Q. I would like to know how or what are the basic rules to fitting a slatted fence around my garden. I would like to use six foot high slats which are thick at one side and thin at other. where do I place the nails and basic stuff like that. Also how do I go about building a gate, do you know of any books I can read.
A. Try this link it should give you the information you need. As for building a gate, I don't know of any book that specifically covers this, you probably need a woodworking projects book from the library. However, unless you're a good carpenter, I'd leave it to some-one who's done it before. Fencing companies will often build gates to specific sizes and requirements, so try a local company.
Q. I have a 1m x 3m x 0.75m trench at the bottom of my heavy clay garden that I want to fill to make into a raised bed (to help with the drainage). I'm going to have to buy soil/compost to fill the hole so do you have any suggestions as to the recipe and quantities I should use?
A. It depends partly on what soil or compost is available and in what quantities, also on what will be planted in the bed. If you have heavy clay soil, then there is a chance that soil that is available locally and sold as top soil may also have quite a high clay content, so try to make sure top soil that you buy is a good quality loamy soil. Ideally, I would add top soil and good well rotted garden compost in the ratio of about 4 + 1.
Ironically raised beds need something in them to retain moisture, the idea being that there is plenty available but allowing excess to drain freely away. Organic matter fulfils this role while also adding nutrients. If garden compost in large quantities is not available, then use well rotted farmyard manure instead.
The organic matter will rot away in time and so the level of the bed will fall (slowly), just add more to the top as a mulch every now and then - annually say. Once the bed is in place and filled, you shouldn't need to dig it ever again.
This recipe is a general one assuming that vegetables or ornamentals are to be planted. If you are to use it for alpines, then add coarse sand or fine gravel to the mix, if acid - loving plants, then use peat as the organic matter or fill the bed with an ericaceous compost
addendum Q. Do you think I should put some bricks/gravel etc in the bottom of the trench to help with drainage?
addendum A. As I understand it, you have a trench that you intend to fill and then extend above ground level using a retaining wall of some description. I wouldn't add any extra drainage unless you intend to fill it with plants that particularly require it, alpines / Mediterranean plants etc. There is the danger in a heavy waterlogged soil that such a move could actually give you an underground sump as the water from the surrounding soil drains into the gravel / brick area. For the vast majority of purposes, being above ground level will supply the extra drainage required.
A. If you mean hardwood flooring as sold for interiors, then no-way. Outside it would warp, curl and split. You could possibly use decking boards, but they would need to be fixed to battens. I'd use 2" x 4" wide-side on to the patio and fixed at intervals to the patio with frame fixings before attaching the decking boards. This would result in the deck being about 3" higher than the patio which would possibly be impractical and/or very strange looking.
Q. I have a 6m by 4m area which I want to cover with gravel, before putting decking, tubs etc. on it, but although I have found some local gravel suppliers, I can't find anything to help me calculate how much I need.
A. It depends on whether the area is trafficked or not i.e. walked on. If you work on the basis of 1 tonne per 10 square metres, this will give you a good covering. Bear in mind that it will add depth to the area and so the area will need to be dug out relative to the surroundings or a barrier will need to be put in place to stop the gravel from spilling.
You could use log roll, (though I'm not keen on it), or rough fencing posts laid horizontal with the pointed end cut off. Make sure you peg them in place securely if you go for either of these with substantial wooden pegs driven at least 6" into the ground, I use pegs 12" long in total for this. Drill (3mm diameter) the top of the peg to take the nail, it is very likely to split being so close to the edge of the wood otherwise.
If you are going to cover it with decking, I'd use landscaping fabric with just a scattering of gravel to stop the wind from lifting it. You could get away with half this amount or less if it is all to be covered.
A. It's very variable on a regional basis, but for a 10ft x 10ft (3m x 3m) patio in the cheapest compressed concrete slabs, about £400 - £450
Q. I have a pre-walled area, 9ft wide, decreasing to 8ft 6". Total length 11ft 8". I have purchased Riven paving slabs, 2ft x 2ft. What is the best way to lay the slabs with regard to the decreasing width?
