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Easy Guide to Hard Landscaping

Working with nature is a key aspect to my method of growing nutritional healthy fruit and veg for the family.

Patio Garden

Patio Garden

From Decking to Boundary Fence

Including Patios and BBQs

A day in the life of an avid Organic Gardener and Home DIY Enthusiast tackling numerous home garden DIY Projects from Decking through boundary walls and fences to the wildlife pond and raised organic vegetable plot; and on the way encountering the BBQ and patios.

In fact it's not a day in the life but rather an accumulation of several key garden projects carried out over several years to transform an ordinary suburban back garden into something more functional, practical, rewarding and aesthetic.

Laying Decking

Decking Put to Practical Use

The kitchen door, giving access to the back garden, opens out onto a side path with a 10" (250mm) drop from door step to the original path which was too great a drop without a step. The front garden also was higher than the side path, by about 12" (300mm). So access from the front garden to the back garden involved negotiating a series of steps, stepping down, stepping up and then stepping down again; not just inconvenient for pedestrian traffic but also made the use of a wheelbarrow between the two gardens impractical. The other problem was drainage; during periods of heavy rain the doorstep from the kitchen door would block the flow of excess water on the path and it would collect just in front of the step creating a puddle that not only was inconvenient for human traffic but also with all the excess water abutting the house wall (below the dpc) was not good for the house. The side path slopes slightly from the front to the back garden by about one inch (25mm) so removing the kitchen door step would allow natural drainage along the full length of the path to the back garden lawn.

I'm not normally one to rave about decking as my preference is patios; but here, with a bit of simple decking, seemed a simple solution to a few basic problems e.g. access and drainage.

As can be seen from the photos (once the old kitchen step had been removed) one long straight decking was built along the entire length of the side path, almost the same height as the front garden, just a slight 2" (50mm) slope for the last few inches, which is level with the kitchen door so you can step straight out of the kitchen onto decking and a corner decking at the end that steps down just 5 inches (125mm) from the long decking and then another 5" (125mm) onto the patio; making access for people and wheelbarrows alike much easier.

The decking is constructed 'free standing' on a floating base, sitting straight on the old path which provides a good solid foundation with the weight of the decking keeping the whole structure solidly in place. 2" x 4" (50mm x 100mm) pressure treated timber was used for the main frames along the length of the path, braced every 18" (450mm) with cross beams and supported by brick pillars at regular intervals of no more than 3ft (900mm) apart along the whole length. The brick pillars were cemented in place and levelled to a height of back door less the thickness of the frame and decking combined so that when the decking is finally fitted in place it would slip just under the lip of the backdoor step.

Prior to backdoor step being replaced with decking

Prior to backdoor step being replaced with decking

Garden Decking Path

Garden Decking Path

Making the Decking Frame

Building the Main Frame for the Decking

Rather than being overambitious and trying to build the whole frame in one piece in situ three shorter frames were made on the patio with the middle frame being slightly narrower to the other two to allow proper ventilation from the air brick in the house wall. Once the brick pillars had set these frames were lifted into place and bolted together; no need to fix the decking to the pillars in this case as the sheer weight of the decking and its location sandwiched between two walls is going to hold it solidly in place. Obviously in other situations a freestanding decking may need to be firmly fixed to pillars or posts for safety and if the ground isn't solid or is just soil then posts will need to be set deep into the ground just like fence posts.

The wood frames sit on the brick pillars with a minimum gap of 1" (25mm) between frame and the walls, house and garden wall to allow air flow (ventilation) to prevent the wood from staying damp and rotting and to prevent damp getting into the house wall. The minimum gap between frame and house where there's an air brick is set at 2" (50mm) e.g. a short middle frame.

Likewise the minimum gap between the decking and the walls should be about 10mm for the same reason to increase airflow and reduce damp.

The corner decking, at the end of the long decking, and which steps down onto the patio is likewise built free standing (floating) on stone pillars just over an inch (25mm) high (in this case I used old patio slabs cut to size using an angle grinder). Placing the decking frame on stone pillars rather than straight on the grand being important so that the wood does not come into direct contact with the ground where it would rot; and by providing a gap between the frame and the ground ensures good airflow (ventilation) below the decking keeping the wood dry and free from rot. This did mean using timber with less height, 2" x 3" (50mm x75mm), to make the frame but this was compensated for by having the stone pillar supports closer together e.g. set at 18" (450mm) apart in all directions.

