Step out in Style

Garden Steps

Garden steps

Building garden steps down a bank doesn’t need to be a daunting task. Energised by the warmer weather the team moved out into the garden this month to try their hand at building sleeper steps down a steep bank. Armed with concrete sleepers, treated poles and an array
of plants, they attacked the project with gusto. The result was a delightful new feature for the garden. Be warned though, there was much huffing, puffing and heavy lifting involved.

10 concrete sleepers (800mm x 120mm)
20 CCA treated poles
(800mm x 75-100mm)
River sand
12 bags compost
Selection of plants

Tools and Extras
Rubber mallet
Wooden float
Tape measure
Spirit level

How many steps?
To calculate how many steps you need you have to work out by how much the area ‘falls away’ from the top to the bottom of the slope. The ‘fall’ of the slope is the distance from the top of the stake to the ground (B to C in the diagram). To calculate how many steps you need, divide the distance between B and C by the required height of the rise between each step.

For example, if the distance between B and C is one metre (that is, the slope falls by one metre) and you have decided that you want the height between each tread to be 16cm, then the calculation will be 100cm divided by 16cm. This indicates that you will need to build six steps (give or take a few centimetres) to cover the area. Seek professional advice when you are faced with a steep or difficult site, or when you need to build a long flight of steps.


Step 1: Starting at the top of the bank, clear the area for the top step. This step is the width of two sleepers so that there is a secure platform for people to pause before descending the steps. Place a layer of river sand down before positioning the steps so that they line up flush with the existing soil level. Make sure everything is level before continuing.

Garden steps

Step 2: Curving steps downwards is more interesting than having them in a straight line. In the case of gentle slopes there is no need for retaining walls as the concrete sleepers are sufficient to support the steps, but in this case the steep bank needs a support structure.

Mark the curve downwards from the top step on the left and dig a trench to support the CCA treated poles. Each pole must be buried at least a third of its length into the ground to provide enough support. Starting at the top, make sure the first pole is flush with the step and then continue down making each pole slightly lower than the previous one. Back-fill behind the poles and compact the soil well.

Step 3 Continue with the concrete sleepers, following the curve of the mini pole retaining wall. Cut down and out to form the platform for the next step, lay down river sand, place the sleeper and check the levels. Continue until the last step is in position. You are now ready to plant.

The Gardener