How to implement Garden Decking

A very popular garden improvement in recent times is garden decking, which was brought about and promoted mainly through garden improvement programs (such as the BBC’s Ground force which was popular in the 1990’s).

Garden decking originates from the drier States of the USA, where wet-rot is not so much of an issue. Trends have brought this garden feature to our temperate climate where treated softwood and even hardwood products do not last long.

Where the ground slopes sharply away the garden decking comes into its own, a previously useless and potentially hazardous area of garden can be transformed into a uniquely charming and useful area. More often though, garden decking is chosen for a relatively flat and level area of the garden where traditional stone paths/patios would give more value for money – not to mention longevity!


Garden Decking Construction

Select the area to be decked, excavate away the grass/shrubbery, calculate where the finished deck height will be, work back with board thickness plus joist depth plus 50 to 100 mm clearance to ground level, dig ground away as necessary, place landscape fabric over the area and peg it down!

The idea is to frame your deck area first with 100 mm by 50 mm treated joists. At the corners there will be 100 mm treated posts concreted in and fixed through the joists. These will anchor the frame to the ground/jack it up to the correct height.

Decide which way the garden decking boards will run, this is because the joists will have to be fitted at 90 degrees to this. Fix the 100 mm by 50 mm treated joists at 300 mm centers. Galvanized brackets can be used and/or large galvanized nails. Some cross pieces (noggins can be added to stiffen the structure), also, intermediate posts should now be secured to the structure and concreted in. Often by simply walking across the carcass it is obvious where more support is needed from the deflection under-foot.

When all built, 2 coats of a good wood preserver will not go amiss.

It is worthwhile remembering our winters (UK) can be very wet and even treated softwood can deteriorate quickly!

Ideally a hardwood deck board would be chosen but this is expensive. Whatever the choice of decking, fix them to the joists at 90 degrees and screw them down with deck screws and a cordless screwdriver making sure to leave a 5 mm gap in between.

Cut the boards to length, stagger the joints, and always cut the lengths to the center of a joist (a chop saw is useful for this and will give good results).

Check boards for splits, warping and defects before fixing down, work methodically and check generally for mistakes as the work progresses.


(c) Copyright 2013, Mark Cook, All Rights Reserved. Written For:


Improve your Garden via Garden Fencing

It is always a good and a relatively simple ploy to Improve your Garden by encompassing Garden Fencing. This post will hopefully give you an idea on what logistics are often involved….

Defining and restoring the parameters of your garden is usually the first stage of garden construction refurbishment. Careful planning will need to be done with your neighbor’s to make sure that you do not ‘upset’ anyone with the proposed garden fencing.

Overgrown and wild plots tend to have broken-down boundaries – with trees/shrubs and general scrub on the fence-line. These will all need to be cleared to enable site strings to be stretched between the correct points, which of course need to be agreed on by your neighbor’s, after which the garden fencing can then be constructed.

As with most properties, one or two boundaries in the garden will be your responsibility to maintain and to replace, this can usually be confirmed on the house deeds. The remaining boundary will be your neighbor’s responsibility and a certain amount of diplomacy is sometimes called for, for example, the neighbor might be happy to leave their fence in the current state and you may have to pay for the re-build. Believe us, this does happen and in our experience it is not worth falling out over!

Many types of decorative panels (for garden fencing) are available nowadays. There are many makes – ‘Jackson’s’ garden fencing products, for example, give a comprehensive selection of designs. Note that it is always a good idea to discuss fence height and design with your neighbor to get them on side (whether they are paying for it or not).

Once your fence height, length and style are decided on, the fence supplier will advise on exact quantities and make-up of your order. A good spirit level, cordless drill, wheel barrow, spade, claw hammer will be needed as basic tools.

Posts will need to be upright both ways and on the boundary line, concreted into the ground, and Panels/gravel boards will need to be level.

The transformation that new garden fencing makes to any garden is immediate and can be the springboard to future improvements.

For a guide on installing garden fencing please stay tuned!


(c) Copyright 2013, Mark Cook, All Rights Reserved. Written For:

How to install Arbors, Pergolas and Rose Walks.

Arbors, Pergolas and Rose WalksArbors, Pergolas and Rose Walks are general timber frame work constructions covering a seating area, leaning against the house or covering a garden path.

