My clients on our first consultation are often apologetic about any gradients in their gardens. But I am delighted as I really enjoy designing steps. Well designed steps will define a connection between spaces but also emphasise the transition from one place to another. Flights of steps can be wide, grand and gracious or winding, quirky and intriguing. The style of the steps can be formal or informal and can also affect the way you move along them.
If they are steep and narrow you’ll probably run up them purposefully. If wide with low risers and deep treads you are likely to meander slowly up them, admiring the plants on either side and slowed by the horizontal lines of the risers.
The ratio between the riser and the tread is crucial to the comfort or otherwise as one climbs or descends the flight. You will hardly notice well designed steps but if they are ill proportioned you will find them far more strenuous. Garden steps should never be as steep as those indoors.
A long flight of steps must included landings to allow you a breather or at least a psychological sense of rest. From here you can lean on a handrail and enjoy the newly opened vista. The steps may lead away from the house where there are usually hard materials, such as brick or sawn stone, and formal planting relating to the house and into wilder areas of the garden where timber and gravel steps will complement the setting.
So don’t be dismayed if your garden is steep – for a designer that’s a great opportunity.
Written by Catherine Thomas
Landscape & Garden Design