To face-off the decking steps a piece of decking was cut to size for each step and screwed in place under the lip of the decking with the reverse side visible e.g. the underside of the decking.

For added protection against the elements the groves of the main decking runs along the length of the path (rather than across) specifically so that when it rains the water drains away along the main decking, onto the smaller lower decking and then onto the patio which slopes away from the house onto the lawn. And after it stops raining any wind likewise runs up the groves quickly drying the decking preventing it from staying damp and becoming slippery; thereby not only extending the life of the decking but also preventing a serious safety hazard from slippery decking.

Also, as can be seen in the photo, the lower end of the decking now acts as an extra seating area, just off the patio, that during a hot summers day provides greatly appreciated shading.

Once the decking was down the same decking material was used to construct a much needed recycle bin, with lid, just outside the back kitchen door, to accommodate all those recycle bins that are required these days and which would otherwise clutter a small kitchen. Using decking in this way provides a very strong and durable box that is aesthetic and is strong enough to double up as additional outdoor seating; and having the main recycle bin just outside the kitchen door, seated on the flower bed, also frees up much needed space in the kitchen.

The Decking and Decking Frame

The Decking and Decking Frame

Laying Patios

The Natural Stone Garden Room

My preference is for patios rather than decking; patios are durable, long lasting and as they naturalise through weathering will tend to blend into any garden design.

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Laying a patio isn't difficult and well within the grasp of any keen gardener provided you take your time, step-by-step, and plan it well at the design stage before ordering your materials; planning and preparation should be the major part of this task as once laid it's difficult to change your mind.

Whether you decide to use patio slabs, crazy paving, natural stone or any other material is personal choice; which may in part be governed by cost. In this section I shall concentrate on patio slabs which is my preference because they are easy to lay, practical, durable and once down look pleasing.

Patio slabs of the same size can be laid in squares (as shown in the photos) or staggered so that each row of slabs is out of line with the previous row by for example half a slab. Patio slabs traditionally come in 18" inch (450mm) squares which are a convenient size to work with. However, you will need an angle grinder to cut slabs to size at the edge of the patio. A small angle grinder of 125mm is ideal and cheap to buy, it doesn't cut all the way through the slab but it cuts most of the way through and a gentle tap with a bolster chisel and mallet in the centre of the groove then gives a neat break to finish. Alternately you can hire an angle grinder for this task very cheaply. In either event angle grinders are very dangerous and should be used with care and respect, wearing proper safety protective clothing and following all the safety instructions fully at all times.

Before laying the slabs the ground must be properly prepared to provide a solid base to lay the slabs on to prevent ground movement and subsidence. If you're planning to fix the slabs in place with five blobs of cement, one in each corner and one in the centre then you'll need to lay the slabs on a solid foundation e.g. a concrete base 3" (75mm) or 4" (100mm) deep. I'm not keen on this method of laying patio slabs as there is a greater risk of someone or an animal standing on the edge of a slab before the cement has properly set and the slab setting crooked and or the wet cement slumping in one corner so that once its dry the patio slab rocks whenever anyone walks on it. And with method, because there are voids under the slabs between the cement a greater risk of slabs cracking with heavy pedestrian traffic or if something heavy drops onto the slab.

My preference, described in the next section is to dry lay the slabs; laying the patio slabs on a dry mix of sand and cement which I feel gives a much more solid lay.

Patio slabs in the back garden by the house

Patio slabs in the back garden by the house

Ground Preparation and Laying Patio Slabs

Dry Laying Patio Slabs on Sand and Cement

Ground preparation is fairly straightforward. Dig down to the level you want, if this is next to the house the top of the patio slab (when laid) should be at least 6" (150mm) below the Damp Proof Course (DPC) e.g. two house bricks; elsewhere you could prepare straight on top of the existing soil provided the ground is level and firm.

Once the ground is level, flat and firm lay a shallow foundation of rubble and gravel (or just gravel) of a few inches e.g. 50mm to 100mm and level off this so that it slopes towards an area where water can drain away naturally e.g. towards a lawn or flowerbed; and if laid next to the house to slope away from the house at about 1:10 ratio. You may find it useful to peg out e.g. wooden pegs in the ground levelled with spirit level and tape measure to set the height for the foundations and patio slabs; if used as a guide for setting the height of the slabs each peg can be banged into the ground (slightly below the foundation level) just prior to laying a patio slab above it.

