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Treading the boards

Without a doubt, timber enhances any garden or outside space and with so many applications it makes a good alternative to miles of paving or gravel. Timber planks or boards blend very well with other materials and I think that they can look and feel really good.

Softwoods, predominantly come from coniferous forest trees are readily available in milder climates. These are generally less durable than hardwoods and need treatment either from paint or stains. Hardwoods, which come from broad-leafed trees from other parts of the world, and always cost more; but there is a large range to choose from for lots of uses in the garden.

Back in late 1990’s Groundforce did little to enhance the reputation of decking and the legacy lives on with clients occasionally requesting that we don’t ‘do a groundforce’ when we mention the ‘d’ word– as if we would! Alan Titchmarsh et al would deck over entire gardens, leaving awful ridged orange decking with flimsy balustrade in a strange Victorian style and then disappear as quickly as they appeared!

The series was credited with helping the increase in sales of garden decking in the late 1990s and early 2000s due to its usage during the series. B&Q reportedly had sales rise from £5,000 in 1997 to £16m in 2001.

In a newspaper interview, Alan Titchmarsh said: “I am partly to blame for the decking boom, and I am sorry, I know it’s everywhere these days. So it seems that the public were temporarily put off and I noticed that from around 2003 to around 2007 we were hardly ever asked for decking and Indian sandstone was the popular material of choice.

However, over the past couple of years we have noticed an increase in interest in decking and timber in general and have been making steps, seating and paths as well as decking both raised as a platform as well as on ground level. The beauty of using timber is that it can either create a contemporary or traditional feel depending on the way it is used. It blends beautifully with planting and can be painted a great number of great colours if needed.

There are of course planning guidelines around decking in terms of the height of a decking platform being that it must not be more than three metres high. Do check with BANES Planning department if you are unsure. The advantage of a platform is that it can deal with any issues in levels, particularly handy if you live in Bath!

Wood does of course require long-term care, but like any surface in the garden will need maintenance in all but the driest of conditions. In damp shady places timber surfaces may develop algal growths, which although is not detrimental to the wood itself will result in it becoming slippery. However with jet washing and cleaning once a year and treating with an appropriate algaecide this will deter any further growth. Where possible site any timber areas in open dry and sunny positions, although sometimes if there has been a particularly wet winter such as we have been having any timber will suffer. However, I believe it is worth the maintenance and effort as it is such a good alternative to hard paving, particularly nice when you walk on it with bare feet in the summer.

Pine sleepers are another very useful timber product for the garden, we find them indispensible for retaining areas in the garden, edging raised beds for vegetable growing, making seats and steps as well as stepping ‘stones’. The old creosote railway sleepers are a thing of the past and have been replaced with a wide range of soft and hardwood timber.

Finally fencing is another huge consideration in any garden and there is a huge range of designs available, however, it is best to avoid the very cheap flimsy variety as inevitably this does not last very long and can become a false economy. I personally think that fencing is never given enough thought but given that it provides privacy, security as well as something to plants to grow up and against, it is worth choosing the right height and style to fit in with your garden. Like all timbers it can be painted in a nice colour if you want.

Sometimes off the peg fencing won’t do the job for various reasons, either sizes or style and it is possible to have bespoke fencing made to suit your garden. Cedar has become a popular timber to create hand-made fencing from and it works really well in more contemporary gardens. We have found that cedar decking as well as other structures made from timber is being asked for more and more.

It is always important to check that the timber comes from a sustainable forest planting.

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