designing garden decking


Hardwood warms up early in the day and early in the season. It’s one of those natural materials that just makes you want to take your shoes off without ever feeling cold or precarious. The flexibility of the material makes it conducive to easy and speedy construction and a one that is easily adaptable to any situation. Whilst there are many substitutes these days in softwoods, composites and even bamboo for me there is nothing like real hardwood with natural variations in tone, grain and pattern.

1. Directional 2. Structural 3. Steps 4. Lighting 5. With stone 6. 4 hardwoods & a softwood 7. Board widths 8. Detail 9. Curves & angles 10. Maintenance

mylandscapes - landscape designs London UK
mylandscapes blog
contemporary solutions for your outdoor space
about the designerabout the designer

Related Articles | A Garden of Decks


With narrow bands of wood, a deck is capable of diverting our attention from space-deprived areas manipulating the eye away – or on the grander scale leading out to the horizon. Hardwood is a warm, welcoming material and by designing the right pattern we are able to set the scene for the whole garden. On large decks I always prefer to change direction either diagonally or perpendicularly at critical points to break up the area and evolve the sequence.

designing garden decking directional

Clerkenwell roof garden  Western red cedar

  What other surfaces could you use with decking?


Decks are great bearers of weight and so on roof terraces they enable us to spread the load of heavy planters onto their joists. In turn, decking hide irrigation pipes and lighting cables underneath, which is a great bonus. I always design my decks perfectly level. This is one of the prime advantages when the structure is level on the visible side, yet its supports are adjusted to the height of the drainage slopes of the roof. This is visually pleasing when planters and vases appear aligned with other horizontally level elements such as walls and handrails. The flexibility of wood means that structures can be made on site with good tolerance, which in structural terms is a time saver.

designing garden decking structural

Grosvenor Waterside roof garden  softwood frame on pedestals

  3. STEPS.

Any change of level is effectively a step and wood is highly adaptable for this task. A stepped deck is a great feature as structurally one is able to key in the timber and create a strong yet flexible join. I am able to incorporate beautiful sandstone into the treads or risers to create a contrast with the wood, breaking up the overall continuum of timber. LED light strips under the risers create a striking display at night. Where the space allows for deeper steps, planting can be added into the treads to soften the edges adding a tactile and scented experience.

modern hedging design steps

Shad Thames roof garden   4" balau steps and 6" deck boards with LED tape


While recessed deck lighting can be useful when up lighting brick walls, it should be used sparingly to preserve the integrity of the material and minimise glare. I prefer directional LED strips as they do not interfere with the design during daytime and can provide plenty of drama in the evening.

designing garden decking lighting

Grosvenor Waterside roof garden   balau deck and bench with LED strip


Combining wood and stone is an instinctive design expression. By building upon an Eastern tradition, layering European plants and weaving this blueprint into urban intimate spaces, one is able to balance contemporary designs with warmth and poise. On roof terraces, where the stone is laid onto pedestals, we are able to create a level surface throughout – an advantage which allows perfect lines.

designing garden decking with stone

Highgate roof terrace   balau 6" deck boards with sandstone


Iroko is a West African tree similar to Teak, which is durable, smooth and dark. As most boards in the UK are machined here, one could specify widths, thicknesses and profiles. When iroko had become expensive I moved on to balau. The balau is native to South East Asia; it is less smooth than iroko, with variable colour and good stability. This wood is widely grown and its cost is one of the most affordable of all hardwoods. It is mostly imported into the UK in machined sizes with the prominent ones being 90mm and 145mm wide. European Oak is a great hardwood for decking but its cost is much higher.

I have also used Ipe in decking for a while. This dark Brazilian wood is very hard and tough to work with making it time consuming. Costs are high as stainless steel screws must be used and it is imported at set sizes limiting the design. Ipe tends to turn light and silvery fairly quickly after installation, although it is a beautiful, dense wood when well maintained. Lastly, there is one softwood that belongs with the hardwoods – the Western red cedar. Native to British Columbia, this evergreen huge conifer produces one of the most useful timbers for contemporary garden design. The wood can be milled to any size and specified in cladding, decks, handrails, roof tiles and even beehives. It is said you will not see one spider in your shed if you build it from cedar! I use cedar in upright structures frequently but not so much in decking. From my experience it is a bit soft and turns grey too quickly on the ground. It is however the only softwood that does not require treatment and its light weight is useful for easing labour and transportation costs.

designing garden decking louver

London Bridge roof terrace   balau louver screen and coping


Experimenting with board widths came about when working with iroko. I could only source it as raw material so specifying the width, thickness and profile gave an opportunity to try different patterns. A rounded radius or what we call ‘pencil round’ not only helps water glide off the surface, but also appears gentle and smooth. Alternating between 6” and 4” boards is a good solid technique to work with and depending on the size of the deck, the pattern should have the right rhythm for the space. Adding a 3” board to the mix at the relevant ratio means a random pattern can be created. I usually try and avoid using overly wide boards as even the toughest wood would suffer eventually outside with high moisture levels.

designing garden decking board widths

Wandsworth garden   iroko in a 3 x 6" and 2 x 4" pattern

   Can decking really transform an old garden?


I always leave 5mm gaps between the boards as they expand in winter and shrink in summer; the water drains quickly and air circulates around the boards. When I specify a deck it is very important that all the screw holes are pre-drilled and countersunk and that all the screw heads are below the surface of the deck. While the screws need to be matching in colour to the deck, screw positions must be marked with pencil so that every single one is aligned with the others. I usually prefer any riser fascias to be smooth with decent shadow gaps top and bottom. When it comes to edges, landings or step treads I try and change width of boards to demarcate transitional areas.

designing garden decking detail

St george Wharf roof gardens   iroko step edge with rigged boards


Angles can be useful in decks when a simple reorientation can add depth to a space. In construction terms, angles are naturally more time consuming. On large sites, laying long lines takes time and skill when preserving a true line. Curves are even more difficult to design, mark on site and deck out. As every board is cut differently we would usually lay the deck over the curved pattern, redraw on the deck and then use a saw to cut out the edge.

designing garden decking curves and angles

Battersea roof garden   balau curve meeting the artificial putting green


Maintenance of a deck is a subjective matter as clients have different attitudes to their upkeep. One of the best products is Sikkens – a Dutch boating product. In terms of cleanliness, as with all exterior surfaces, a deck should be power jet washed about twice a year to avoid the build up of dirt and algae. Depending on the situation – sunny or shaded, busy or quiet, urban of rural jet washing can be augmented with an organic product such as Algon.

designing garden decking maintenance

Shoreditch roof terrace   ipe 6" boards

A deck is the fixer of all gardens. It can merge disjointed levels, hide infrastructure, is flexible, feels clean and is warm to touch. A badly designed, specified and executed deck can make a garden appear cheap and horrible. A high quality hardwood deck, beautifully detailed and immaculately built, can make a space.

amir   Written, photographed (unless indicated) and posted by Amir Schlezinger.

What other surfaces could you use with decking?

Related Articles | Back to Homepage | View the Full Portfolio


Before and afterBefore and afterBefore and after
11 before & after 10 garden lighting 10 paving stones
10 garden benches 7 garden screens 10 garden seating

© 2001 - 2016 MyLandscapes Ltd

All Rights Reserved

020 8815 9544

Est. 2001 | Made in London

follow us on facebookfollow us on twitterfollow us on pinterestfollow us on linkedinfollow us on youtubefollow us on Google+