Renovating the woodland beds & Paths

Content

#1: Intro
#2: Changes to Layout
#3: Some of the Problems
#4: Remedial work
#5: Results


This article covers two important stages in the renovation of my woodland garden during 2022: (1) The renovation and replacement of the raised beds, replacing the rotted oak boards with Accoya, and (2) Lifting, relaying and extending the brick pavers to create a new layout and remove uneven areas.

Intro

My woodland garden consists of several raised beds under the shade of a spreading cherry tree, accessed by a series of brick paths. It was designed and built in 2006/7 (see photo above). The area is enclosed on one side by my woodshed (construction details here) and on the other by a boundary fence. By 2020, it was clear that the area was in need of renovation as the timber (beds, fence and shed) were deteriorating, and the paving had become uneven due to the cherry tree roots. I started with the shed and fence which I have already written articles about:

Originally, the beds with green oak planks from a local saw mill, but over time these have rotted. A further problem is that the roots of the cherry tree have gradually lifted the brick paving in several places, making the paths uneven.

The landscaping of this garden involves only timber and bricks which are laid dry as pavers on sand. There is virtually no cement, mortar or concrete used anywhere. The benefit of this “dry-lay” method of construction is that it is very easy to patch up or renovate. This is especially important in an area of landscaping under trees, where root disturbance is inevitable. The use of concrete and mortar will only hold back root growth for so long. Eventually, the roots will crack and lift paving stones. The beauty of dry-laid pavers is that they can move with root pressure and easy to lift and relay. This also made it easy to change the layout…

Changes to the Layout

BELOW: Showing changes to the woodland beds and paving along the back fence

The bed along the fence was originally designed as a single large bed following a square-zig-zag outline, which aligned with the three central rectangular beds (below left). This created three short dead-end paths which gave access to the fan-trained currents growing on the fence. However, most of the time these cul-de-sacs simply accumulated leaves and were hard to keep clean. Part of the aim in redesigning this area was to remove these leaf-traps by removing creating a wider, lower section of bed at ground level where leaves could be swept in to. To do this the end-to-end raised zig-zag bed was replaced with two raised beds separated by a low bed (below right). These lower (non-raised) beds would provide somewhere for leaves to blow or be swept to, helping to keep the paths tidier.

The new layout also provided me with a large raised bed (adjacent the yew hedge) which has given me new planting options. The photos below show the left-hand raised bed before and after construction

Some of the Problems

Below is one end of the central bed illustrating a number of the issues that needed to be remedied

  1. Raised Bricks
    These trip hazards are caused by the cherry tree roots, which, as the tree has grown over the years, have pushed up the brickwork in places
  2. Rotten Oak Boards
    The boards have reached the end of their life and need replacing
  3. Uneven paths
    The path to the right is undulating and uneven. This is partly down to them not being properly levelled originally, but also due to movement caused by the cherry tree roots. The low patches tend to puddle in the rain.
  4. Dirt in the brick joints
    Jointing sand has been washed away over the years and replaced with mud, soil and leafmold. Moss is taking root. Mainly aesthetic (I quite like the moss), but I plan to tidy it up to some extent.

The Remedial Work

1 Removing the old oak boards was quite straight forwards. I stared by digging around the inside edges, heaping soil back on the bed, aiming to prevent soil falling over the path as the planks came out. Then it was mostly a case of getting a spade under an edge and levering.

2 I used rot-proof Accoya timber for the raised beds. The original oak planks were nominally 1×6″ (25x150mm), however, I decided to use heftier Accoya – mainly for there aesthetics. The Accoya boards were nominally 1.5 x 8in (38 x 200mm) — but actually come in a few mm larger in each dimension. The boards were cut to length, then assembled in-situ, using decking screws at the corners. Small Accoya offcuts acted as packing under each corner to help level the boards.

3 As you can see in the photos above, the brick paths were pretty uneven. They had been like this since we constructed the garden in 2006, but the new beds seemed to emphasise this more. To correct the dips, I simply lifted and relaid the bricks on a deeper bed of compacted sharp sand.

4 In several places the paving had been lifted by the roots of the cherry tree. Cherries have quite shallow but far-ranging roots which easily lift these dry-laid bricks. However, it’s an easy problem to fix. I lifted the bricks to expose the offending root, then using a jigsaw cut through the ends of the root, before digging out the offending roots. Generally speaking, root pruning is no more damaging to a tree than pruning its branches. Although I had to lop off several 2-3in roots, the cherry showed no notable side-effects.

5 Where paving needed relaying I knocked up a jig to tamp down the sharp sand to a consistent level. One of the benefits of having raised beds is that the edging planks can be used as a guide for the tamper, making the job much easier. Any high points in the subsoil were scalped off with a spade (the tamping jig helps identify such lumps). Sharp sand was then placed in the trench which can then be dragged out and pummelled down, creating a firm bed across the whole length of the path. The bricks can then simply be laid in place.

6 Due to the change of layout along the back fence, there were some areas of additional paving needed. For these I created a ground-level Accoya edging strip which I pinned (screwed) to the adjacent beds, locating the edging so that it would accommodate the bricks without needing to cut them lengthways. Once in place, kiln-dried sand was brushed into the joints creating a neat finish.

5 For the remaining paths, I gave them a good sweep, then brushed more kiln-dried sand into the joints. This is another benefit of dry-laid pavers: you can spruce them up simply by brushing in more kiln dried sand at any time.

6 The beds along the back fence were reconfigured to create a new low area in the middle, with two enlarged raised beds on each side. These gave me opportunities to plant up larger arrangements than previously, while increasing the sense of space by enlarging the area of paving. I planted new cyclamen, ferns and hostas.

The results

The refurbished garden should be good for at least two decades or longer. Accoya comes with a 25 year in-ground guarantee, and 50 years above ground. In practise, it is effectively rot-proof, so should outlive me! The new layout is working well and with the renovated shed and fencing the garden is looking almost perfect. Next, I have to replace the low hand-rails as their posts are rotten. More Accoya needed, methinks!


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