Flat gardens are nice and practical and often seem easier to deal with, but most gardens have some changes in height. The difference in the level from one part of the garden to another can vary from a gentle slope to a steep climb.
Either way you’ll probably need steps in some form or other and getting them right, so that they look good and are practical to use, will give your garden a bit of polish. All you need to do is follow some basic principles.
First and formost, steps have to be safe to use.
Different sized steps can be disconcerting to walk up, the difference in rythmn can easily make you loose your footing. The simple solution is to plan and build them so that they have the same dimensions as each other.
Consider installing lights in the walls at the side of the steps or close-by so that the the edge of the steps are clearly visible at night. Lights are especially useful if the steps lead to your front door where visitors, who may be unfamiliar with the lay-out, will be using the them.
You may also need a handrail or barrier if the steps create a risky drop at the side.
Match the type of steps to the style of the garden so that everything looks right together and creates a harmonious picture.
For example, choose classic materials like brick and paving for a formal garden or use chunky timber steps (like these below) for an informal, woodland area.
Pale, crisp steps look great in a contemporary setting:
This is how I used steps in two of the show gardens I designed.
THE PRACTICAL BIT
The part of the step that you stand on, unsurprisingly, is called the tread and the vertical bit leading to the next step is called the riser.
Steps outside should have a different scale to the ones in your house, they need generous sized treads and smaller risers than indoor stairs. This makes them comfortable to use and they’ll look smart too.
I like to include steps in my designs, it’s an opportunity to create a bit of dynamism and interest in the garden.
All photos by Jill Anderson