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How to Plan and Build the Perfect Garden Deck

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Decking as a blank canvas

Decking as a blank canvas

Start With a Blank Canvas

There’s no better way to start than with a blank canvas and let it evolve over time.

When we built our conservatory I extended it with decking that leads out onto our back lawn. Initially adorned with just a couple of garden ornaments; a lighthouse and windmill. I soon added a table and chairs, and plant potters, and over time further adorned the decking with lighting and other artefacts.

My first consideration was whether to build a balustrade; I opted not to because:

  • It was a low-profile deck with just a short step down onto the garden (about six inches), so no risk of falling.
  • A balustrade would partially obscure the view of the garden.

Garden Ornaments With LED Lighting

Both the lighthouse and windmill have solar-powered LED lights; so after dark, the lighthouse flashes a beacon which can be quite spectacular, and the windows of the windmill glow. The sails on the windmill also spin in the wind, which can be quite soothing to watch.

Purpose of Our Decking

The reasons I built our decking was that:

  • Under UK Building Regulations the DPC (Damp Proof Course) for a residential structure must be a minimum of 150mm (six inches) above ground level, potentially leaving a steep step down if you don’t include a step, ramp or (as in this case) decking to step onto, and
  • I didn’t want to step straight out onto the lawn from the conservatory, especially on rainy days with the likelihood of bringing mud and dirt back into the house.

Design Concept

I designed and built our decking to:

  • Be level with the underside of the patio door threshold, making it level with the interior floor
  • Follow the contours of our raised flowerbed
  • Be big enough for seating, ornaments, fixtures, and fittings, but not too big
  • Be functional, with ease of use
  • Be aesthetically pleasing

The functionality with ease of use includes a 45-degree angled stepdown; giving a natural walk-off from decking to the patio.

As part of the aesthetics, I used decking at a right angle to the main decking as edging, and as skirting around the visible sides.

In my design size was an important factor as I wanted the decking to be big enough to be practical but not so big as to dominate the garden:

  • The width was dictated by the width of the conservatory plus adding a couple of extra feet to allow for the angled stepdown onto the patio.
  • To keep the length in proportion with the rest of the garden, while being big enough for seating and a few garden ornaments, I opted for the decking to be about 7 feet in length.


Floating Deck

I know when most people build decking; they prefer it to be fixed by sinking the frame's support posts into the ground, and then backfill the holes with concrete. If done properly, the concrete should be raised to about an inch above ground level; to facility water runoff so that the base of the post isn’t constantly wet and subject to rot.

Alternatively, or in conjunction with fixing to the ground, some people anchor their decking to an adjoining wall.

However, I prefer just to rest the support posts on bricks or slabs that are at least an inch above ground level, so the decking isn’t fixed to the ground or anchored to any other structure; known as a floating deck. Once built, due to the weight and rigidity of the frame and decking, it’s firmly in place and isn’t going anywhere e.g. like placing a heavy table in the middle of a patio.

For the slabs which the support posts stand on, I reutilized the patio slabs removed from our patio to make way for the foundations of our new conservatory; laying them on several inches of sand and cement, just like laying a patio.

Floating vs. Fixed Decking

Edging With Plant Potters

I was also keen to include plant potters as part of the furnishing, either on the edge or on the ground just in front of the decking. I chose the latter because it gives more decking space and because it reduces the height of taller plants so they don’t obscure too much view of the rest of the garden. The plant potters were originally placed along the edge of the patio, but displaced when the conservatory was built, so this would now be their new home.

Decking edged with plants.

Decking edged with plants.

Positioning the Plant Potters

Initially, the plant potters were placed partially on the grass but this made mowing the lawn difficult when trying to maneuver the lawnmower around the pots and planters. Therefore I later buried a row of bricks at ground level as a base to stand the potted plants on.

As part of the design, I’ve bunched the planters tightly together to provide space at each end for a natural step down from the decking onto the lawn


Flexible Arrangement

Of all the décor, seating is the most flexible and is constantly being moved in accordance with the seasons and our needs.

Currently, we have:

  • Small round metal table, which I bought cheaply from a reclamation yard years ago
  • 2 metal chairs I recently purchased from a reclamation yard for £5 ($7) each
  • Sack of green plastic chairs for when we have guests

The metal table and chairs need a little restoration, so on my ‘to-do’ list for the summer is to rub them down and repaint them with metallic paint.

A lot of the time the table and chairs are on the patio so they don’t obscure the view of the garden from our living room or the conservatory. However, as they’re lightweight and to hand, whenever we want to sit on the decking we just pick them up and move them as required.

Table and chairs on decking.

Table and chairs on decking.

Bells and Whistles

When I built the conservatory we added a tiffany style lamp to the outside corner wall, and to cap off adorning the decking I recently fitted a decorative iron bell (with an eagle motif on top) to the corner of the conservatory adjacent to the light. The bell also has the potential use in that my wife can summons me anytime I’m down the other end of the garden.

Lamp and Bell on corner of conservatory adorning decking.

Lamp and Bell on corner of conservatory adorning decking.

Lighting up the Subject

Our pièce de résistance was a chance find of a garden streetlamp in a reclamation yard; although it was in need of some restoration, it was far cheaper and a much better quality than the usual ones I’d seen online for sale.

The streetlamp sits perfectly on the corner of the decking, and at night lights up the decking and lawn with a pleasant soft subdued lighting for a relaxing and romantic evening on our decking during the warmer months; especially in the spring and autumn when it gets dark early.

It now means we have two sets of lights for the decking, but it also means we have greater choice in lighting; with the option of either or both lights to be on to match our moods and needs. Particularly useful when we have a BBQ and we want maximum lighting for the benefits of our guests.

Alternate Lighting Mood

Having recently replaced my old halogen pond lights with modern weatherproof LED RGB strip lights, I am tempted to use the same lighting on the decking, concealing the strip lighting along the front and side edges; but that’s a consideration for a future project.

In the meantime, on a moonlight night, if we want to set a subdued lighting mood on the decking we can just use candles from a choice of candle lanterns and or outdoor candles in clay pots.

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.

Your Comments

Larry Rankin from Oklahoma on December 28, 2016:

Great ideas!