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  1. The best composite decking ideas

    The beauty of composite decking is, well, its beauty! Along with long guarantees against scratches, distortion and slipping, it is a super product to use around the garden.

    Decking can be something as simple as a patio. But with individual boards you, as your own garden designer, have the opportunity to run the boards in any direction you want. You can make gardens look wider than they are or persuade the eye to gaze down a run, making a plot look longer. Think lines of design.

    But that's just on the flat – with the correct and stable framework, you can easily introduce height into your garden. Simple steps bring height, even a few inches, into what would otherwise be a flat bed of garden. Bring in more and suddenly you've created an interesting walkway to take you around a garden.

    You can, of course, go bigger and bolder and create a platform with composite decking. Check with the neighbours before going too high but nothing is stopping you from creating a raised area for entertaining friends or even as the base of a raised garden building.

    If you're feeling brave and are a competent builder, you could create a stunning tree house for any design you come up with. Make sure it is safe and sound before use. You can also use composite decking as Juliet balconies (but, obviously, you have to ensure all safety precautions and legalities are strictly adhered to – and always check planning regulations to ensure you are allowed to build).

    Composite decking is inherently adaptable and the opportunities to create and improve a garden are bountiful.

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  2. Different types of fencing

    Fencing can be highly practical or mostly decorative. The workaday fence panels are the unsung heroes, working tirelessly without really being noticed. Decorative panels, however, take some of the garden limelight, are highly visible and are often the actual focal point of a garden.

    Purely practical fencing has to be hard to scale and is excellent at marking out a boundary. They simply get on with things. In truth, the whole garden is built around them (or in front of them) and without them your garden design would look loose and messy around the edges.

    Decorative panels are perfect for supporting sweet peas, roses, honeysuckle, or even just standing there, in splendid isolation, looking terrific in a garden design. They do work hard, just in a different way to the practical panels.

    Now occasionally you get a good mix of the two types – they are the engine room of a garden. They make the whole garden tick. Think of a standard panel with a decorative trellis top.

    All types – whether they are made out of wood, metal, plastic or made up from bits and bobs – need to be put up correctly. As a result, they will last for years and help turn a good garden into a great garden.

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  3. How to install composite decking

    When installing composite decking, the main thing to remember is thermal expansion. Always have that in your mind and you can't go far wrong. Oh, and levels of course. So, that's thermal expansion and levels. Composite decking sorted! In hot summers, composite decking can expand and if the individual boards are fixed too closely together they can buckle. Probably not by a lot but enough to ruin the look of your decking. And those levels – a slight run away from any house walls is the intention to prevent damp problems arising. Otherwise, it's easy!

    Your project begins with a framework and this has to be stable and solid. Only use pressure treated wood as it carries a 15-year guarantee against rot. You certainly don't want to be taking up your decking to repair the frame within a year or two. Take your time, get help and ensure your framework is correct. It is the unseen hero of a quality deck. Only start to fit the boards when the framework is absolutely solid and all concrete is completely set. It's also a great idea to put some weed suppressing membrane down beneath the decking at this stage. It really is a fiddly and time-consuming job trying to remove weeds from the gaps between individual boards.

    Invisible clips are available for some boards and these are a delight to use. Spaced according to the manufacturer’s instructions, they allow boards to be installed without any screws heads showing. If you are using screws, always countersink them to prevent an untidy look and a dangerous finish.

    You may need to face the ends of the boards to prevent leaves and debris getting into the boards. A simple picture frame construction around the outer perimeter of the deck will sort out that problem and give the whole project a quality finish. Then it's a case of getting the garden furniture, sitting down and enjoying the view. Nice!

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  4. How to install concrete fence posts

    How to install concrete fence posts

    Concrete posts last longer than timber alternatives and, if they are slotted, remove the need for any other fixings. The fence panels simply slide into the slots making them easily removable for maintenance or replacement.

    Do I need help?

    Being heavy, you will need two people to fix concrete posts into the ground and there is only one way to do it – by digging deep holes. A six-foot fence panel will need at least eight and a half feet posts (basic maths = at least two and a half feet into the ground!) It may seem a lot but many fence panels can act as sails in the wind and the force on them is immense, even in the slightest of breezes. Plus, the post itself is heavy to start with.

    Digging the hole

    Digging the hole is simple but take care not to slice through any cables or pipes (you shouldn’t as they should be deeper than 2 feet down, be marked with warning tape or even armoured).

