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Hit the Decks

© Redcover/Ken Hayden

Our love of decking shows no signs of abating – and who can blame us?

Not only does a deck work well in both traditional and modern settings, it is a great way to add interest to a plain garden.

It is perfect for disguising an ugly paved or concreted area and what’s more it is the ideal solution to problem areas such as sloping or tiered gardens where a series of raised or staggered decks can be used to accommodate a gradient or join together various levels within a garden.

Traditionally, decks are raised from the ground in order to ensure surface moisture does not affect the wood. This can be done using support posts or more simply by resting strategic areas of the framework on concrete slabs. However if all this seems rather daunting, then even the most amateur DIYer, or indeed the more budget conscious among us, can still build their own deck using decking tiles. Measuring around a metre square, these timber tiles can simply be laid out on a flat, even surface to create an instant deck.

In the world of decking you definitely get what you pay for, so always buy the best-quality timber you can afford.

The best wood to use is a hardwood such as western red cedar, teak or oak and although it is the most expensive option it does have a much longer life expectancy than the cheaper softwoods on offer. Whatever wood you choose you must make sure that it has been pressure treated with a preservative to ensure that it is sufficiently weatherproofed.

All timbers, whatever their type, should then be treated again prior to the construction of the deck. Even pressure-treated timbers need additional protection in order to preserve their useful life, so apply a preservative or stain before the deck is built and ensure you cover every centimetre. Make sure you apply your chosen finish in the direction of the wood grain and always use as many coats as recommended by the manufacturer. Never be tempted to skimp on this as the better your wood is protected now, the longer it will last.

As well as the type of timber you choose, you will soon discover that the actual boards are available in a wide variety of widths. The size you choose will be dependent on the size of your garden, however as a guide standard widths measure between 10cm and 15cm. Look out for smooth boards that help create a more natural finish in the garden (but must be kept free or algae), or opt for the popular ribbed board which has the advantage of providing a better grip underfoot, especially in the wet.

The position of your deck will be dependent on its usage and the aspect of your garden. First, establish where the sun is at different times of the day and decide whether you want your deck to be a sun trap, shady retreat or a bit of both.

Now take a look at your lifestyle. Those who like to entertain will probably require a large deck near the house in order to transport food and drinks easily. If the deck is more about relaxation, you may prefer to opt for a favourite spot away from the house, and sun worshipers may well need a higher degree of privacy!

Whatever your requirements, make sure your proposed site provides adequate shelter on breezy summer nights, but try to avoid areas with overhanging trees or shrubs as these will not only shower the deck with leaves and debris but lead to a build up of moisture on the surface for long periods of time. By the same token, do not position your deck where it may come into contact with water, such as by a pond, pool or water feature.

DESIGN TRICKS Use narrow planks in a small garden to create an illusion of space. Boards laid lengthways will visually extend the deck length. Boards laid across the line of vision will visually widen a space. Boards laid diagonally will open up a small area. Laying decking so that the lines correspond to floorboards or laminate in an adjoining room will draw the eye out beyond the doors and help marry the two areas.


A hardwood deck will last longer than any softwood. Always use pressure-treated timbers Decking joists must be made from heavy, treated timber and measure at least 5cm x 5cm. Do not be tempted to lay a deck directly over a turfed area. Never cover or restrict access to services such as drains. Your deck should slope slightly in order to ensure surface water runs off the wood. Decking should lie at least 15cm below a damp course. For a child-friendly, non-slip surface, opt for a ribbed timber finish. If cleaned and treated correctly pressure-treated timbers should last around 25 years.

Decking By Design

The decking boards you choose should be in direct proportion to the size of your garden. Whilst large, wide boards will swamp a small garden, at the opposite end of the scale fussy, thin boards will appear too busy over a large expanse, so before you do anything else make sure your proposed materials are to scale.

Once you have the basics in hand, put pen to paper and think about adding detail to your deck designs. Consider rounded edges or sweeping curves to add interest, or use varying levels of elevated decking in order to add dramatic impact. Replace wooden fascias with sleek stainless steel strips for a modern outlook or consider adding recessed lighting to bring night-time decks alive.

Banisters, built-in seating and pergolas can all be added to a basic deck, whilst planting can be introduced in the form of planters.

Alternatively, why not plant through the boards by cutting holes in the timbers through which the plants can grow? For something a little less daunting but equally dramatic, consider injecting colour into the garden all year round by painting or staining your deck in one of the latest outdoor shades – from lilac to blue, anything goes.


Brush your deck at least once a year, preferably in spring, to remove dead leaves and dirt. Fungus growth can be removed using a mild solution of bleach and a scrubbing brush. Avoid hosing down your deck as the timbers can absorb too much water. A high-pressure spray combines air and water and will remove debris without soaking your deck. Check annually for any rusty nails, screws and bolts. Check timbers for any cracks or splits and replace damaged areas. Protect your deck by applying a waterproof coating every few years. Place planters on trays so that watering does not leave the deck area underneath waterlogged.


Complete your garden with a wooden gazebo, trellis, or even a rose arch. Even a garden shed can be made attractive. There are many interesting styles to choose from, but even the plainest can be made attractive by using the right finish. There are numerous wood products to choose from to enhance your garden, even the choice of fencing is huge, from plain shiplap to intricate patterns. To keep the wood products in your garden in tip-top condition, treat with a wood preservative, or waterproof varnish or paint.

DIY Project – Building a Basic Deck

A simple, flat deck can be laid by most competent DIYers, although more complicated or tiered structures should be left to the professionals. The secret to any successful project is accurate measuring and cutting, so take the time to double check and remember: when cutting and working with timber, always wear safety goggles and gloves to protect against splinters.

Mark out the area of the deck using wooden pegs and string. Peg out each corner and run the string from corner to corner. If you do not have a ready-concreted area, remove any turf and level the ground before covering bare earth with plastic sheeting and a thin layer of gravel in order to suppress weed growth. Cut the perimeter joists to size and treat all cut ends with preservative. Mark the position of the floor joists on the perimeter joists – these should be no more than 40cm apart. Cut the floor joists to size and treat all cut ends as before. Then assemble the deck frame using 75mm galvanised screws. You will need three screws per joist end. If you do not have a concreted area, position paving slabs at the site of each corner of the deck and in the centre of each perimeter and floor joist, then lower the frame in position. This ensures that the timber is not in direct contact with the ground and any surface water. Working from one end of the deck, place the loose deck boards at right angles to the floor joists, leaving a 5-6mm gap between each one in order to allow for swelling and shrinking. Once you are happy with their overall placement, fix in place using 50mm galvanised screws. Make sure you use at least two screws at the ends of each board. Cut away any excess wood from around the perimeter, leaving a slight overhang to allow for a fascia board. Treat all cut ends as before. A fascia board can be cut from spare decking boards and fixed to the face of the perimeter joists.


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