Next, make your first batch of dry mix sand and cement, six parts sand to one part cement (don't add any water to the mix) and start laying your slabs. Tip the dry mix where the next patio slab is to go, level off with a trowel to slightly proud of the required height and lay the slab on top. Check for level with the spirit level (taking into account the direction of slope for drainage) and gently tap down to level with the wooden handle of a lump hammer (masonry mallet). Don't tap too hard otherwise you will crack the patio slab. If it doesn't level correctly lift the slab and remove or add more sand/cement mix as appropriate; you'll quickly get use to the quantity required and will then be able to add the right amount most of the time.

The dry mix will naturally take moisture from the ground and slowly harden over time creating a solid patio, but for the first day or two it will be vulnerable to movement if walked on so it can only take light traffic and people should walk on the centre of the slabs to prevent the corners from sinking; causing the slabs to rock in the future when people walk on them.

To finish off brush sand a cement mix into the cracks (gaps between the patio slabs) and press down firm with a thin piece of wood; you can water them in if you wish so the mix in the cracks (joins) sets quicker. Alternatively you can use a wet mix of cement in the cracks which is more time consuming and difficult because any wet cement getting onto the surface of the patio slabs will stain it; but if you have the time and patients the end result can be more better in the long run.

If you have drains in the middle of a patio you can buy special drain covers that dip down which can be filled with coloured concrete to match the patio slabs or fill the recess in the cover with compost for planting.

Once your patio is complete you can soften the edges with soft landscaping e.g. planting, or add container plants around the patio to soften it up and garden landscaping design.

If you decide to lay crazy paving rather than patio slabs then laying them on a dry mix wouldn't work, you'll need to embed the crazing paving in cement (wet mix) and fill the gaps between each crazy paving with wet cement.

Patio slabs laid on sand and cement

Patio slabs laid on sand and cement

Brick Built BBQ

Design Ideas for Making Your BBQ Work for You

No patio is complete without the all-important BBQ whether it be portable, free standing gas or charcoal, or a permanent fixture such as in this example a brick built BBQ.

My preference is for charcoal BBQs simply because it's more fun, more natural looking and provides that special open fire taste imparted from the coals/charcoal that you don't get from food cooked by gas.

I also have a preference for a brick built BBQ with its advantages being that you don't have to store it away when not in use, it's there when you need it and it's a good size; and with a bit of imagination you can modify it to your own design e.g. add extra shelf supports to the BBQ at different heights so that you can raise or lower the grill tray as appropriate.

Brick BBQs are easy, cheap and quick to build and accessories such as the grills and charcoal trays easily available. For workspace I've added a worktop to each side of a simple construction; brick side support with a patio slab as work surface; and underneath space for waste bins to take the waste food, paper plates and all those empty beer bottles that seem to congregate at BBQs. As a Pice de rsistance I've added a decking form (made from decking offcuts) as a neat all weather work surface that simply fits over the top of the patio slabs.

Brick built BBQ at the end of the garden

Brick built BBQ at the end of the garden

BBQs Can Be Fun

Even for Vegetarians

BBQs can be fun, even for vegetarians, great for entertaining on a hot summers evening and with a brick built BBQ, if the weather turns out to be nice that day, because everything is in place you can do a spontaneous BBQ just for the family at a moment's notice and with little preparation. And if there are vegetarians to cater for a small area on the grill tray can be set aside for vegetarian sausages and meat free burgers; the only problem you may encounter (as we have) is that vegetarian food barbequed is nice and proves proper for even meat eaters so you may end up cooking more vegetarian food than planned, but on the other hand you can at least be contented that you are providing healthier food for your guests.

Brick BBQ used for potted plants when not in use.

Brick BBQ used for potted plants when not in use.

Wildlife Ponds

Design and Build Your Own Pond for the Benefit of Wildlife

This subject is covered in detail in a related article of mine on HubPages, so here is just a brief mention that wildlife ponds, good for organic gardening are a feature in themselves adding that little something special to any garden design. Wildlife ponds are easy to design, build and maintain, requiring less maintenance than fishponds and with careful planning can incorporate some really effective water features.