They comprise usually of 4 inch sq. treated posts concreted into the ground or with metal inserts concreted in at 5 to 6 ft intervals.

The minimum height clearance under the top rails should be 7 ft – so  trailing/hanging foliage clears head height.

Fixed to the post tops along the length/around  the post construction should be the bearer rails 6 inches by 2 inches or 4 inches by 2 inches, these can be toothed-in to the post tops by cutting a rebate into the post top and fixing through with screws or nails.

It is important to have the post tops level with each other if it is an arbor or pergola, but if the plan is to follow a sloping path up or down a gradient (a rose walk) – then the post tops should reflect the path slope.

When all the post are in place, are upright and the concrete has made them firm – check that the tops are level/uniform height.

Fix the bearer rails in place along the post tops (as already stated).

Using 4 Inches .by 2 inches treated rails – cut the cross rails that fix across the bearers rails at right angles.

Cut these with an overhang of 4 to 6 inches each side – a chamfered end is preferred by some – scalloped or just a square end.

These should have a toothed joint taken from the underneath to fix onto the bearer rails, no more than 1.5 inches. on a 4 in rail, (third of thickness) and fixed down from the top with a screw or nail.

Put these top rails every 18 inches to 2 ft.

If making a pergola against the building then a bearer rail will need to be fixed onto the wall with the correct bolts.

Make sure all timber is of a good quality and of pressure treated type and if concreting the posts straight into the ground then make sure that you give an extra coat of preservative for good measure!

These are perfect for climbing roses, wisteria, clematis, grapevines!

You should now have a good idea on installing Arbors, Pergolas and Rose Walks in the style of an English Country Garden!


(c) Copyright 2013, Mark Cook, All Rights Reserved. Written For:

What to do with a Small Town Garden?

As many first time buyers in the UK start off with a 1 or 2 bedroom house on a new estate, they can expect to get with that a postage stamp sized garden (small town garden) with a 10 to 20 sq. M. size lawn, a path and a basic patio.

small town garden

With spare cash almost certainly being an issue, keeping garden construction simple is the key for a small town garden.

The idea is to concentrate on where the inevitable shed is going to be placed – usually at the end of the small town garden nearest the back gate.
The lawn can then be dug out and replaced with a decorative stone circle kit with either brick or stone edgings, crushed slate chippings around (between the circle feature and the patio/path) and of course with a suitable membrane under everything (to keep the weeds away).

small town garden

In a very small town garden the smallest detail goes far – i.e. notice the red brick up-stand in both the images under the neighboring fence with a semi-circle around the existing honeysuckle climber, then forming a quadrant raised border against the shed with a specimen upright yew (slow growing).

The circle can be used for a free-standing feature (bird bath or statue) or as a seating  area (as shown above).

Please note that the round table and chairs can often be ‘cheaply’ bought.


(c) Copyright 2013, Mark Cook, All Rights Reserved. Written For:

How to Build Garden Steps using Bricks and Paving Slabs

This post will give you a good idea on how to build garden steps using paving slabs and bricks for garden construction purposes.

This may seem obvious to many but whether your planned garden steps are going up to a set of patio doors, or connecting down into a lower garden; steps need to be built of uniform height and width as variations in step dynamics can cause accidents as well as falls, as people can become wrong-footed.

build garden steps

An ideal garden step has a riser of 6”(150 mm) with a tread of 18 to 20” (450 to 525 mm), in calculating the run of steps up a garden bank. Therefore, the number of steps needed is determined by dividing the total height to climb (you will need to get this spot-on) by the riser height (150 mm).

This will then give you the number of treads (steps) required to achieve the climb comfortably.  The next step is to measure the linear distance carefully for the set of steps i. e. The distance horizontally.

Divide this distance by the number of steps that you need (from the 1st calculation) – this will then give the tread length. Using a timber batten measure and cut a spacer to this length for tread construction.

Build the risers using two courses of brickwork on a concrete foundationbuild-in cavity wall ties protruding from behind behind the riser, back-fill with concrete level with the top course of bricks.

Using the spacer, build the next riser on the concrete back fill with the same method, you might have to work from the side of the step carcass to avoid treading on new work.

Proceed up working carefully and cleanly, when completed and gone hard, you can pave your step carcass with your preferred slabs of paving (for example, Indian stone; like as shown in both the images).