    1. Make the hole twice as wide as the post. 
    2. Position the post in the hole, ask your friendly helper to measure and check levels.
    3. Use a quick setting post mix (pour the contents of the bag into the hole around the base of the post, add water, hold it all in place and it sets within minutes) or make a mix of ballast, sand and cement and do the same - this will take a little longer to set. 
    4. It's best practice to wait overnight if possible before offering up any gravel board or fence panel and marking where the next post should be positioned. 
    5. Ensure all the cement has 'gone off ' or hardened and capable of supporting the load. 
    6. Of course, never do cementing in freezing conditions as chemical reactions within the mix simply don't happen.

     

    And remember, if the posts are slotted the panels will slide in. If they rattle you can put a little bit of wooden packing in place, but wood will expand and contract depending on how wet it becomes so let everything settle down before doing anything else. 

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  5. How to treat your fence panels in time for winter

    How to treat your fence panels in time for winter

    When your plants are dormant and skulking underground, it’s time for your fencing to shine. Defining edges, true and strong make a great garden – but only if you look after them. And because the plants aren't draped over your panels, winter is a great time to treat them to a coat or two of nourishment.

    What to do first

    First of all, check for any wobbly panels, any rotten sections or snapped rails. Repair or replace. Check all fixings are still fixing and again replace if necessary. Winter winds and the soon to arrive spring rain will rattle them free if you don't get to it now and that could mean squashed plants.

    Adding a preservative, stain or paint

    If and when all is sound, stand back and decide whether or not the panels need a coat of preservative, stain or paint. You know the answer – of course they do. Choose a colour to match other wood in the garden or go bold and make a statement with one of the many vibrant colours available. Measure up carefully and buy accordingly. Buy an extra can and keep the receipt – there's nothing worse than running low and either eking it out to finish the job or completely running out and having to rush to the shop as the dusk settles and the owls come out to hoot. Just keep that receipt.

    Check the weather forecast

    Then it's a case of checking the weather forecast, choosing as warm a day as winter can offer, where there's no frost and rain isn't forecast. They do occur and then get cracking. Read the tin as do exactly as it says – stir contents for five minutes means stir contents for five minutes. Quality brushes or made for the job sprayers will make the project easier.

    Enjoy your handiwork

    And then, once finished, stand back, stretch your aching legs and arms and admire your handiwork. You'll also know it won’t need doing for another five years or so and that your plants can spring to life without getting damaged. It's a great winter job when done right. 

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  6. Maintaining garden structures over winter

    Maintaining garden structures over winter

    Don't let the winter blues get you down as now is the perfect time to sort out all your garden structures to ensure that when spring arrives, in a few weeks’ time, the skeleton of your garden is in tip top condition. After all, as the plants snooze you can be busy sorting out pergolas, fences, arbours, garden furniture, raised beds – the whole lot – without any danger of damaging emerging shoots and tender leaves.

    Check your structures

    Before anything, have a wander and give all your structures a good shake. If anything wobbles (not on you!) then it might be worth resetting posts or uprights. Cross beams on arbours need a good check as the weight of plants is surprising and it is so much easier to replace or repair structures when they aren't smothered in sweet peas or honeysuckle. Once everything is structurally sound you can move onto the next stage – a wash and brush up.

    Cleaning garden structures

    Pressure washers can clean a lot of structures quickly. Pergolas will get covered in algae so if bare, get the pressure washer out and give them a blast. Do the same with your garden furniture and arbours. The only structure to play safe with is fencing. Unless you are filming the process and prepared to send it to somewhere like 'You've been framed' (and claim your £250 or whatever it is) I wouldn't blast a pressured jet of water at a fence. Chances are you will be staring into the neighbour’s garden as soon as the water hits the wood. Soapy water will get a lot of muck off without any danger to you, your fence or your neighbours. If you have hired a pressure washer don’t forget to whizz around the patio to get that clean and non-slippy. Always choose a day when it isn't going to freeze at night – unless again you are filming your activities!

    Let it all dry and if required, sand down any jagged edges or splinters. Then you can re-coat with preservative, re-stain or repaint. There you go– job done and ready for lots of gardening activity safe in the knowledge that your arbour isn't going to collapse, your uprights will stay in place and all wood is safe and sound. 