A.You have a choice:
1/ Cut the slabs by hiring a machine to do the job. A hard, tremendously noisy and laborious process, but necessary if you want an edge-to-edge finish.
2/ After laying and compacting the hardcore lay the slabs without cutting any. This will leave gaps along one edge which can be used as planting pockets - dig the pocket of hardcore out first after the mortar for the slabs have set. Otherwise the gaps can be filled to level with the slabs with gravel or other decorative stone - by far the easiest option and good looking too.
Q. I have a sloping garden and would like to level it and put a patio in. Can I just get some soil and build the garden up? Do I need to build a retaining wall to hold the new soil in place or is there an easier way? The difference in height from the high to low is approximately 1 foot/30 cms. Hope you can help!
A. It really depends on how the slope falls in relation to the house. Are you planning to do it yourself or pay someone to do it for you?
If you are planning on paying a contractor, then this should all be part of the service. I would certainly take some advice from some-one who comes around to see the garden and exactly how things are set out. If you get it wrong, you could end up with a patio that floods regularly during heavy rain which could cause knock-on problems
If the slope is away from the house, a retaining wall or steps will almost certainly be needed. You could build up a bank on a very gentle slope and stabilize it with grass before putting the patio in, but this would take upwards of a year before you even started on the patio. Building it up with soil would do the trick, but the surface of the patio might then supply enough water to wash it away before any turf had become established.
Q. I wonder if you can advise on suitable surfaces for a children's play area (playhouse, slide etc). We are not so keen on lawn as the shape of the area is long and thin and therefore difficult to mow - what alternative surfaces would you recommend?
A. The easiest material to use is probably "Play bark" bark chips selected to be larger and softer than the usual bark chips used as a mulch. To be effective it needs to be placed at a depth of 6" / 15cm which means that:
As you'll need a lot look locally for a bulk materials merchant who sells it by the 1 cubic metre bag, if you buy it in poly sacks it'll cost a fortune. Don't underestimate the job of installing it all either.
Alternatively you could use the thick rubber matting that is used on public play areas, more expensive and I'm afraid I don't know where you get it.
I am wanting to plant up a railway embankment which serves as my "back garden" and
measures about 40 ft wide by 50ft tall and is on an incline of about 45 deg.
Conditions to plant are now as good as they are going to get although the underlying "soil" is a type of scree which one would expect a railway embankment to have been made up from. I am conscious that if I put compost down or topsoil it may just wash down the slope and I am keen to do something with it to pretty it up in time for next spring.
A. When it comes to planting, I'd make large holes as deep as you have the energy and fill it with plenty of organic matter. Mediterranean plants should do well if it's well drained. This way the plant roots will be encouraged to go downwards rather than sideways. As you say adding to the surface may result in topsoil ending up at the bottom, so aim for enriched pockets rather than a veneer.
Where to buy plants? If you want a lot of plants - say £300+ worth at garden centre prices, you should be able to get them wholesale from a nursery nearby for 1/3 to 1/2 of that amount. There's usually a minimum spend of around £100 ex. VAT and you help yourself with no advice available, often no labels too, other than a Latin name, so you need to know what you're looking at. You may be able to ask for a plant list to peruse before you go and then email your order - depends on what level of service they give - more service, higher prices, many nurseries will expect at least 5 of any one type unless you get the plants yourself - best to ask first. You can get trees and some shrubs bare rooted in the winter months when they will be much cheaper. Many perennials are also available bare rooted in the winter when they can be bought mail order if not available locally.
Q. I have a large concrete patio at the moment and wanted to lay slabs over the top to make it look nicer. The 4" height rise would take me above the 150mm (2 brick) damp proof line, can I do this by keeping a gravel about 8" near the house walls so water can run off or do I need to break up the concrete?
A. I wouldn't risk it, don't take it above the damp-proof course, remove the concrete first, it'll be worth the effort in the long run.
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