|Containers on the near patio, Jan 2017|
The near patio is made from light colored large paving stones, and it faces south; it is bordered on one side by our garage and the other a tall fence. Combining all these factors, along with the presence of the house itself, makes for a sheltered warm micro-climate. It's possible to take advantage of the warmth and shelter by growing plants too tender to stand in the garden itself. For example, it's here I have my young fig tree planted, and where I keep my containers of tomatoes and squashes--all of which need a bit more heat and light than my climate naturally provides.
The near patio is quite large: about the same size as my vegetable patch. If we were to use it just for sitting outside, as it was no doubt originally intended, it would be sadly underused! From autumn through to spring, it's not warm enough (or dry enough most of the time!) to sit outside. And when warm in summer, it can get unpleasantly hot, especially with the reflected heat from the house; we prefer to sit on the small patio next to the pond, which is cooler--and where we can enjoy watching the goldfish.
Instead of a sitting area, the near patio is an extension of my vegetable garden, serving as a container garden for tender plants, a cold frame for starting off seedlings earlier, and a seed bed (seeds started in trays on a table tend to attract fewer slugs and are more likely to survive here). I keep a garden chair or two on this patio, and I have a brick barbecue, too. Although it's a bit cluttered, it serves several functions.
The far patio is built from unmortared paving bricks and is just big enough to hold three garden chairs. Like the near patio, it acts as a heat sink for nearby plants, augmented by the pond itself. Being unmortared, plants can--and do--grow between the bricks; some of these are there deliberately like the campanula, some are just nice to have like dandelion.
Wait, dandelion: nice to have? Actually, yes! Dandelion is a choice food for chickens, so much so that we have almost none left on our property--even in the lawn. The few we have grow between the bricks of the far patio, and since the chickens can't scratch up their roots like they can in soil, these dandelions act as cut-and-come-again salad for them. Our chickens generally get access to this section of the garden one week out of every month, giving the dandelions plenty of time to regrow each visit.