Leave an overhang of 1 to 1.5” over the brick riser for the rain to drip over, stick the paving slabs down carefully with 3 to 1 soft sand-to-cement mix, with the paving falling slightly towards the front for drainage.

These paving slabs need to be adhered to the carcass very well as a loose slab on a step is very dangerous!

Point-in the paving as you build as the pointing mix will blend-in with the bed mortar whilst still wet.

build garden steps

Occasionally, if the site dynamics demand, steps will need taller risers than the standard 150 mm mentioned, as in the top picture – where the limitations and maths dictated that these risers had to be 175 mm. Most people are okay with this height of step but care should be taken with the very young and elderly who might find these difficult.


Also please note, that in terms of health and safety, a tailor-made handrail should be fitted to the steps.

You should now have a good idea on how to build garden steps.


(c) Copyright 2013, Mark Cook, All Rights Reserved. Written For:


How to Build a Stone Wall for an English Garden

This is our method on how to build a stone wall as part of an English Country Garden construction.

build a stone wall

Using stone:

This is very much Dependent on the type of stone. It could be flat-like rocks made by sedimentary layers laid down over millennium, or more polygon shaped rocks (boulder like).

If you wish to build a stone wall it is important to note that flat rocks, should be laid horizontally – like brickwork but more randomly. Care should be taken to avoid vertical joints over the one below. Generally lay them with equal thickness joints, although do not rigidly stick to this. Usually the stone is of different thickness so picking through the batch first to sort into general common sizes is, we have found, the best practice.

This is time consuming but worth the effort in the long run. If it is a straight wall then set up a brickwork line for the direction only– you almost certainly will not be able to lay this stone in level courses as per bricks, although the line will be useful for finishing the wall top.

As always, a good foundation is essential – again ground conditions dictate how much concrete needs to go underneath (heavy clay soil needs more groundwork for example).

A good Tip for garden walls on banks/hillsides: 

Get hold of some 3-inch galvanized scaffold poles, the longer the better, and drive them with a sledge hammer (see ‘Tools Needed‘ section) coupled with a strong assistant, into the center of your foundation trench at 1 M intervals; leaving the top so it is embedded halfway into the concrete strip.

This will go a long way to strengthen your wall – in effect piling under the structure.

Make your concrete cement mix 4-to-1 ballast/cement. Compact it down with a hand tool (as always) to expel any air.

Usually the mix for stone walls is 3 or 4-to-1 soft(builders) sand/cement.

We like to have a mix of 2 soft sand, 1 course sharp sand, 1 cement – for stone walls. This gives the mix some body for laying the larger rocks and stops them squeezing-out and grounding down.

Picking up and examining each rock as you lay it is very important, this is because getting the best aspect of each piece combines to a good result in the end and work done by a person who has built a stone wall this way is always noticeable!

As always, stop, walk back from the project at regular intervals and have a good look and if something does not look right then it probably is not!

The easiest method for Pointing is recessed with a finger-tuck trowel and fine bush – letting the mix go off till it is crumbly.

If building a retaining wall then include some wall ties in the work. Build-in drainage pipes for groundwater at a low level (as can be seen below), back-fill behind the wall with concrete for a thickness of around 9 inches. This, in turn, will make the wall very strong. If needed add some r-bars in the concrete.

You now should have a good idea on how to build a stone wall… We hope that this is helpful!

build a stone wall


(c) Copyright 2013, Mark Cook, All Rights Reserved. Written For:

How to Lay Block Paving for an English Garden

This lengthy post details our view on how to lay block paving for patios, paths and drives primarily in terms of construction for an English country garden.

lay block paving

As described before, construct the sub-base with the ground conditions in mind. Lay a fabric membrane underneath in clay or waterlogged conditions and then compact this with suitable machinery passing over the whole area 5 or 6 times.

Next, construct a frame of linear paving blocks around the area to be paved; which should be either laid long-ways or end-on (stretcher or header). This can be seen in the image (to the right) between the wall and the main block paving pattern.

The idea is to make a visual impact with the edging effect and to also cement these edge paving blocks down to retain the rest of the paving blocks that will be simply laid on a sand bed.

