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10 different ways to use sleepers in your garden

If you’re looking to get stuck into a new garden or DIY project, have you considered what you could do with timber sleepers?

sleeper wall

Sleepers have to be one of the most versatile garden materials available. As a strong and durable piece of timber, there are so many different ways that they can be used across the garden.

They have risen in popularity over the past few years as homeowners, avid gardeners and professional landscapers alike are finding all sorts of fun and creative ways of sneaking them into garden spaces.

From landscaping and design to garden furniture and feature pieces, sleepers are highly adaptable and an ideal material for all sorts of projects.

Timber sleepers are available in a range of styles and sizes, giving you greater flexibility to achieve your project goals. Reclaimed and Tropical Hardwood sleepers are perfect if you’re going for the rustic look, whilst French Oak and Treated Softwoood sleepers give that fresh-cut look. Both boost superb strength grade properties and are structurally very durable.

1. Planters and raised beds

raised beds made from sleepers

Raised flower beds and planters are one of the most popular uses for sleepers in 2021. And it’s hardly surprising. Not only do they look great, but they are a highly practical and space-saving solution for growing all sorts of plants and flowers.

Using sleepers provides a great deal of flexibility on the size, height and look of your planters. You can build planters in different shapes to work around your garden size and shape, without compromising other areas of your garden. Raised beds work well to add texture and depth in a range of garden spaces, including smaller gardens where space is premium. If you’re going for the natural look, sleepers can be left as or treated, but if you want to add a splash of colour, you could also paint your sleepers using chalk paint.

As well as being the ideal spot for your favourite plants and flowers, a raised bed makes for the perfect ‘grow your own’ fruit and veggie patch. In fact, there are many benefits to taking the raised bed approach to growing your favourite seasonal fruits and veggies.

When building your planters using sleepers, you can achieve more depth than ground-level beds would offer. With more depth comes more control over the ground moisture and choice of soil composition, enabling you to adapt the soil for the different types of vegetables that you’re growing.

Raised beds notoriously heat up more quickly than ground-level beds, which yields better growth for many vegetables. You can contain growing vegetables that may otherwise encroach on other areas of the garden more easily with a raised bed. Nets and covers that keep pesky pests out can be attached easily to a raised bed structure. Above all, raised sleeper beds look neat and tidy.

2. Pathways

sleeper pathway

Gravel, paving and bark are common materials used to create garden pathways, but have you considered using sleepers? As a hard-wearing and durable material, sleepers are a superb alternative to traditional pathway options. You can dig and sink sleepers into the ground so that you have a smooth, elegant sleeper pathway.

This is an effective option if you’re not keen on the idea of losing too much grass, but want to create a subtle pathway that can be walked on all year round without churning the grass up.

Aside from occasional sweeping and jet washing, sleeper pathways are easy to maintain. Although you’ll need to mow and de-weed from the surrounding lawn, there are far fewer weeds to contend with compared to traditional brick or block paving paths.

Alternatively, you could dig out the grass, lay a weed membrane and place the sleepers on top in your desired position before surrounding them with pebbles or shingle for a more modern and sophisticated look.

3. Garden edging

If your garden space is in need of breaking up and would welcome a touch of texture and body that maintains an open and spacious feel, garden edging is a quick and inexpensive solution.

Sleepers are commonly used to achieve attractive and effective garden edging around pathways, grassed areas, flower beds and patios. You can get creative – stack the sleepers, roll them on their sides and even cut them up into smaller sleepers; whatever works with the feng shui of your outdoor design!

You could start by sinking the sleepers into the ground. This will create the boarded-affect whilst giving you a smooth, flush, anti-trip ground level finish. Alternatively, you could lay them out on the ground. Or, if you want to add even more depth, you could build a small edging wall by laying two or three sleepers on top of one another and screwing together. Just be sure to ensure that the ground surface is even, otherwise, the sleeper will move and wobble.

If you’re going for something a bit different and want your wall to stand out as a feature piece, vertical edging is another great use of sleepers. You can cut the sleepers and position them vertically, varying the height of each sleeper for an impressive, textured finish.

To create a real wow factor, you can add lighting, such as LED deck lights, making your sleeper look just as impressive by night as by day.

4. Retaining wall

retaining sleeper wall

Because of their density and shape, sleepers are a fantastic material for building a retaining wall, offering DIYers an attractive and more affordable alternative to concrete or brick.

The beauty of using sleepers is that you can achieve varying heights in different places, which is particularly effective if your garden is on a slope or if you’d like to add more depth and character to your outdoor space. They also work well for gardens on a split level. You can create an attractive front-facing finish for any raised patio, deck or grass verge.