An Evolving Pond

Before and after water features

Before and after water features

Our wildlife pond with lighting and water feature

Our wildlife pond with lighting and water feature

Beckett DIY System Deluxe Waterfall Pond Kit

Good Starter Kit for Small Gardens

Not a bad starter kit, it includes a 5 foot by 5 foot PVC pond liner which would be just enough to make a small pond of up to 18 inches deep by about 2 feet in diameter; this is basically how I started out with adding water features to my wildlife pond.

The Emergence of Water Features

See the before and after pictures above of the evolving wildlife pond with water features.

My original ponds were all exclusively wildlife until one Christmas I received the otter water feature, a self-contained with a small and cheap internal water pump. So come the spring when I installed this otter water feature next to the existing wildlife pond I also treated myself to a mid-range water pump and retaining tank which I buried in the ground and covered in pebbles. I plumbed this pump to the fountain and a 1 inch pipe which I fed into the bottom of the retaining wall for the raised vegetable plot with the outlet at the top; see picture top left.

After a couple of years, once we replaced the hedge and facing fence behind the pond with a boundary retaining wall and Arris Fence I took this as an opportunity to upgrade the wildlife pond from a preformed plastic pond (which was functional and quite aesthetic) to a new bigger pond using a good quality rubber pond liner; and at the same time integrated all the water features into the new wildlife pond, see picture top right.

To integrate the water features into the new wildlife pond and remodelling the pond to my own design I did the following:-

  1. Divided the pond into two parts, with the water meeting near the top, the left side being for the pumps and the right side exclusively for wildlife. The left side of the wildlife pond acts as the reservoir for the now two water pumps, the original mid-range one and a high end water pump, with each water pump feeding two water features. The wildlife is free to wander into the right portion of the pond if they wish, and they do, but the pumps are quite safe for them.
  2. Removed the old internal pump from the otter water feature, fitted a pipe to feed it from one of the two external pumps, and repositioned it on the far right of the pond.
  3. Fixed rubber pond liner to the retaining wall of the raised bed vegetable plot and faced it with a dry stone wall so that the water outlet at the top of the wall permeates down through the rocks, as shown in the picture below.
  4. Placed a bird bath in the pond (with more otters on the column) and above the bird bath on the retaining wall sat a frog with a water spout coming out it its mouth so that the frog fills the bird bath that then overflows back into the pond.
  5. Finally I found a small jug, drilled a hole in the bottom to fit a small water outlet pipe from one of the pumps. I fixed the jug to a dish with a serrated using a waterproof epoxy glue, sat this on a bigger dish which, to raise it out of the water, sits on an old chipped chamber pot, also shown in more detail in the pictures below.

Therefore if wildlife ponds and water features are new to you it doesn’t have to all be done at once you can start small and let it evolve with you; and in doing so you are more likely to end up with what you really want.

EPDM Rubber Pond Liners

Great Quality, Durable and Stretchable

You could use PVC (Plastic) pond liners for making your pond but they’re not as durable and rubber and they’ve got no stretch in them so you can’t mould them around the curves and slopes of your pond and get the same smooth finish that you can with rubber.

Therefore, if you’re going to make a proper job of your pond it’s worth paying the extra and use material that’s going to last and look great in your bespoke designed pond. Below is a selection of quality pond liner; when choosing the best size remember to add double the depth to the width and likewise double the depth to the length of your pond e.g. for a pond four foot by six foot and 2 feet deep you’ll need a liner that’s at least 10 feet by 8 feet.

Pond Pumps

For Water Features

To complete any pond whether it’s a wildlife pond or fishpond one or more water features always looks great and the process of mixing the water with the air helps to oxygenate the water for you which is essential for fishponds and helpful to wildlife ponds albeit they have their own oxygenating plants to keep the water healthy.

I run four water features in my wildlife pond, you can see my related article on the subject for further details. For this I have two pumps, an old basic pump like the Little giant that has two outlets and the other is a more powerful Tetra pump where I had to add a splitter to us it for two water features.

