Steps to a great garden

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STEPS and retaining walls are an extremely important part of the landscaping for the many homes creeping up the hills in outer areas of Canberra.

In response to reader requests, I am continuing the theme of landscaping aspects, having previously written about paths that tie in with steps in the garden.

If the house is brick, brick steps look best.

I constantly see gardens steps far too narrow in width. Steps and paths ideally should be 1.2m or even preferably 1.5m wide. This enables two people to walk comfortably side by side.

I have illustrated here three suggestions for materials for steps from stone to brick and slate, all of which are long lasting and remain stable, as opposed to timber steps, which can rot or warp with our extremes of climate.

When considering materials always consider that which is non-slip.

Materials such as pavers may look good in the glossy magazines or tile showrooms, but practicality and safety is vital. Particularly for the elderly or disabled people who may use the steps.

Equally important is the width of the tread and height of the step; how many times have you walked up steps in private gardens – or worse still in commercial buildings – with the tread far too narrow. Especially if you have big feet like me! Try negotiating a wheelbarrow or mower up or down those steps.

If you are building steps or engaging a builder or landscape contractor,  make the tread a minimum of 36cm deep – or one and half bricks.

Stone steps and retaining walls blend well together.

The height or riser of steps is bound by the building code and should be a maximum of 180mm or a minimum of 120mm.

I often use a 400mm x 400mm, non-slip, concrete paver such as are available from our local manufacturer Binks Pavers, of Mitchell, as the tread. This is an ideal size if the person is in any way disabled, such as using a walking frame.

Look at the design of the home and materials used. On one occasion, I was working on the garden of a home with large bay windows. I designed the steps to mirror the angles of the bay window facing the home and ascending to the raised garden and lawn. This in turn acted as a small amphitheatre and seating area when entertaining.

Paths and steps should preferably be the same width. Nothing looks more out of proportion than having a wide path and then narrow steps.

Keep in mind not using too many materials and, if using stonework for the retaining walls, it is only natural to use stone for the steps to create a harmonious whole.

Slate... a very practical material for steps.

Now the holidays are over…

  • Fertilise all plants in the garden with organic plant nutrients such as Neutrog Seamungus or Maxicrop Seaweed.

  • Dead-head roses to encourage a flush of late summer/autumn blooms.

  • Black spot on your roses? Spray with Multicrop Kocide Blue Xtra, an organic copper spray for black spot, leaf curl, downy mildew and more.

  • Trim lavenders to remove old flower spikes and encourage new growth.

  • Raspberries fruit on the previous season’s canes. Once they have finished fruiting prune the old canes to ground level and tie in fresh new canes off the ground which will flower and fruit the following season. Remove any dead or weak shoots.

NEXT week marks my first year writing for “CityNews”. Twelve months ago, when I was no longer writing elsewhere, many readers thought I had retired. Nothing was further from the truth! I am still designing gardens and providing advice, talks to many organisations (besides garden clubs) and involved in everything gardening.

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Cedric Bryant
Trained horticulturist and garden designer with over 30 years experience in the industry.

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