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how to lay sleepers in the garden like these

What do railway sleepers and a chameleon have in common? They seamlessly blend into any garden, whether it’s modern, rustic or eclectically styled. If you’re looking to exploit the flexibility of these charming accessories, building raised beds or introducing some stylish garden edging is a great way to go. And to do that, you’ll need to know how to lay sleepers in the garden.

Luckily, that’s not too big an ask. With a dash of creativity and a little DIY know-how, you can set off a stunning transformation. Let’s explore the art of laying garden sleepers, so you can get started on this next project with confidence.

First up, planning your project

Prepare and measure up

To start off you will need to plan out the location and size of your railway sleeper project, so you know how many sleepers you will need to budget for.

Ensure that you have an accurate idea of how much space your material will cover and plan accordingly. If you need to, cut down your sleepers to size.

Pick out your railway sleepers

The beauty of the humble railway sleeper lies in its versatility. Garden sleepers come in all shapes and sizes, from new oak varieties to the reclaimed and restored railway sleepers that once laid the foundations to all the rail routes across the country. Whether it’s the weathered charm of repurposed wood or the sleek feel of new oak, there’s plenty of room to experiment with your garden’s overall look.

Get your tools ready

Once you have your railway sleepers ready, it’s time to get your tools organised. To lay railway sleepers for garden edging, beds or retaining walls you will need:

When’s the best time to lay garden sleepers?

Although laying garden sleepers isn’t an activity restricted by the time of year, most gardeners and DIYers find it convenient to get the job done in the colder seasons, as long as the soil isn’t too wet or frozen. In fact. Countryfile suggest that winter is the ideal season for digging garden beds, so if you’re pondering how and when to lay sleepers for raised beds this is the optimal time.

Pro-tip: To ensure the project isn’t a washout, you can plan around the weather, aiming for a day where waterlogging won’t be a worry. Remember to mark it on the calendar and you can’t go wrong!

a gardener demonstrating how to lay sleepers in the garden

Laying railway sleepers in the garden in 7 simple steps

You’ve waited for the optimal weather conditions and you’re kitted out in your gardening gear – now what? It’s time to get on to laying the garden sleepers.

1.      Make space

Whether you’re learning how to lay sleepers in the garden for raised beds or edging your lawn, you’ll want a nice, clean canvas to work from. This means removing any debris or vegetation in the area to ensure you have a clear surface before you start laying the sleepers.

2.      Get digging

If you plan on placing your railway sleeper onto a solid surface such as a patio or concrete, they can be put directly on top, but if you’re going to place them on soil, they need to be slightly sunken into the ground. This step is especially important if you’re building a raised planter for your veggies or tall edging for your lawn.

Dig a shallow trench for the first sleeper to lie in, being extra careful with your spirit level to ensure they’re laid perfectly flat. Many landscapers like to follow the saying “one-third in the ground, and two-thirds out.” Hence, why we suggest sinking your garden sleepers 0.5m into the earth if they measure 1m tall.

3.      Filling in your trench

Although you may want to place your garden sleepers straight onto the soil and give them the time to bed into the ground, we recommend putting in a layer of partially dried concrete, sand or aggregate in first to avoid water pooling around the edges of the sleepers. This will help excess water drain away and reduce the likelihood of the wood rotting.

4.      Fasten your sleepers into place

Fastening your railway sleepers into position is relatively simple. They will easily bed into your newly dug foundations with their weight, and often this is enough. If you want to go the extra mile, however, you can fix a wooden post or spike behind them, hidden from sight.

5.      Stack ‘em high

If you’re not going for height, skip this step. But if you are, here are some important tips.

When building a structure that will be more than one railway sleeper in height, ensure you overlap joints neatly at the corners as well as along the straight runs as you would with bricks. This will provide a stronger framework for your raised beds or borders, keeping them tightly in place.

6.      Join your garden sleepers together

When you’re laying railway sleepers in the garden, you may be required to use screws or other fastenings to keep the frame of your structure solid – the most popular are steel rod pins, joining brackets or long landscaping screws.

As you secure the sleepers, take care that each of them stands perfectly level according to the readings on your spirit level. This is particularly crucial for features that are more than three sleepers higher. You’ll want to make sure all heavy layers have been joined to the bottom sleeper, considering the use of steel retaining posts where necessary.

7.      Give the surface some TLC

Finally, we have the finishing touches. To eliminate the possibility of getting a nasty splinter from the wood, sand down the rough surface until it’s safe and smooth to touch.

Once that’s complete, it’s time to think about staining the sleepers. You’ll want to ensure that any exposed or cut surfaces are properly treated with a quality wood preservative. This will keep them looking gorgeous for years to come.

Extra tips on how to lay sleepers for garden edging

Railway sleepers don’t just make one of the best types of wood for raised beds, they’re an excellent choice for lawn edging too. If you’re going down the garden edging route, here is an extra piece of advice.

Straight edges

Remember that railway sleeper edging needs to be as flat as a pancake and as straight as can be, so keep in mind the shape of your garden borders – sleepers are going to be about as useful as a chocolate teapot if you have curved edges!

Extra tips on how to lay sleepers for raised beds

Some special considerations come into play when it comes to making a raised garden bed with railway sleepers. Here are just a few.

Accessibility

Make sure pathways up to your raised bed are wide enough to accommodate a wheelbarrow or accessibility needs such as a wheelchair. The minimum width for walking is 30cm (1ft), but you’ll want at least 45cm (18in) to squeeze a wheelbarrow past.

Corner brackets

Although using brackets, landscaping screws and other fastenings is optional, using these at the overlapping corners of the planter will produce a firmer structure. For this reason, we recommend investing in extra support for railway sleeper beds as they will undergo a little more strain than garden edging.

Done and dusted!

Et voila! Everything you need to know about how to lay railway sleepers in the garden – showing you how simple it is to refresh your home patch. For more landscaping insights check out our expert blog.

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