Sleepers can be used to construct a straight wall when laid horizontally, or when used vertically, you can achieve a curved wall that contours your garden.

If you are building a vertical retaining sleeper wall, you’ll need to dig a trench before lowering in each individual sleeper and concreting it into place. You can find out more about how to build a sleeper wall here.

5. Garden steps

sleeper steps

If your garden is particularly hilly, sloped or has split levels, steps may be needed to provide access to all areas of your garden. Many people are moving away from traditional concrete steps, and instead are using sleepers to build steps in their gardens. Sleeper steps offer a far softer and more natural finish and can serve for both practical uses and as a garden centrepiece.

They can be used to build steps in all shapes and sizes. From one simple step that seamlessly takes you from one level to the next, to wide steps that can be filled with shingle or bark, you can do a lot with sleepers to create a design that works for your space. They can also be built into retaining sleeper walls or be integrated into a decked area.

6. Outdoor play area

Being able to play outdoors is important for children as they grow up. But, unfortunately, the garden isn’t always geared up for all-year-round outdoor play. Running around on the lawn and kicking a football around in the garden during rain seasons can quickly result in a muddy, churned-up lawn that needs lots of TLC come summertime. Sleepers are a great way of creating an outdoor play area that your little ones can enjoy playing in, mud-free all year round.

In order to do this, you can section off an area of your garden, clear the vegetation and create a small sleeper wall around the edge of the section. Cover the ground with a weed membrane and fill it with bark to just below the top of the sleeper – that way all the bark should stay inside of the play area, instead of being spread around the garden. You can then put all of your children’s favourite outdoor equipment in this area – swings, slides, outdoor mud kitchens, and your kids can enjoy outdoor play all year round without churning up the garden. If you’re feeling extra ambitious, you could lay artificial grass in this area, but be sure to prepare the area accordingly so that you achieve a long-lasting finish.

7. Sandpits

garden sandpit

Looking to buy a sandpit? Why not make one? A homemade sandpit is timeless and a fun piece of outdoor play equipment where kids are free to unleash creativity, build castles and towers and develop cognitive and motor skills. What’s more, they are a fantastic project for any budding DIY-loving parents.

The advantage of building a sandpit yourself is that it can be completely custom-built to work with your outdoor space. You can choose the size and shape, as well as where you put it in the garden. Paint it your children’s favourite colours and even add a removable lid that can be placed on top when the sandpit is not being used.

You’ll need to ensure that the ground is firm and level, with good drainage. Try and position it in an area of the garden that is half shade, half sunlight so that the sand has the chance to dry out but the shade provides your little one’s protection from the sun. Cut your sleepers to size and bolt together. Don’t forget to lay a weed membrane before adding the sand.

8. Garden furniture

Sleeper furniture
The wonderful world of Pinterest is full to the brim with ingenious DIY sleeper furniture hacks. There are many ways that sleepers can be used to create attractive and comfortable garden furniture that adds the real wow factor to your garden space.

From bench seating with nifty storage compartments and log stores to outdoor dining tables, garden kitchens and even sun loungers and daybeds, you could pretty much fill your entire garden with homemade furniture made from sleepers.

What’s more, using sleepers doesn’t limit you to creating square block furniture designs. They can be used vertically to construct rounded pieces, too. The possibilities are endless!

9. Outdoor shelving

sleeper shelving

We’ve seen an increase in the number of people bringing sleepers into their home to create striking shelving units. The same can be done outdoors.

By adopting the use of your garden’s vertical space, you can maximise the use of your outdoor area, whilst adding more depth and character to sections of your garden. If you’re looking for somewhere to grow hanging plants or herbs, display flower pots or garden ornaments or simply somewhere to store your garden hand tools, then sleeper shelving could be just what you need.

10. Pond

sleeper pond wall

A pond adds a luxurious and tranquil feel to any outdoor space. They are a superb way of supporting the natural ecosystem of your garden, inviting water-loving wildlife such as frogs, pond skaters and dragonflies as well as birds and insects into your outdoor living space.

Building a pond using sleepers is fairly straightforward, and sleepers are a great material for small and large ponds alike. You will need to build the pond frame first to your desired size before lining this sleeper structure with pond liner and attaching accordingly. You can then add another layer of sleepers to enclose the pond liner for a professional and tidy looking finish. It is worth noting Tropical Hardwood and Oak sleepers are most suitable for uses where they may be exposed to a higher level of moisture.


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