Deck Design Ideas For Your Garden

Before you construct a deck in your garden, it is important to make sure you build a shape that enhances your garden and use materials that are long-lasting. You could be looking at your deck for a very long time, so let’s make sure you get it right…

Ipe Decking Wide with Natural Stone

There are a plethora of different decking materials you can choose, from recycled plastic to hardwood and softwood. In order for softwood to last, it has to be treated with preserving agents, and even then the lifespan isn’t as good as choosing a natural hardwood. So, for this post we’re going to concentrate on hardwood decking.

So Why Choose A Deck In The First Place?

○      Compared to other types of structures, like brick and stone, decking looks more natural in the garden, especially if allowed to weather.

○      Decking is very versatile it can look good in both contemporary and natural style gardens.

○      The wood species used for decking contains oils which seal the wood from the elements. Other types of flooring which are exposed to the weather will struggle to reach the same lifespan.

Deck Design Tricks

The other really good thing with decking is the fact it’s so linear means that you can accentuate the length or width of an area depending on how you use it. If you have a particularly small space, use the narrow width decking because your eye will be fooled into thinking the area is bigger because of the quantity.

Get Creative, Think Past The Straight!

One way to really show off a space is to create interesting shapes. Incorporating curves and mixing the deck with other materials can create really beautiful effects. It takes a bit more time and skill to create curved shapes, but it’s well worth the extra  effort. Experiment with putting other hard landscaping elements with your deck, like stone and gravel.

Ipe Hardwood deck – narrow width

Which Woods Are Used For Decking?

While there are many wood species which are used for furniture, only a selected few work as decking wood. The wood has to cope with foot traffic and last for many years together with containing natural oils. The three most popular woods are Iroko, Ipe and Teak.

Iroko Hardwood decking

Iroko Decking

Iroko: popular because it’s unaffected by insects, fungus, acids or alkalis, making it ideal for decks.

Teak hardwood decking

Teak Decking

Teak: popular due to its natural oils which eliminate the need for preservatives and sealants.

Ipe Hardwood decking

Ipe Decking

Ipe: popular as a decking material due to its insect resistance, durability and natural fire resistant.

I haven’t actually tested just how fire resistant Ipe is, so I don’t recommend you try setting fire to it!

What About The Environmental Impact?

When purchasing any type of decking, you need to make sure that the wood has come from a managed forest. Even better if the supplier is FSC (Forestry Stewardship Council) accredited, so you are sure that the wood is sourced from sustainable habitat. The FSC is an international nonprofit organization formed in 1993 to encourage better forestry practices and those who are accredited must meet strict guidelines.

Is It A Pain To Maintain?

Decking requires regular cleaning and from time to time and a fresh coat of oil. It will weather if it’s not oiled regularly enough but can be sanded and re-oiled to get the colour back. With the right up keeping, it can reach 30 years of use. Which is pretty good for a natural material that needs to cope with extreme cold in winter, and in summer, hot conditions.

Aged Ipe if not oiled

Ipe deck colour if left to weather without oiling

Many thanks to the guys at Wood n Beyond for helping me with this article and providing some of the pictures. (I’m not affiliated with them but they were jolly helpful answering all my decking questions so I thought I’d give them a mention – go check out their decking website for further information).

If you have any deck related questions, please leave them in the comments below.

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About Rachel Mathews

Professional international garden designer for over 20 years. My mission is to de-mystify garden design and make it easy for people to successfully design their own garden - without needing to spend a fortune!


  1. We bought a house with a deck and we’ve never treated it – so I appreciate the answer to the question I’ve always had about how to maintain it. I’m also glad to hear that I should expect it to last for 30 years. Thanks so much for an informative article!

  2. You’re welcome Stacey. I should have said in the article that if you do intend to sand it, you’ll need to hire a good sanding machine with the right paper. It would be a very long job to try and do by hand!

  3. Hey Rachel – great post.

    You do not mention leaving timber to grey off – its a different look but when used with the right coloured plants (not dark greens but more silver greens and yellowish grasses) it looks beautiful.

    Also I notice that there are loads of decks in the UK with ridges – to stop them being slippery – but there are other ways to achieve non-slip timber surfaces ….I believe the ridges look terrible –

    • Hi Felicity

      I’m not a fan of the ridge decking either, you are right, it doesn’t look nearly as nice. And I’m not convinced it makes the decking any less slippery if leaves and algae have been allowed to accumulate! Yes the weathered silver decking can look good in the right setting but I must admit I do prefer to see it a nice deep brown colour.

  4. Hi there Rachel, great post. Good information and some lovely looking decks too. Interesting to see the Ipe deck before and after weathering.

  5. Hi Rachel, thanks for the advise/reply on decking. What stone paving would you recommend to complement Ipe decking? We want the smooth contemporary look.

    Many Thanks


  6. You would think as a gardener / teacher of horticulture I would have used Ipe decking with our Indian Sandstone but no alas finances were stretched and soft wood was used instead 🙁
    Superb article Rachel and one which I’ll share with my students

    • It’s always difficult isn’t it, in those situations. Ipe is a lot cheaper than other hardwoods but it is still dearer than the treated soft woods. Mind you, if the framework underneath is good, you can always change it at a later date.

      Thanks for sharing this with your students Ena, much appreciated – do also let them know about the free online garden design workshop that’s coming soon:


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