Garden Blog - Blog Post

Finding a New Level


One of the major blockers to being able to open the garden for the National Garden Scheme has just been cleared. We have finally re-levelled the patio. Note that re-levelling and being perfectly level are not the same things.

As a bit of history, we always knew about the patio and it’s somewhat relaxed attitude to levelness. It was going to be a heck of a job to lift the slabs that had sunk and re-lay them on a new bed of cement. It’s why we only got round to it now – almost a decade after moving in. It was just too daunting a job to take on until absolutely necessary.

Original patio restoration of cleaning the surface

We’ve not quite been able to piece together the history of the patio, it was built in several stages, with extensions on extensions and even a whole original red brick patio under the current one. We think that roughly:

  1. There was an original red brick patio, narrower than the current patio
  2. That patio was extended as we came across areas where the brick pattern was different
  3. There was a concrete “apron” around the old garage stand that was on level with the brick patio
  4. A new patio was laid atop the brick one
  5. The new patio was extended outwards to where it is currently
  6. The new part of the patio subsided, causing it to sink beyond the boundary of the original brick patio

The current patio is made of several different types of square concrete slabs and by looking at what mix of slabs are predominately where, you can almost reverse-engineer the different sections the patio was made in.

The five-blob construction method used to build the new patio – where a blob of cement is dolloped in each corner and one in the middle and a patio slab is laid on top of that. It’s great for drainage and for saving on building materials, but it’s not an allowed method for laying slabs these days for several reasons. The lack of support meant that we also had several cracked or broken slabs as rain undermined the patio foundation over the years. The roots of the large pear tree that we had on the patio also loosened and raised the slabs at one end.

Ground compaction and sinking patio with the long row of loose slabs

The new patio extension was built atop rubble and hardcore with a layer of sand on top and then the five-blob method for the slabs. Over time, this ground compacted and caused a wide strip along the whole length of the patio to sink.

In all, there were a whole litany of problems that we are finally laying to rest – as it were.

As much as we might have wanted to live with it, we had to re-level the patio for our own safety and for those of any visitors. We didn’t re-lay the entire patio as the parts of it nearest to the house are are actually very sound. The worst part is the sunk area as well as other patches that had sunk or were broken.

We tackled the job ourselves and were lucky to get hold of a cement mixer otherwise mixing the volume of cement needed by hand would not have been feasible. We got through almost thirteen 25kg bags of cement and two bulk bags of building sand. We also used up collected stones and rocks from when we made the borders as well as recycled the broken slabs as hardcore. We did very well with the quantities as we only have one bag of cement and half a bucket of sand left over.

It took us a very long time to do the bulk of the job as we were continually waiting for when we were both off work, it was dry, wasn’t going to rain and had no other commitments. Sometimes it felt like there was better chance of winning the lottery than to get these ideal conditions to line up.

Patio repaired with the kink gone

Over several sessions with days or weeks in between, we systematically worked on the repair and we finished just the other day. I say finished, but there are just a few little tweaks I want to do. There are still some patio slabs that are just very slightly rocking, they’re not a concern as they’re well set in, but there’s just a slight rock to them and I want to lift those and literally glue the slab to the existing concrete blobs.

Adding our own type of new patio slabs to the existing cocktail

We’re not great at DIY and while the re-laid patio is still not level, it is much better than before, the “kink” along the patio length has gone and it looks really odd not to see it there. The slabs might not be perfectly in line but they do feel very solid underfoot.

There are only finishing up jobs to do now, I want to pressure wash the patio to remove the cement on the surface then I can start putting everything back and using it “as normal”, instead of a construction site. We also used the small border in the patio to wash out the cemetery mixer as well as clean the buckets and tools and suffice to say that the soil might need some remediating before I can call it “done”.

Some clean-up jobs still to do

These are all just side-jobs and they’re not nearly as daunting as re-laying large sections of the patio. In total, we might have re-laid up to a third of the whole area.

I’ve been referring to it as a “patio” all this time, but after this effort we put in to repairing it, I’m less embarrassed to call it a “terrace” as per estate agent description. Once all the pots, plants and furniture are back on it again, it will look much more the part.

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author & gardener

Sunil Patel

I'm Sunil Patel, this is me. I created the Garden at 13 Broom Acres and I open it to visitors. I also bake and write blog posts giving a "behind the scenes" look into what it's like to maintain such a garden.

Visit the blog, then come and visit the garden. We can have a good sit-down, a jolly chinwag and a relaxing cup of tea with a sinfully generous slice of home made cake.

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Jean 14/07/2021 - 9:11 pm

LOL, When you said you had gotten hold of a cement mixer, which made the job easier, I was picturing an enormous truck with a rotating tank that keeps the concrete from setting and a bug chute for pouring it out of the truck. This kind of vehicle is called a “cement mixer” in the US — another example of our two countries being divided by a common language. 😉 I quickly realized that wasn’t what you meant. I think your DIY repair looks great, and definitely worthy of being called a terrace.

Sunil 20/07/2021 - 8:33 pm

Hi Jean, that’s a cement mixer too! They’re both called the same thing here, I guess it needs context to figure out which one is being referred to. I thought you called those “cement trucks” anyway? Maybe it depends what state you’re in/from?

gardeninacity 15/07/2021 - 5:26 pm

Good work! We also have a relaxed attitude to levelness as well, which can be seen in a number of brick paths we did ourselves. When we put in our patio we hired professionals.

Sunil 20/07/2021 - 8:35 pm

Thanks, Jason. We the patio is re-done again at some point (this was only a temporary “emergency” repair), no doubt we will add our own version to the many-layered fascinating history of this patio/terrace.


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