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  7. Great examples of uses for old fence panels

    Great examples of uses for old fence panels

    Using old fence panels

    While the term “DIY” usually implies crafting projects from the ground up, sometimes the most spectacular Do-It-Yourself projects can simply involve transforming a worn piece of furniture and giving it a new identity or purpose. Even something as useless as a broken chair can still be turned into something else that is both functional and attractive.

    Reclaimed wood furniture, for example, is often accompanied by some kind of history, which can further add to its originality and charm. Below are a few projects utilising old fence panels that might spark your creative side.

    For the adults: aesthetic wine rack

    The great thing about wooden fence panels is that they are incredibly versatile and can be used in a variety of smaller DIY projects as well. One of the simplest projects using old fence panels would be to transform them into a classy wine rack to hang on the wall.

    For this project, you’ll need a total of three 6”x12” end fence panels and three 24” cross rails to hold the bottles. The finished project should be able to hold a total of 15 wine bottles.

    For the kids: a fun fort

    While the idea of being able to construct a tree house for your kids is a good one, not every home has trees in their yards. Instead, take it to the ground and build a fort using your old fence panels.

    Even if you don’t have a yard, fence panels can be the ideal size for an inside fort as well (just be sure to make sure that the wood is finished). Hinges can be added for easy portability so it can be stored when it’s not in use.

    For the house: rustic wood cabinet

    Wooden cabinets are always a beautiful addition to any home, but it can often be expensive to have them custom made and professionally installed. With a little creativity (and maybe some help from IkeaHackers), you can repurpose your fence panels and create beautiful wooden cabinets for your kitchen, bathroom, bedroom, etc.

    If you’re not up to constructing an entire cabinet from scratch, consider sprucing up your existing cabinets and create new cabinet doors from your used fence panels.

    For the artist: wood wall art

    While repurposing old fence panels into something more functional is always impressive, the dimensions and natural state of the wood can also serve to make exquisite wall art. Take some time to salvage the pieces you find most interesting and create a layout of the wood that looks most appealing. Be sure to consider the amount of space you’ll be limited to when creating your masterpiece!

    For the office: simple shelves

    When it comes to shopping for shelves that not only have the right dimensions but the right price as well, creating your own shelves from old fence panels is a more affordable option. In addition, you also have the assurance that the shelves will be the correct size!

    For the garden: stylish planter box

    Whether you have an indoor garden, outdoor garden, or both, and are tired of being stuck with the plastic containers from the garden centre, reusing wooden fence panels can be an excellent way to give Mother Nature a little more style.

    Whether you prefer a simple wooden box for the outdoors or something more eye-catching to go with the interior of your home, creating a planter box from old fence panels can be as simple or elaborate as you want them to be.

    For your guests: inviting coffee table

    They say that it’s the rug that brings the room together, but sometimes, all you need is a coffee table. Using a bit of elbow grease, you can take those old wooden fence panels and turn them into a conversation starter. After all, wood usually always comes with some kind of history!

    When it comes to home improvement, sometimes all you need to do is look outside in your back garden to find inspiration. What will you create next?

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  8. How to get started with a wildlife garden

    How to get started with a wildlife garden

    Key activities for a wildlife garden

    The heartbeat of a garden is its wildlife and you can do lots or almost nothing to help things along depending on how much time and effort you can devote to the cause. We take a look at some of the different things you can do to help you get started with your own wildlife garden.

    1. Do nothing

    Nature will restore the balance of a garden within years and if left to its own devices, a balance will naturally occur. OK, your broad beans will be chewed by black fly, slugs and snails will demolish your delphiniums for a while but eventually, ladybirds will increase in numbers, along with their larvae, and reduce blackly numbers. Many birds such as blackbirds and song thrushes will devour slugs and snails and blue tits will nibble away at greenfly trying to escape on tree trunks. It takes time but it will happen. Your neighbours may also complain about the weed seeds blowing around in the wind. So if you want a garden you can enjoy, and even actually garden in to get all that healthy mental and physical exercise, then do a little to help things along.

    2. Do a bit

    Leaving a patch of wildness in your garden does wonders for the success of wildlife! Think about those pesky stinging nettles for a moment. Those stingers could be supporting more than 40 kinds of insects and are vital to overwintering insects. They provide shelter from predators and produce millions of seeds for hungry house sparrows, chaffinches and bullfinches. Larvae of many butterflies such as small tortoiseshell and peacock butterflies feed on nettles. Nettles are your friend – in small patches away from bare arms scrambling for stray footballs and errant cricket balls. Bees are the lynchpin of our environment so avoid using chemical sprays that may harm them. If you do have to spray then always use the chemicals according to the instructions, and this often means waiting until bees are safely snoozing in their hives in the late evening. Bees kind of like flowers and that is a whole new ball game.

