Composite decking should be considered as a material choice in its own right, not a wood substitute. I review one of the more sustainable options out there.
When I received a sample pack with a new range of composite decking material, I must admit I was pleasantly surprised. Being a purist when it comes to materials, I would have always recommended wood over wood alternatives. With the composite decking in hand, I have to admit. It is not the same as wood. And that is exactly why I am warming to it. If you ask me, it should be classified as a material in its own right, not a wood substitute. If you stop comparing it to wood, the product is great. Warm to the touch, soft and a beautiful finish.
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Wood is a beautiful material and when sourced from a local and sustainable source, it is a great option for seating and living areas in your garden. As with every material, there are some downsides.
If you want a non-slip surface, you need anti-slip material on the surface of the wood which can compromise the look of your design, especially if you are going for a sleek elegant effect. Slipping is especially a problem in wet conditions, and let’s face it. It is always wet in Scotland. Another thing to consider with wood, and even more so when situated in a shady area, is moss growth. This can make things really slippery and dangerous. So often you see chicken wire covering the beautiful wooden deck. According to manufacturers, although moss growth is unavoidable over time, it will be significantly less and slower on composite decking.
Warping of wood gives it its uniqueness and character when installed. It does bring its challenges when installing though and I would always recommend to have this done by a seasoned professional to avoid costly mistakes. Composite decking is, when done according to instructions and by someone with basic DIY skills, something that can be managed.
Over time rotting can also be a problem with wood, and depends on the type of wood and its treatment. To avoid rapid deterioration, maintenance is crucial. To keep most wooden decks look good you need to clean it, treat it, paint it and frequently replace screws and nails over time. This is not the case with a good composite decking material.
There are various composite decking materials available. Some are made with high density polyethylene (HDPE), low density polyethylene (LDPE) or with polyvinyl chloride (PVC). My online research suggests that HDPE retains nails and screws better (up to 30%) while it is softer and more flexible than PVC. It is less resistant to fading in sunlight though. HDPE also has a more grainy texture giving the garden a more structural look than a smoothed surfaced plastic such as PVC.
Durability used to be an issue for composite decking materials. Luckily new production methods have improved this substantially. Key appears to be the heating of the mixture before the boards are formed, as well as the right mixture of wood and plastic. These new products come with substantial guarantees, reflecting the producers trust in their product.
Not any less important is sustainability. With composite decking, materials can be almost 100% recycled. This means actively reducing landfill by re-using plastic. Great! Combined with less need for treatment this is a big plus. It does however mean variability in one of the key ingredients – plastic - which is only overcome by fine tuning the production method and ingredient mixture according to current conditions. Think of it as baking a cake, sometimes a different brand of flour means it absorbs moisture better and you need to add a little bit more milk to the mixture to not end up with a dry cake. The chef, or with composite decking the appropriate manager, has to have experience and a keen eye to get it right.
Last but not least are the costs. In comparison, composite decking is more expensive than most wood decking per square meter. When you factor in the materials required for regular treatment, the durability and the costs for having someone install the wood decking for you, this investment will very likely pay off in the long run. There is quite a range in the price of composite decking itself. But so is in its quality, feel and look. Seeing a sample therefore is vital before making your choice. Which brings me back to the sample pack that I received.
DURATRAC Decking from EnviroBuild
EnviroBuild has a new range of their DURATRAC Decking, called frontier. They use recycled wood and high density recycled polyethylene (HDRPE). It is higher in price than their existing collection, the pioneer range. While they promise the same anti slip, warp, splinter and rot properties of their materials, the look and feel is very different. An improved technology promises better protection against staining and fading in the new range. The colour itself range is more limited however. All three colours are relatively dark.
Of course it is a very personal choice what look you prefer. A quick survey among my family eloquently proved that point, with a 50:50 results of which range they preferred. The general response was that “you’d have to look twice to realise it is not wood” and that it is “surprisingly beautiful and nice to the touch”. Me, I like the finish of the new frontier range. It is much less an imitation of wood and has a more solid feel to it. And I can imagine that when used in a well designed garden, that it will complement natural materials and soft landscaping very well, providing a calm background rather than an eye catching feature.
Now let’s talk price. The new range is a lot more expensive at £58.15 + VAT per square meter, compared to the £37.75 + VAT per square meter of the pioneer range. Apparently they do have longer life expectancy however, including a 25 year residential warranty instead of 15 years which is the case for the pioneer range.
Having a closer look at sustainability, I love that 10% of their profits go to sustainable initiatives. Using reclaimed sawdust as well as reclaimed plastic is a must when you choose composite decking. It would be even better if these materials would be sourced in the UK. In this case, as I image is the same of most other producers, the raw materials are sourced in Asia. Off-cuts are re-used in their production system, which means no waste during the production. So overall, the thumbs up for this one.
