Timber in the Landscape

People love timber - especially out of doors! Increasingly people are recognising how 'right' timber looks in open air surroundings and suppliers are responding with a wide range of exciting outdoor timber products.

Environmental awareness is also influencing people’s choice of materials and there is a growing recognition that, in addition to looking good, timber is the truly renewable construction material. Moreover, on the 'use it or lose it' basis, by using timber from well-managed sources we ensure that more is planted to replace it - for example in Scandinavia, two trees are planted for every one cut down.

So you can chose an excellent product and do the world... well... the world of good!

Timber Uses

Timber in the landscape is extensively used in decking; in fencing; in garden furniture; and in decorative horticultural use - items like planters; pergolas; arches; arbours; edging; and trellises. item4

Timber is also widely used to enhance people’s recreation - for example as play houses or sandpits; as beach huts or summer houses; as windbreaks; as walkways in forests or exhibition grounds; gazebos; or as picnic tables - the list goes on and on.


In public or municipal facilities, for example in parks, sports grounds and play areas, timber is used in seating and fencing, and for play equipment such as climbing frames; and timber bollards are often used as safety barriers and to define change of use. In car parks and other public access areas, timber bollards also often house safety enhancing, low-level street lighting.

Sourcing Timber

Given this variety of applications it is vital to ensure that the correct timber, correctly treated and processed, is specified. An increasing number of people, not just professional specifiers or volume consumers, are opting to visit their local timber merchant. Once there, they find a variety of products, and knowledgeable individuals whose advice and guidance is key to the service.

Mr Michael Walker, President of the STTA has commented "When purchasing timber it makes sense to go to a timber specialist- such as a member of the Scottish Timber Trade Association."

Some General Guidance

Despite this choice and variety, there are a few general rules.

The natural durability of wood outdoors will depend on the species of wood, its treatment and its end use. In this country most timber used in the landscape is softwood, from carefully managed forests in Scandinavia, the Baltic States and the UK.

Preservative Treatments

When using wood anywhere outdoors, consideration should be given to using timber which has been professionally pressure treated with a suitable preservative such as CCA. Where wood is used in ground contact, such treatment is essential.

Many people choose to further enhance their timber product by using a wood stain. Stains allow the texture and grain of the timber to show through, giving you the colour you want, without losing the natural qualities of the timber.

hampton gate photoProvided any pressure treated wood that is cut, drilled or notched is subsequently coated with an approved 'end grain treatment' preservative - readily available through retailers - then pressure treated softwood needs no further treatment - ever!

decorative planter photo

Brush-applied preservatives such as water-based products are also widely used. They are sufficient for applications such as fence panels, where the wood is not thick and does not come into ground contact. Easy to use, they can be reapplied as necessary.


Good Practice

Other points of 'good practice' with timber in the landscape include:

  • Using endcaps on fencing posts, to restrict standing water and provide endgrain protection
  • Installing fence panels clear of soil, using preservative treated gravel boards
  • Using only good quality galvanised metal or non ferrous fixings


Very popular over recent years, timber decking is an excellent product. It can significantly extend the useable space around a house, while adding value relatively inexpensively.

decking photoDecks can be built next to a house, or can be free-standing; they can be at ground level or elevated; they can be complex, incorporating changes in level and additional timber features such as built in planters, seating, and water features; or they can be plain and simple.

Generally, timber sold for most decking in this country is softwood, mainly from Scandinavia the Baltic States and the UK. Softwood used for decks is usually pressure-treated imported redwood, or native Scots pine, Douglas Fir or Larch. Another softwood which is frequently used out of doors is Western Red Cedar. Hardwood decks are also available, for example in English Oak, which has a very 'upmarket' appeal.

Decking components are readily available from STTA members.

Using Hardwoods

There are times when the unique qualities of a hardwood are required, for example where there will be lots of hard wear or the item needs to be especially durable. Generally hardwoods in the landscape - used for example in public decking, parking bay dividers, beams and bollards - are chosen by municipal authorities for 'public works'.

Cost is a consideration in specifying hardwood as it is usually more expensive than softwood. Popular varieties imported into this country for external use include balau, purpleheart, iroko, greenheart and opepe and the STTA numbers specialist hardwood suppliers among its members.

hardwood bollards photoAnyone for Railway Sleepers?

And finally.... recent TV gardening programmes have shown sleepers being used in a variety of decorative and practical ways. You read it here first!

retaining sleepers photo

More information from the Scottish Timber Trade Association Tel: 01786 451623 or

Timber Decking Association
Hardwood landscape suppliers
Swedish garden and landscape suppliers
Wood.for good
UK Garden products supplier

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Timber in the Landscape


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