Monday, September 24, 2012

Hard Decisions

Balau (Shorea spp.), Ipe (Tabebuia spp.), Cumaru (Dipteryx odorata), Iroko (Milicia excelsa or M. regia), Teak (Tectona grandis), Red Cedar (Thuja plicata), Angelim (Hymenolobium spp.), Composite....

Okay, maybe not Composite, that was the spanner in the works.

But the rest are different types of hardwood commonly used in decking. It's a different kind of botanical pre-occupation for me at the moment as I go through and choose among these fine selection of plants. Definitely out of the ordinary, usually I choose plants that are alive. Now I'm choosing a plant that is dead, and processed, to be used in the garden for hard landscaping.

The elegant beauty of hardwood decking. (Flemings Show Garden at RHS Chelsea 2012)

So which should we go for? Decisions, decisions. The biggest deciding factor will be the likely end colour once it has been lightly stained and varnished.

Ideally the wood must pick up the colour of the reclaimed roof tiles of the filtration house. If we used slate tiles we probably would have opted for composite decking instead, as it came in shades complemental to slate roofing.
Samples, we need samples. And we've been looking around too (sadly no camera in tow whilst doing so).

When we started the project we had our minds pretty set on using chunky pine scaffold boards, either reclaimed or new as we liked its chunky and robust appearance. Not to mention being relatively inexpensive. But on testing some of the reclaimed ones we have already we found that it easily frayed, and gravel and other hard materials easily made an imprint on it.

Pine scaffold boards, yay or nay? Nay this time.
Not that strong then despite its chunky appearance. But those chunky scaffold boards are still pine, and pine is softwood so I wasn't that surprised. I still think it would have made a good decking material, but not for this instance anymore.

So hardwood it will be then, which is a much better alternative in the end as we do love the appearance and finish you can attain from it, not to mention its strength and long term reliability. And so much more tactile too for its not prone to fraying (small splinters stuck on your skin are never nice...).

One other thing why we considered pine scaffold boards before was an initial idea of having a decked area that was white washed, to achieve that light grey/faded white look that would tie it in with the white surroundings (a finish similar to the photo below).

Composite decking is available in different shades and finish (photo from Millboard website)
So why not do that on hardwood then? Now that did cross my mind but I knew already that that would have been a design crime. A big no-no, you do not cover the natural beauty of hardwood flooring with opaque paint or stain it in 'unnatural' colours. Definite no-no, much like painting over natural stone, you just don't do such things (of course you can do it, it's not a real crime, just frowned upon).

Which brings composite decking into the scene. It isn't natural at all, rather made with reclaimed wood fibre and polymer resins but it came in the finish we would have achieved with white washing wood. At the same time it has the strength and durability (actually much better) of hardwood. Composite decking is very hard wearing and needs very little maintenance, almost none. In fact you don't even need to oil or stain it, ever. 

But hardwood, ah hardwood, so tough yet so beautiful. How could you resist it? We certainly couldn't, too good to resist.

Beautiful, even left unvarnished or unstained.
Which also made me think now, how did I get to this point of decision anyway? By undertaking a big garden project ourselves.

By embarking on a big project ourselves we have been exposed to a lot of different landscaping materials and sources for them that are usually the domain for professional garden landscapers and designers, not for amateur gardeners like us. I didn't even know there were so many options for hardwood decking until recently, amongst other materials. But I do appreciate what I know now, a lot! There are so many options and materials out there and going through them is an eye opener to the possibilities of future creativity.  It is a learning curve and gives you a boost of confidence to look forward to what else can be done in the future. So many choices and so many better places to get them.



  1. I always look for no upkeep. :) But I understand your dilemma and you have to live with it and enjoy it. You'll come up with the right answer for you.
    Cher Sunray Gardens

  2. Phew, what a minefield, it's tricky when there's no going back. I am facing the dilemma of whether to paint a low garden wall in purple (my choice) or leave it as it is (everyone else's choice). I guess you just have to go for what you think is right, weighed up with cost etc. The more choice the harder it is I think!

  3. You are right, decisions like this are so difficult. Upkeep is an important aspect too, and my tendency especially outdoors is to minimize it. There will already be so much gardening to keep up with! On the other hand, aesthetics are important to me too. What to do? I'm glad it's not my decision. Good luck!!!!

  4. At our last house we had a large deck built. We opted for hardwood over treated pine, because we thought we would be there forever and it was worth the cost. Mmmm! We are planning to be here a long while too, but when we put in our new deck's gonna be pine! LOL.

  5. Yes, the decisions can get to be too much for one sane person to make! Love the hardwood. It just has a natural beauty to it, and I think it would look very nice in your garden. Of course, I'm not the one making the decision! Good luck!

  6. Hi Cher, no upkeep isn’t too bad an option to go for :) but hardwood isn’t that difficult to maintain, minimal upkeep which makes it more appealing.

    Martin, I do like the colour purple so in this case I am encouraging you to paint it but it’s up to you. If you think it’ll look right then go for it. Indeed, sometimes having too many options just makes deciding extra hard.

    Jeannine, indeed as there’s so much to maintain in the garden already so materials that require minimal maintenance is ideal.

    Hazel, pine is quite alright as decking. Our existing one is pine. Requires a bit more maintenance and regular staining and doesn’t last as long, although in reality it can last up to a couple of decades with care, which is more than enough on most applications.

    Holley, do love hardwood as well. There’s so much beauty inherent to it :)

  7. Just to add a few more choices have you thought about the ranges of wood flooring normally used inside. You know the sort of thing--oak/bamboo/mahogany etc etc. To that lot you can add "machined board" which is a wood laminate. Marine ply again a laminate does good decking.
    Personally I would use frosted laminated glass strip but I know you are not as weird as me.

  8. Throwing in another option. We used hardwood in our gazebo and fernhouse but oiled it rather than varnishing. You have to redo it every few years but it doesn't take long and looks great. (Makes the timber a shade or so darker though)

  9. Hi Don, thanks for the ideas, and you are correct you are weird :)

    Missy, Hadnt thought about oiling, will have to look into that, thanks :)

  10. OMG Mark, it is getting so complicated! I know it is difficult because i know things here not there. I can imagine you are studying OT on this subject, but have fun, knowledge is very inspiring! We will still be expectant of the final outcome!

  11. Oh you sound like my son who works with various hard woods every day. is favourite is Wenge which is very dark and is a member of the legume family. I think you will find there is a wide range of prices as well as some woods are more available than others.

    I also think that you shouldnt have aa different decking area as to my mind having the same material throughout would tie the whole thing together but I havent got a clue really!

  12. Hi Andrea, it's actually quite fun going through all the choices. If only Narra is allowed for export I wouldn't going for that one :)

    Interesting to hear Helen! I had to look up that wood and the grain and finish of it is lovely. Indeed, there's variation in prices and availability indeed. We only have two areas at the moment that are decked, both in pine, and this new one will be the first one to be done in hardwood. It would have been great if all areas will be done in hardwood, so we're starting to think of changing the one near our house to the same material we'll choose for the new area. Early days :)

  13. I'm sure you are getting the hang of it by now. Learning new things are very inspiring and looking forward to read about your progress soon.

  14. Thanks Autumn Belle, it does seem like we have learnt lots of new things with this project. Its been fun exploring how to do things and what materials we like to use.

  15. Cedar maybe? Termites won't like it. Hard decision. Boom boom!! :)

  16. Thanks Mrs Bok, will add that into the mix :) boom boom hehe

  17. I have a composite deck at my house and I love having it! It’s been a few years since it was installed, but it still looks
    great even with all of the low maintenance that it’s had to have.


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