Garden Decking

Decking - areas of wooden planking - have long been features of American and Continental European gardens where the climate allows extended periods of outdoor living and a timber deck can be put to many different uses. In Britain, decking has become increasingly popular - even though it may be frequently rain-soaked or even snow-covered in winter - as an attractive method of surfacing a garden or making a steep or uneven plot more accessible.

Types of Decking

There are three main types of decking: low-level decking is the simplest and is an alternative to terracing. Usually it is supported by concrete piers (proprietary precast concrete piers can also be bought) or short timber or metal posts. In towns, this type of decking is the most common, as it forms an attractive and useful transition between the house and the garden, and it is possible to buy decks in kit form that you can assemble yourself.

The second type, the hillside deck, creates a level space where none existed before, and can provide a platform for spectacular views. This type of deck is much more costly to erect and will normally require the skills of an architect and need to take account of planning regulations.

The third type is timber decking used to provide a surface for a flat roof. Again, converting a roof space into a roof garden will require a structural survey so that the maximum load the roof can bear is established. A timber surface alone will be heavy, and when you add on plant containers, the soil they contain, garden furniture and people, the weight increases significantly.

A good deck will depend on the quality of wood used - and on its maintenance. Red cedar is highly durable but expensive; pines, larches and spruces are also used for decking but require regular preservative treatment. It is important that the wood used can be sawn without splintering and will accept galvanized nails easily.

Decks With a Difference

There are alternatives to a large, constructed deck. Imaginatively used and placed duck boards on a gravel surface can make an attractive decked area, which can be moved around as you like and stored away during the winter months.

Or why not experiment with old railway sleepers set between cobbles, or even 'slices' of tree trunks? You can also use these to make a 'stepping stone' path - but do remember that, when wet, these and any other timber surfaces will be slippery. Decking should be cleaned with a power hose or careful wire brushing.

• The simpler the pattern of timber you devise for your deck, the simpler the supporting structure needs to be. Decking timbers laid in parallel lengths on the diagonal needs quite a simple framework, while fancy patterns will need greater support.
• Suppress weeds under low level decking by spreading black plastic sheeting (available from garden suppliers) between the deck-supporting posts.

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