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How to Use Railway Sleepers in Your Garden

From borders to paths, get design ideas for using sleepers in your outdoor space

Houzz UK and Ireland Editor.

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This popular garden material can be used in a multitude of ways, from edging a vegetable patch to creating a rustic bench. See how these homeowners have incorporated railway sleepers into their gardens and borrow an idea or two for your own space.

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Mark out a path
Thin slivers of railway sleepers set into crunchy gravel provide a practical and charming walkway in this country-style garden. They’re a nice angular alternative to traditional round stepping stones.

Ask a pro to help install a path like this if you’re not a confident DIY-er, as the sleepers will need to be firmly set into the ground to ensure they don’t shift when walked on.

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Create a smart city garden
Sleepers are often used to conjure up a rustic feel in a garden, but they can also be employed to create a sleek look, as this courtyard garden proves.

Neat rows of sleepers sanded smooth and stained create raised beds around the perimeter of this paved yard. Symmetry and simplicity are key to this look, and once installed the raised height of the borders will ensure they are relatively easy to maintain.

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Build a bench
One for the keen DIY-ers out there, a sleeper bench can make a great rustic addition to a garden. The designer of this garden space has used very chunky sleepers with a weathered finish, which adds an interesting shot of texture to this small, but colourful garden.

There are plenty of online tutorials about building a bench from sleepers if you need guidance.

How to design the cosiest outdoor space

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Step to it
Weathered sleepers have been used to create wide steps in this back garden, bridging two distinct levels. Chunky wooden steps like these will age gracefully over time and are perfect for an informal cottage-garden style when teamed with loosely-planted borders that are allowed to spill out gently onto the path.

Wooden steps can become slippery in wet weather, so ask your garden designer to add extra grip to the surface if you are concerned about the slip risk. With all projects, if your sleepers are untreated it’s wise to get advice from your local timber merchant about which wood preserver you should use. The one you need will depend on if your sleepers are made from hardwood or softwood.

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Stake out a veg patch
Railway sleepers set directly into the ground are a classic boundary material for a vegetable plot, and are a quick and effective way to keep plants neatly contained.

To create a similar look, mark out individual beds and measure carefully to ensure you can comfortably access the centre of the bed from each side as well as leaving enough space to walk between them.

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Add a neat lawn border
Single sleepers set low into the ground act as a clear and formal border between the lawn and the gravel path in this traditional garden. Demonstrating how sleepers can be used in a formal setting, the key to recreating this look is to choose a wood that tones in with the overall colour scheme of the garden. Here, the pale-coloured sleepers blend in harmoniously with the sandy-coloured gravel.

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Zone your space
The owners of this garden have employed sleepers all the way around the edges of the lawned parts of their outdoor space, as well as using them to neatly zone different areas by cutting into the length of the garden.

By breaking up the long, narrow space into three clear areas they have marked out a dining space, a lawn and a children’s play area at the very end, creating a series of ‘rooms’.

View more photos of this garden project

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Make a two-level planter
The designers of this wide, sloping garden also employed sleepers to break up the space. They used the sleepers not only to create several raised beds, but also steps. Here, they have cleverly carved out space for a second, lower-level raised bed. This lower bed could also have been turned into a bench, rather than an extra planting area, if more seating was required.

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Use as a filler
Sleepers are also handy for filling in an awkward-shaped corner of a garden, as shown here, by creating a bespoke raised bed.

To create something similar, make use of an existing wall for the back wall and build your bed up to a height that’s comfortable for gardening. Then you just need to fill it with good-quality compost and get gardening. Walls this high can also be used as a handy seating perch if the top sleeper is wide enough. It might be worth factoring this in at design stage if extra seating is a requirement of the space.

Which of these designs do you like the best? Share your thoughts with us in the Comments section.
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