Garden Stepping Stones
Garden Stepping Stones
The provision of garden stepping stones in a water feature is an invitation to enjoy it from a totally different angle: from the water. They are also a useful alternative to a bridge, which may be overbearing and intrusive. In addition, stepping stones can be used as a decorative feature and a means of altering the flow of .
For safety reasons, it is unwise to install stepping stones in pools or streams that are more than 30cm (12in) deep. Moreover, they should protrude at least 5cm (2in) above the maximum water level to ensure that their top surfaces remain dry. Obviously, it would be unwise to consider stepping stones for prefabricated streams or, as their weight combined with that of a person using them is likely to cause fracturing.
If stepping stones are to be used in a lined water feature, it is essential to plan ahead and create concrete pads in the excavation before the liner is installed. The positions of these need to be marked out accurately from a fixed point so that when the stepping stones are placed in position, they will rest exactly on top of the concrete pads. Each concrete pad need only be 10cm (4in) deep, the surface being flush with the floor of the pool or stream bed. Before pulling the liner over the concrete, place a piece of fleece or geo-textile material on each pad to cushion the liner.
Natural stones are the best choice for stepping stones, but it may be difficult to find enough of suitable shape and quality. Ideally, each should be of much the same depth with flat, roughly parallel top and bottom faces so that they sit safely in the water. They should also be of sufficient size to take a large foot comfortably.
The type of stone that is used is very important. Limestone and sandstone are unsatisfactory, as they either shale or disintegrate during very frosty winters. Granite and millstone grit are among the toughest and best stones. The latter, in particular, is both very practical and attractive. Westmorland slate is very resilient, too, but it can become quite slippery and dangerous during wet weather.
Garden centres often sell artificial stepping stones, which are made either from concrete or reconstituted stone. They are frequently used in wide borders, rather than water, to provide easy access to plants and shrubs. Most are perfectly suitable for water features, but it would be wise to check with the vendor that they will survive the winter when partially, but permanently, immersed in water. Although most look manmade, they will mellow after a couple of years and begin to look quite natural. Almost invariably, they have non-slip surfaces, which is a positive advantage.
The do-it-yourself enthusiast can make stepping stones quite easily, using a technique that often produces better end results than those manufactured en masse. To begin with, it is not essential for them all to be of the same shape or size. In fact, a variety of shapes will look more natural, although from a practical point of view, they should all be of the same depth and have flat top and bottom faces.
The best stones are made by pouring concrete into holes dug in the ground, in a spare part of. Make sure that the holes are of the same depth, but different shapes and sizes to match the requirements of your water garden scheme. If you want to produce several stones of the same size and shape, perhaps for a very formal setting, use the same hole as a mould for all of them, but set narrow wooden battens around the edge to act as shuttering and ensure a consistently neat edge. Allow the concrete to harden for about a week, sprinkling it with water from a watering can fitted with a fine rose. This will prevent it from drying out too quickly in the early stages, which can lead to hairline cracks in the surface and flaking. Then dig up the stones and brush off all the soil. It is amazing how good they will look. Use a concrete sealant to prevent the escape of free-lime, mixing it with water and painting it over the entire surface of each stone.
Lining the excavations with polythene, before pouring the concrete, has the merit of preventing rapid drying out if the soil is very dry. However, the polythene will often stick to the concrete, and so it is particularly important to ensure that there are no creases in it, which could become trapped in the concrete or create unsightly marks in the moulded stones. Provided that you are careful, however, polythene can be used with little disadvantage for very formal stones.
Use a concrete mix comprising 1 part cement, 1-½ parts sand and 2-½ parts aggregate. Pour it into each hole, taking great care to smooth off the surface. This will actually become the base when the stone is lifted from the ground and set on the bottom of the pool.
POSITIONING THE STONES
The exact positions of the stones should be decided very early during the construction, especially if concrete pads have to be made before the water feature is lined. The spacing between the stones must not only produce an aesthetically pleasing effect, but also be such that people can use them without any risk. It is worth measuring the stride of the shortest person who is likely to use the stones regularly and place the stones accordingly.
Wherever possible, the stepping stones should be bedded in concrete, but if this is impossible (as with a lined water feature), you must take steps to ensure their stability. If there is any doubt about this, set each stone on a larger piece of paving slab, bedding it in mortar. The result will be an extremely stable construction.