    3. Think before you plant

    Bees like simple, open flowers. It makes their busy lives easier. Many plants are now labelled as bee-friendly and are great choices for mixed borders or pots. Plants with double flowers, where blooms have an extra set of petals in the same bloom, are not great for the bees. Nor are pollen-free varieties of some of our favourite flowers such as sunflowers, although hay fever sufferers do so are excused planting a few of those. Native wildflowers are great as our bees are used to those flowers and generally they grow well in the UK. Some traditional plants are also wonderful for the bees. Sweet William flowers are irresistible as are jasmine blooms (hardly a native!) and English lavender. All it takes it a little thought for our furry flying friends and your garden will be rich in wildlife.

    4. A tad more

    You can, of course, go to the other extreme of doing nothing and waiting for nature to take its course and do a lot. A pond is a superb way of attracting wildlife almost overnight. Give it a week and you will see activity. There’s plenty of choice in pond liners to go for, and budget is usually the deciding factor. But a wildlife pond can be as simple as a watertight pot or barrel filled with water, a couple of miniature water lilies and a sprig or two of oxygenating plants. Birds will use it as a watering station and frogs will seek it out. Larger ponds dug into the soil will teem with wildlife. Remember to plant larger leafed plants around the margins of the pond to offer protection from predators and the sun. Hostas are handy, ligularia is impressive and if you have the room, why not go full steam ahead for a giant gunnera? It will produce leaves large enough to shelter under whilst you watch the wildlife activity in the pouring rain of a typical UK summer.

    5. Bits and pieces

    A bird table will attract wildlife within hours of installing. It makes you think that birds really did invent twitter. Only replenish food when it has all gone to avoid mouldy seed attracting mice (although they are wildlife too!) Birdbaths, regularly cleaned and topped up with fresh water are a great idea, as are any of the feeders readily available from garden retailers and online. Secure gardens keep out unwanted intruders but small holes cut into fences or wire mesh will allow the safe passage of hedgehogs. A hole the size of a football will do the trick. Without these safe tunnels and gaps, hedgehogs are often penned into an unfriendly environment. They are born to roam – so let them wander and scoff on snails as they go.

     

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  9. Looking for the perfect garden fence?

    Looking for the perfect garden fence?

    Finding the right garden fence can be a bit tricky, so we've taken a look at five of our favourites to help make your decision a bit easier. All of these products are made of the best quality wood and treated to allow for maximum durability.

    6'x6' Fence-Plus Chestnut Brown Featheredge Panel

    Pressure treated featheredge contractor fence panel chestnut brown

    This is a new addition to our fencing range and it has proved to be one of our most popular! We’re putting this down to the unique dark chestnut brown treatment which has been applied to the wood which saves you a job as well as being a really stunning tone and colour backdrop for your garden.

    The heavy duty timber is secured to three 18x100mm frame boards and a panel cap ensuring it can withstand all weather conditions. The timber is pressure treated and comes with a 15-year guarantee against rot and decay. The wide overlapping featheredge boards ensure a strong and stable fence panel.

    We also offer this fencing in 3 other sizes – 6x3, 6x4 and 6x5 so there’s something to fit each and every garden.

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    1800mm Hillhout Kingston Panel

    1800 x 1800 hillhout kingston fence panel

    If you’re looking for the highest quality, sturdiest built fencing then look no further, the gorgeous Kingston fence panel from Hillhout is the best of the best.

    These fence panels are manufactured from thick, 15mm x 140mm smooth planed pressure treated boards. They are thick and sturdy and really are the strongest panels we offer. They have a 15-year warranty against rot and fungal decay and have a modern and striking ‘hit and miss’ construction style. We even have the matching Kingston gate available… You could become the envy of your neighbours with the best fencing on the street with the strong and stunning Kingston fencing!

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    0.9m High Heavy Duty Pressure Treated Pale Panel

    90cm high heavy duty pressure treated pale fence panel

    The heavy duty pale panel creates a stunning low lying fence which is ideal for sectioning off parts of your garden.