So, mix your cement mix ratio to 4(or 5)-to-1 course sharp sand/cement – so as it is not too wet in the mixer and slightly crumbling as it turns. Please make sure that you get this right because it makes all the difference when laying the paving blocks!

Set the brick line up for the first stretch of edgings – checking that everything is correct. Ideally a 50 mm bed is best under the paving blocks, thus a barrow of mix will lay 2 or 3 M of edgings.

Spread the cement mix along the line, making sure that you are getting the depth roughly right and by using the flat end of a small cold chisel tap down the paving block to the line; a small level will help as well.

Lay the next paving block and so on… this is where the correct mix is important – if too wet then laying the next paving block will disturb the previous paving block.

Lay the whole perimeter like this, cutting-in on the corners and around features, then using a small pointing trowel, smooth a fillet of cement all around the outside of your edgings halfway up the paving blocks. This is known as haunching and will lock the whole area in place.

Usually the next day the main area can be laid.

Now screed inside your area with course sharp sand making sure that you get the depth right by eye. You can use the back of a metal rake or a loop (tarmacing tool). Then compact down with a vibrating compactor plate (See ‘Tools Needed‘ section).

Now we come to the tricky part and it needs a degree of skill and concentration. The final screed level needs to be very good otherwise discrepancies will reflect through to the finished block paving.

Long lengths of straight metal or wood are perfect for making a screeding bar – the idea is to efficiently prepare a large area by dragging the bar across your compacted sand, adding some more and taking away as required. Clearing excess away helps as it mounds up.

Before you do this however, screed a margin inside your edging blocks using a long metal level and a spare block -making sure the block sits approximately 5 mm  proud. of the edging paving blocks – this is important; the main area will settle on the sand base once the compaction plate is put over it.

As always, stretching a brick line across the block paving edgings at certain points and checking the clearance under the line will nail any mistakes on the screed.

Lay your paving blocks as per the preferred pattern butting them together carefully. It is prudent to set up a line that picks up the bond in the pattern and so will stop it wandering. Keep off the prep, walk on planks on the newly laid paving blocks and watch for creep along the laying edge from foot traffic.

When all the paving blocks have been in-filled, subsequently then is the cutting-in along the margins. This process is time consuming and difficult, but just as per pointing work, will make all the difference if well done.

Use an angle grinder and a good quality diamond disc (again see the ‘tools needed’ section of this site). When all cut in, run around the inside edge of the whole site with the angle grinder against the margin blocks. This has the effect of freeing-up any tight cutters, which will undoubtedly damage or split out when compacted down.

lay block paving

The next stage is to spread the entire area in kiln-dried block sand (needs a dry day). Brush all the sand in between the blocks and when done the final compaction can be completed with the vibrating compactor plate.

You now know how to lay block paving!

The final thing to do will be to then sit back and admire your new drive or patio completed to a good standard.



(c) Copyright 2013, Mark Cook, All Rights Reserved. Written For:

How to Cut Paving Slabs with an Angle Grinder

This previous post on laying paving slabs and this one on how to carry out pointing will hopefully be useful for this post that details our take on how to cut paving slabs.

You will need to cut paving slabs to size using an angle grinder such as this Large DEWALT one (electric or petrol powered) and a good quality diamond blade (marcrist bf or spectrum zx range).

You will need ear defenders and goggles for this and a good quality mask, (e.g. 3m type).

It is always best to do the cutting away from the project so as to not cover any assistants with dust whilst they are working. Note: some of the larger petrol grinders have a water attachment fitted to suppress dust especially if neighbors with their cars and perhaps also if they are drying washing; is an issue.

Let the machine do the work with no extra force applied.

Score along your pencil line first with a shallow groove then start at the end nearest you, hold the machine very firmlyeating into this edge and working forward slowly, using the weight of the tool only, not forcing, be patient, as always, do not rush.

In time you will no doubt get the hang of it.

(c) Copyright 2013, Mark Cook, All Rights Reserved. Written For: is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to and

How to do Garden Pointing (or Grouting) for Patios, Paths and Drives

garden pointing for garden construction

Pre-pointing stage

You will find that this will be a key skill to learn in many garden construction projects that have the aim to emulate some aspect, at least, of an English Country Garden. For example pointing garden slabs will be a relatively common occurrence.

