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Ideas for using railway sleepers in the garden

Ideas for using railway sleepers in the garden

What are railway sleepers?
These large wooden slabs were traditionally used to support railway tracks but are now popping up in gardens everywhere. They're sturdy and can be heavy to lift but once in place are long-lasting and look great in any landscaping project.

Which type of sleepers should I choose? 
Softwood Sleepers are the best option for most garden lovers. They're uniform in size so have a clean, modern look. They're lighter to handle than reclaimed and oak sleepers and easier to cut too. Our softwood sleepers are pressure-treated so are protected against timber rot and will last for many years. The treatment process makes them safe for use in all garden and landscaping projects too.

Oak Sleepers also come in a uniform size but are a good deal heavier than softwood sleepers so cutting and landscaping with them will prove more difficult. They're not treated as they have their own natural protection, however they can be oiled or stained, if required. Oak sleepers will need to be cut mechanically due to their density.

Reclaimed sleepers give a more vintage look, but due to the creosote and the likelihood of old fixings they're not suitable for gardens where children will be playing. They're also likely to be different sizes. In the summer heat the creosote can leak out which means they shouldn't be used for retaining vegetable beds. You'll also need to wear protective gloves when handling them.

Five uses for railway sleepers
Steps and stairways
Constructing steps in the garden? Use railway sleepers to create the riser, then fill in behind with soil or gravel to create each step.Alternatively, sleepers can be used to create a whole, single step and stairway. 

Soil-retaining walls
Sleepers are sturdy enough to use to build excellent walls. The easiest way to create a soil-retaining or other low wall is to sit them on top of each other in brick fashion then fix in place with landscaping nails or with posts supporting from behind. Sleepers can also be set between steel RSJs or Universal steel columns to produce a sturdy wall. Alternatively, walls can be built by setting railway sleepers vertically side by side, though this is more labour-intensive to build.

Edging
Flowerbeds and lawns look stunning when edged with a single-level sleeper. It neatens up borders and keeps flower beds contained. This edging also works particularly well in driveways as the wood is robust enough to act as a kerb, protecting precious plants against car wheels.  

Benches
Sleepers are great for making chunky rustic bench that's perfect for the garden. Whether choosing a simple or more complex design, fix with landscaping screws and paint or stain however you want.

How to build a softwood sleeper bed

Whether you're a keen DIYer who's making the raised bed yourself or are having it built for you, here's what you need to know to make a raised bed with sleepers.

1. Work out where you want your sleeper bed or beds to sit in your garden, dependant on what you're planting and measure the space out. Stepping into the bed to tend your plants is a no-no so ensure you can reach the whole of it from the sides as well as get a wheelbarrow between them.
2. Remove any plants and level the ground (If your ground isn't flat, you may need to use ballast to level it out.)
3. Lay the sleepers on their side to form the wall of the raised bed, building them up in a brick pattern if you're using more than one layer. The sleepers should be fixed at the corners using long landscape screws with an electric drill. It's best to pre-drill with a drill bit to avoid the wood splitting.
4. Line the sleeper bed with breathable membrane (link) and fill up with soil and manure.
5. Once the bed is filled, leave it to settle for two weeks before you begin planting. You can start planning straight away though. Planters can also be made in the same way, using smaller sections of sleepers.

Save money with one of our new Raised Bed Sleeper Kits – they contain all you need to build a raised bed out of beautiful wooden sleepers in your garden: sleepers, membrane, landscaping screws and soil. 

16th May 2019