Otter Water Feature

Otter Water Feature

Wildlife Pond Video

Complete with Plastic Ducks

The night plastic ducks shared the pond with the wildlife

Raised Flower Beds and Vegetable Plots

Raised Terraced Bed for Organic Gardening

These subjects are covered in some detail separately on Squidoo and externally under organic gardening, links below. Briefly, raised beds, whether they be for flowers or vegetables organically grown or otherwise, have a number of advantages and will enhance the design of your garden landscaping.

Some of the main advantages of raised beds include better drainage, warmer soil, easier to keep weeds and pests down and can provide a more asthenic backdrop to any good well planned garden design.

The picture above shows an organic, medieval style, vegetable plot grown in a raised bed next to the BBQ patio and wildlife pond; medieval style being growing vegetables and companion flowering plants together in the same plot in a more natural arrangements rather than regimented in rows (like an English country or cottage garden).

Raised Vegetable Plot in Our Back Garden.

Raised Vegetable Plot in Our Back Garden.

Arris Fencing

Boundary Walls and Fences

Hedges, although they can be attractive, good for wildlife and in a small garden easy to maintain in in a large garden they require a lot of work to maintain. Also, hedges can take up valuable garden space, house garden pests e.g. slugs and snails and rob the adjoining ground of much needed nutrients restricting growth of some plants; so out with the old and in with the new e.g. a garden landscape project to replace the hedges with a low boundary and Arris fence.

Laying the foundations for our boundary wall.

Laying the foundations for our boundary wall.

Building a Boundary Wall to Replace Old Hedges

As I have quite a large garden which originally had over 250ft (80m) of hedging requiring trimming at least three times a year it was with reluctance that I eventually (in stages), with agreement form the neighbours, replaces all the hedging with fences. Initially I erected traditional fencing panels but they require a lot of maintenance and don’t last, five years and they can start to look quite ropy.

Laying the bricks for our new boundary wall.

Laying the bricks for our new boundary wall.

Arris Fences to Replace Old Fence Panels and Hedges

I’ve since replaced all the old ropy, conventional fence panels and the last of the hedges with Arris fencing, much more substantial, much longer lasting than ordinary fence panels (the first arris fence is now almost ten years old and still looks as good as new) and virtually maintenance free. The secret to Arris fencing’s longevity is undoubtedly better drainage of water, Arris rails are triangle for better water run-off and the fence planks, each one individually fixed to the Arris rails vertically allow good water runoff rather than the traditional fence panels where the wood slats run horizontally trapping more water that evaporates more slowly.

Building a low boundary wall for an Arris fence

Building a low boundary wall for an Arris fence

First Arris Fence Erected With Raised Flower Border in Front

My preference is to build a low sturdy retaining wall upon which metal Fence Post Base Plates are bolted for a secure fixing of the fence posts; specifically to keep the fence and posts well above ground level and reduce risk of rot. You can space the fence posts as much as 8' or 9' about 2.5 metres but my preference is to place the posts at 6ft (1.8m) for added strength. A bonus of building a low retaining wall is that it provides a backing for a raised flower bed just in front of the fence, which when mature the plants soften the fence and the fence provides a neat backdrop for the flowers (soft landscaping).

Arris fence fixed in place

Arris fence fixed in place

Decking or Patio?

Is your preference for decking or patio, leave your vote here.

Geeky Mower - Hands Free Mower

Just sit back, relax and let the rob mower do all the work in cutting the lawn for you. A video I made when we had the opportunity to trial the geeky garden gadget for an article in the local newspaper.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2012 Arthur Russ

Your Gardening Views and Tips - Leave your tips here for others

Arthur Russ (author) from England on June 15, 2017:

Thanks for all your feedback, which is appreciated.

ChristyZ on March 31, 2013:

I love the side of the house deck, what a great way to utilize space. Really great lens! Lots of great ideas.

GardenIdeasHub LM on October 25, 2012:

Thanks for your advice about garden landscaping I think it will really help me.

Aster56 on October 15, 2012:

Nice lens.

Heidi Vincent from GRENADA on September 30, 2012:

Excellent lens Nathanville! With nice instructions for how to do each project and handy info explaining reasons for positioning and placement of things. I particularly liked the brick BBQ and the wildlife pond.

anonymous on September 04, 2012:

Very nice garden patio. Lots of TLC went into this. - Blessed!

Lynda Makara from California on August 23, 2012:

Nice job with your garden and with this lens. Angel blessings.

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