Please note that this post on laying paving slabs will be useful for this post on garden pointing.


Sharp sand cement mix for patio garden pointing (This is also known as grouting or ‘garden’ pointing mix)

You will need to make sure that you choose a dry day and to use fine sharp sand (known by other names as rendering sand or plastering sand)…

Using a 3-to-1 fine sharp sand/cement mix ratio, mix by hand in a wheel barrow with a spade, (please make sure that you do not use soft builders sand).

Mix small, manageable amounts – on hot days a strong mix like this will go off in 20 minutes, on a cold day the same mix will be good for 3 hours. Adding frost proofer additive in really cold weather is prudent, in any event, make the mix carefully so the result is damp but not slurry-like – so it will form a clump in the fist but not so it’s squelchy and runny.

Sometimes a little p.v.a. glue added to the water mix will help the pointing mix to clump together and also help with spreading and compressing the mortar into the pointing gaps.


Pointing or grouting tips

Use a curved brick pointing trowel for a curved finish or a finger tuck trowel for a flat recessed or flush finish. A fine brush is useful also.

It is very important that the pointing mix is tooled down into the gaps and compressed down to ensure a weather-tight and durable finish – loosely filled gaps will allow the frost and rain in and eventually it will break down.

Good pointing will finish off a project very nicely. Bad and shoddy pointing work can conversely ruin an otherwise competent job – so please take care with this stage.


(c) Copyright 2013, Mark Cook, All Rights Reserved. Written For:

How to Lay Paving Slabs for patios, paths and drives

To lay paving slabs is a skill which we believe will need to be perfected.

With the compacted sub base already prepared (see here), consideration can be given to laying your chosen paving.Lay paving slabs

Stretched brick lines between fencing pins must be accurately set out to mark the edges and levels of the paving – make sure that you take the trouble with this procedure (as a mistake at this stage is costly). Check for dimensions and levels – allowing for a reasonable drain on the paving surface into a linear drain or onto the garden.

You will need a 4-to-1 course sharp sand to cement mix ratio with a little plasticiser (or plasticizer)  added during mixing. So for example a 12-to-3 cement mix ratio in the cement mixer, with a cap of plasticiser, will fill a builders barrow sufficiently to make a useful amount, thus allowing a few slabs to be laid (depending of course on the thickness of the bedding mix).

It is important to get the mix just right (in consistency terms) for laying your paving.

Too wet – and the paving will just slide and float around with a tendency to sink. Too dry – and the slab might crack whilst being settled into position (with a mallet) and probably will not stick onto the mortar. The idea is to most definitely stick the paving down!

A hint for getting the ‘muck’ just right is to watch as the water is added – just enough to get the mix folding but not flowing whilst in the mixer. The plasticiser helps a lot with the workability of the cement by introducing air – which makes it more slippery and easier to squash down when laying the paving.

Getting the mix right is an important aid to a successful days paving and a competent assistant who understands this can make all the difference. As always, attention to detail even at this stage reaps rewards.

So the next thing to do is to tip the 1st barrow of cement mix out where you want to start (always in a corner and along a stretched line). Using the back of a metal rake, spread it out onto the compacted sub base, squeezing out the air and pushing the muck into the nook and crannies – a barrow  load might do roughly a square meter of paving.

Judge roughly what thickness to spread it out to – getting this right is tricky, but this will very quickly become second nature (however it may at the first take some getting used to). Make sure that you are patient (most people with general practical skills can pick this up).

Next, using a brickies trowel, score a couple of deep lines in the mix the in the area of the 1st slab – this will allow air to escape when tapping down your slab and thus compressing the mix.

Lay the slab on the prepared mix, against a line (or lines), tap down with a rubber mallet or club hammer using the wooden handle. Making sure that you tap gently and mainly in the centre of the paving – watching the slab edges against the lines all the time.

Lay the slab to the correct height and level. The mix should ‘squeeze’ out .

PatioIf you find that the paving slab sits down too easily then re-lay it with a little more mix added to the bed – it is important to stick it down!

Clean up as you work, removing and washing down cement stains that have transferred onto the paving.


Leave the required pointing gaps, be thorough and workman-like at every stage checking alignments’, levels and pointing gaps.


(c) Copyright 2013, Mark Cook, All Rights Reserved. Written For: