many pots would be needed, say, along the 20' edge of your patio to soften it? If you spaced small pots along the edge at 3-foot intervals, would that do the trick? Hard to say, without actually seeing it. But let's say that this number would, indeed, do the trick. Well, then you'd have to decide if -- by the time you handled all 4 edges -- that would run into too many potted plants for you to buy or not.

"So I guess what I'm saying is that I made that remark to get readers to think it out. If I achieve that, then the remark serves a purpose -- even if it's not quantifiable."

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