8 Creative Uses for Railway Sleepers in Your Garden
Whether they’re used to create rustic looking paths and dividers, build a raised bed, or make up part of a compost heap, the versatility of railway sleepers makes them an excellent addition to any garden.
Not only do they look fantastic, but they’re incredibly versatile too - there are around 1,000 horticultural uses for them alone!
M B Wilkes are the South’s go-to suppliers of high-quality pine and oak sleepers. Read on to find out what sleepers are, how to keep them in good shape, and the 5 best ways to use them in your next garden design project!
What are railway sleepers?
Railway sleepers are used to hold railway tracks in place, which is why they’re known as the ‘backbone of railway travel’. Millions are laid each year, both in the build of new lines and when replacing existing sleepers.
Although they’re a common garden feature, they’re not just limited to the outside - ever considered using a railway sleeper as a table, a storage box, or even as a funky mantelpiece?
What can railway sleepers be used for?
A gardener’s best friend, railway sleepers can be used in a multitude of ways. Here are some of our favourites:
1. Raised beds
Railway sleepers are an ideal alternative to bricks and stone when showcasing flowers, vegetables, and plants. Since flowers can be grown in blocks, sleepers encourage them to grow more uniformly as the competition between them is minimal. They also prevent pathway weeds and act as a barrier to garden pests.
Raised flower beds can be more easily covered than in the ground, meaning you can protect them better during bad weather or cold spells.
Building raised beds using railway sleepers is easy: simply choose where you want the raised bed to be, lay the sleepers on the ground, and fasten them together. Don’t forget to line the bed walls with polythene and use a permeable membrane between the bed and the railway sleeper.
2. Lawn edging
When you’ve spent time and effort curating the perfect lawn, the last thing you want is for someone to run all over it! Prevent unruly feet from trampling your meticulously maintained grass by defining clear pathways with garden sleepers. Not only will the raised sides provide a natural barrier between the path and the lawn, but they’ll look beautiful too. You can either lay them flat or on their edge for an even more raised look.
3. Raised pond
Building a raised pond out of railway sleepers is really straightforward. Choose a level space to put the raised pond and lay the railway sleepers on top in a square or rectangular shape. You could also combine sleepers with decorative stones to create cool water features!
Railway sleepers are a superb choice if you’re looking to divide your garden into different sections. Like with raised beds, you should place a permeable membrane between the soil and the railway sleeper to avoid rotting or insect damage.
5. Composting bin
With strategically placed sleepers, you can create a subtle composite bin that blends in nicely with the rest of your garden’s design.
For charming, rustic steps that are quick and easy to install, garden sleepers are a great alternative to concrete or paving. Use the sleepers to edge the step and fill it in with attractive gravel or decorative stones. Steps in your garden, either from decking or on a slope, not only help you navigate around safely but also help define the different areas of your garden.
7. Garden furniture
If you’re a dab hand at DIY, why not use garden sleepers to create sturdy and rustic garden furniture? From a simple bench to a full alfresco dining set, the possibilities end only with your imagination. As a natural material, your gorgeous bespoke furniture will blend in seamlessly with your garden and provide a fantastic talking point at your next BBQ. If you’re feeling really adventurous, you could even try building a garden swing!
8. Children’s sandpit
Let your little ones play in nature with a sandpit made from railway sleepers! All you need to do is attach the sleepers together using screws and insert a membrane for drainage. You can then fill the membrane with sand and paint the outside whatever colour you see fit (or whatever colour your children insist on)!
How do you maintain railway sleepers?
Like any wood-based product, railway sleepers are susceptible to rotting and fading from the weather, so it’s important to use an effective wood preserver.
You’ll need to identify what type of wood your railway sleepers are made of: this will usually be either hard or soft wood. Most hardwoods are a golden-brown or red-brown colour, whereas untreated softwood tends to be a pale greeny brown (turning a more honey brown after outdoor exposure).
Make sure the preservative you choose is right for your specific wood type, and that it offers full protection against wood rot, fungi, and mould.
Should I choose railway sleepers that are old or new?
Both new and reclaimed sleepers have their own advantages. Used railway sleepers have a unique charm and integrate seamlessly into any garden environment, while new railway sleepers tend to be in better condition and typically come untreated. Newer railway sleepers also come in a larger range of sizes, providing more flexibility than used railway sleepers.
M B Wilkes are leading suppliers of both new and reclaimed railway sleepers in Poole, Bournemouth, Ringwood, Christchurch, and the surrounding areas.
We stock both oak and pine sleepers, so there’s sure to be one to suit your latest DIY project. Why not browse our full range to see their quality for yourself?