Elevate Your Plot: Design Garden Steps that Enhance Beauty and Accessibility

 In Garden Design, Landscaping

How I design garden steps.

Living as I do in Somerset’s undulating landscape, it’s inevitable that many of the gardens I’m asked to transform have some kind of slope. That may be a small difference in the levels at the top and bottom of the garden, or it may be a full-on steep hillside where you could happily enjoy sledging in the winter. Either way, garden steps are usually a must.

To fully enjoy their gardens, most of my clients need at least one area for seating, dining or entertaining. Ninety percent of the time, that will be a patio. The rest of the garden however, needs to be reasonably accessible. When the plot is on an angle, it’s up to me, as a garden designer, to tame that slope.

Garden Steps, An Age Old Feature To Enhance The Garden Experience

Garden steps are the obvious solution to navigating a sloping garden. And they’ve been used for hundreds of years. Take Hestercombe Gardens in Somerset as an example. Created in the 1750’s by  Coplestone Warre Bampfylde and improved in 1904 by Edwin Lutyens and Gertrude Jekyll, these gardens feature a magnificent set of steps known as the Daisy Steps. So named because a rich colony of Erigeron daisies have established themselves between the treads and the risers.

The daisy steps enable visitors to climb a steep mound in any type of weather and enjoy the view from the top. Without them, the garden experience would be very different indeed.

The daisy steps in Hestercombe Gardens, Somerset

None of the gardens I’ve designed so far have been as extensive as the 50 acre Hestercombe gardens. But I like to think that I design garden steps that are just as impactful as the Daisy Steps.

The Basic Rules To Design Garden Steps

  • Changing the levels in a garden by 300mm or more requires planning permission 
  • Safety first! Steps must be sturdy, evenly spaced and carefully sized
  • Materials need to be durable and in keeping with the style of the garden and property
  • Drainage needs to be carefully considered
  • Create resting places in long flights of steps
  • Think whether hand rails or balustrades will be needed
  • Lighting is always a useful addition to a flight of  garden steps
  • Don’t just plonk steps in the middle of a garden, think about their position and how they can lead to a journey around the space.

Getting The Dimensions Right

The human body has a wonderful skill known as proprioception. Otherwise known as kinesthesia,  Proprioception is your body’s ability to sense movement, action, and location. It’s present in every muscle movement you have. Without proprioception, you wouldn’t be able to move without thinking about your next step, or accurately manouvre food into your mouth.

When you design garden steps, it’s important to consider how proprioception works by pattern recognition. When each step in a flight is exactly the same height and width, most people will be able to negotiate them without even thinking about it. 

The recommended size for a stair tread (the part you put your foot on) is 280mm from front to back. The height of the riser should be between 150mm and 170mm. That’s what our bodies are used to.

When it comes to designing a garden with steps, I need to keep those measurements in mind and somehow make them fit into the plot I’m working with.

idea for small front gardens without grass suing paving and aggregates

Sturdy garden steps in natural stone 

Design Garden Steps To Suit The Property

There are many many choices of landscaping materials to build garden steps with. All have their merits and all require different installation techniques. Now this fact can impact upon the overall build costs for a garden, which gives me plenty to think about when I’m designing.

As a designer, the aesthetic is important. So I do my utmost to source materials that work beautifully with the age and style of the property. Locally sourced natural stone is my favourite material to work with, but sometimes timber just fits better in the design.

Drainage For Garden Steps

Good drainage is essential when building garden steps. Standing water is a slip hazard, particularly if it freezes over and since our bodies are already slightly off balance whilst using steps, a slippery surface is an accident waiting to happen. Just as every patio or path I build has a slight slope to it, so do garden steps.  

curved steps with rendered wall and limestone treads


Outdoor lighting is a no-brainer when you have steps in your garden. You may choose subtle eyelid lights that illuminate the treads but don’t impact on dark skies. Or you could go for full lighting with a movement sensor so that the lights are only switched on when the steps are in use.

For visually impaired garden visitors, a contrasting coloured strip at the edge of each tread can help navigate the steps with greater confidence.


But enough talk from me. You want to know how to design garden steps that enhance beauty and accessibility. So here are some pictures to inspire you.

As always, if you need help with a garden design project, please don’t hesitate to get in touch. For design and build projects I mainly focus on the areas in and around Bridgwater, but I’m very happy to travel further for design only commissions.

when building retaining walls be sure to use the right landscaper to avoid disaster

Timber-faced garden steps with gravel treads.  These steps are not only practical, they bring together different elements of the garden design by mirroring the materials used in the retaining wall and the path.

A neat doorstep allowing easy access to and from the garden room

neat wooden steps leading from a paved patio to a raised deck

Garden steps leading from a sunken garden to a generously sized decking area. Read more about this garden in our case study.

stone steps leading to a decking area at head height - a great landscaping idea for a small garden which employs the art of hide and reveal

A combination of materials. Stone steps to match the lower terrace, timber steps to compliment the timber decking.

series of steps with timber risers and aggregate surface

Make steps big and bold so that they can double up as resting places. Hand rails offer greater safety and security


garden steps with shallow risers and deep treads framed by exotic planting

Hugging stone steps with lush planting makes them feel more inviting.


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tropical looking castor oil plant with water droplets on palmate leaveslittle girl under an umbrella in a summer garden