    Constructed using premium quality softwood timber which has been slow grown for increased durability and pressure treated which creates a strong resistance to rot and carries a 15 year guarantee, meaning it will be in your garden for many years to come.

    Assembly is simple as the fencing is delivered pre-assembled and simply needs to be attached to the fence posts, taking a matter of seconds. Perfect for keeping pets safe in the garden or separating garden borders, the heavy duty pale panel is durable and boasts a beautiful classic country style design.

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    High Level Willow Hurdle 1.8m High

    high level willow hurdle fence panel 6ft high

    Here we have the high level willow hurdle which is a different fencing option – built using tightly interwoven willow, this fence not only looks fantastic but it is built to last.

    This high level hurdle provides plenty of security and privacy in your garden. It is a low-maintenance fencing option as you won’t need to retreat or paint and is a more attractive fencing option compared to traditional fence panels.

    Dark and rustic in design, this fencing will look great alongside your plant life for many years to come.

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    180 x 30cm Henley Lattice

    1ft trellis panel henley lattice 180 x 30cm

    Ideal for encouraging climbing plants and providing them with a large space to provide grow and look gorgeous! Alternatively, trellis can be used to divide garden borders or adding a little extra height to smaller fence panels.

    Whatever you chose to use these trellis panels for, rest assured that these are our best-selling trellis panels and are built to last- produced from a sturdy timber which has been pressure treated ensuring a lifetime of at least 15 years which also means that no re-treatment /maintenance is required – saving you time and money!

    The Henley lattice are a stunning diamond style design that will brighten up any garden!

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  10. Taking care of your garden over winter

    Taking care of your garden over winter

    Featured image credit: Amanda Sundin

    Winter garden maintenance

    Many gardeners 'shut up shop' for winter, but by doing a few key jobs, you can prevent weather damage and keep your plot looking smart throughout the colder months.

    Fences and sheds

    Check that structures are sound and replace loose or rotten wood. Make sure fence posts are securely concreted in and panels are well attached. Stain or use wood preservative during spells of dry, settled weather, so it can dry properly.

    Paths and decking

    Treat with proprietary cleaner to remove lichen and rotting foliage – a major slip hazard.

    Lights

    Ensure security lights are clean, working and properly adjusted – there's nothing worse than a too-sensitive beam constantly switching on and off.

    Trellis, arches, and obelisks

    Secure garden structures before high winds hit. Cut back dead foliage and treat with a suitable preservative.

    Garden furniture

    Bring inside moveable objects. If your patio furniture and barbeque are too large/heavy, secure them and use appropriate covers to protect them from rain/frost damage. Remove hammocks from frames - they catch the wind like a sail and can cause major damage.

    Fallen leaves

    Remove promptly from ponds, as toxins can build up in the water. Use a wide rake or blower to collect debris from lawns and paths, then bag them up, put them in a corner for a year to create soil-enhancing leaf mould.

    Pots

    Keep colour and interest near main paths and entrances. In containers, plant tulips and bedding such as pansies, violas, Bellis (daisy), wallflowers and Primula – these will flower throughout winter, followed by tulips in spring. If you want a low maintenance, contemporary solution, use box (Buxus) clipped balls or pyramids.

    If you have large potted plants and gales are expected, lay them on their sides with their tops pointing away from the expected direction of the strongest winds. Protect fragile containers in bubble wrap.

    Hardy plants

    Don't cut back herbaceous perennials, leave the dead stems standing – it provides a habitat for overwintering insects, provides structure and protects the plants' crowns.

    Tender plants: geraniums (Pelargoniums), Dahlia and Gladioli are not frost hardy, so need to be overwintered under glass. Take geraniums in before frost hits; Dahlia and Gladioli can be dug up, cleaned off and kept in just-moist compost in trays once the foliage has blackened/died down.

    Trees

    Hire a tree surgeon to remove dead wood. A specimen with structural weaknesses can break apart or uproot in gales. Winter is a good time to prune over-large trees, or apples and pears to improve fruit production. Don't cut back any of the Prunus family (flowering cherries and plums), as they can get silver leaf disease – wait until summer.

    Mulch

    Home-made compost or spent grow bag material spruces up borders – cover bare soil with 2-3 inches worth. It will show off evergreens, protect against frosts and suppress weeds.

    Snow

    It forms an insulating blanket, so don't disturb it. However, do gently knock off heavy snowfall weighing down conifer branches, as they can snap. Walking on a frosty lawn will damage the grass.

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