The 14th of June - what a windy day to visit Helen's wildlife garden, which is tucked in the hills away North-West of Rothienorman. She is busy preparing for heropen days at her garden the 24th - 29th of June. Whilst the final weeding is in progress to make things look good, the wind does quite the opposite. Her sliver Silver Thistle has snapped its top and some of the perennials have bent down under the battering wind. In this informal garden this does not matter too much. The style is so unpretentious and natural that it simply reflects the Scottish weather and such imperfections almost adds to its appeal n my view.
I have visited this garden a few times before, and every time it seems to get better. This time however I have come to write an article for Knock News about her garden and her experience opening her garden for the Scotland’s Gardens scheme. My very first time of doing this, so naturally I am slightly unsure about procedure. Did I cover enough for a full article? Should I have been asking more follow up questions? Did I give her enough time to answer. Luckily Helen is one of these people that just puts you at ease and makes you feel welcome. Even if you come with a grumpy toddler and a shy one year old. And as soon as I start to walk through the garden, the swaying flowerheads in the wildflower meadow have such a calming effect that my self doubt fades away.
Let's be honest here. I am biased in promoting her garden open days end of this month. I am committed to get more people gardening. Helen's unpretentious garden gives plenty of simple, achievable examples for people to take home and use in their own garden. You don’t need to be as immaculate as Helen, and not all of us will be such passionate and meticulous plant collectors as her. But we can learn from her to make our garden an organically evolving space, allowing plants and wildlife to flourish. As you can see from her garden, the results can be a garden with a laid back, natural feel that features lots of little surprises and hidden gems. Making it the perfect space for the younger explorers among us.
Gardens opened by the scheme are usually visited by older people, but this year Scotland’s Gardens are trying to attract children and young adults. Helen's garden will feature a treasure trail. After completion children will get to take a plant home. There will also be seed-sowing, pot decorating, quizzes and colouring in. Oh and did I mention Helen will homebake lots of delicious cake?
I will write more about the garden for the upcoming issue of the Knock News magazine. But for now, schedule in a visit!
Recently I have been asked frequently how to decide what plants to go for. Whether to grow vegetables or ornamentals. Believe it or not but this is not a straightforward thing to give a simple answer to. So here a little insight in the best steps to take when planning your own garden.
So the very first thing to do, is to have a look at the site you want to plant things. Consider soil type, drainage, quality of soil, existing plants and weeds, sunlight, exposure (wind, traffic, children...), You can note these down, or make a little sketch with all these details, it has to work for you. This first step is essential as these will be your selection criteria when choosing plants.
WANTS AND NEEDS Then you need to sit down, and maybe have a chat with people you share your garden with, and decide what you want from your planting. Do you want to grow traditional vegetables, cutflowers, attract insects, make the garden more pretty. Decide in what the priority is for you. It is only natural to want everything from a garden, but it makes plant selection virtually impossible.
How much time will you have to spend? Might it be better to plant plants that can be left to their own devices? Or do you love gardening and digging out dahlias and cannas every year to keep them going overwinter? It is better to do little at first, and then as you get into things add to it or be more adventurous.
So now that you have a better ideas of the selection criteria, there are several ways to start seeing which plants suit these. A good resource is the rhs plant finder. For Scotland particularly the books by Cox on both ornamentalsand ediblesare a great starting point. And once you have made a list of possible plants, make sure to edit! Be ruthless and only go for the plants that fulfill all criteria and suit your style.
I hope this helps. If you are still feeling overwhelmed by the process, a planting plan might be the way forward. I go through all these steps with you and then design a planting plan for your garden. An affordable way to grow beautiful borders, edibles, wildlife havens and more.
Four years ago it was the day I said yes to my lovely husband. What an amazing memory. And what is also lovely is that even tough they are late this year - I moved a lot of the actual flowers that were in my bouquet to our new garden in Aberdeenshire. And they are almost flowering again now.
When they will be, they will bring me right back to the day before, where we picked and aranged the flowers. To the morning preperations, intimate moments with my family, the church and the beach where we got engaged and had our photoshoot. Growing your own wedding flowers can be easy, especially if you have a bespoke border designed just for your big day, together with care instructions that are tailored to the Scottish climate.
It does come with a certain flexibility. What you can actually cut from the border when the time comes depends on the weather that year. Therefore there needs to be a succession of flowering plants in there that ensure there will be plenty for you to pick from.
Designing such a border is based on a few key principles. Just as foliage will be the backbone of your bouquet, it has to be the foundation of your border as well. Shrubs with appropriate colours and textures as well as tall herbaceous perennials with lots of green are essential. Then you can think about what flowers you like. To make most from the space you have, a mix of bulbs and herbaceous perennials with enough stem length should be selected. To ensure that these are good for arranging later on, special care instructions will be included in the package when you order a planting plan with me.
If you are planning your big day and would like the idea of growing your own but you are not sure if you still have time, have the space or the experience, just get in touch for more info and ideas. You will be amazed how much you can actually do!