Ten Ways to Use Wooden Sleepers in Your Garden

Wooden sleepers are not only perfect for building rustic, raised flower beds, but they have a multitude of other uses too. These versatile accessories make a fantastic feature in garden design, from making pathways to retaining walls, planters and wooden decking. More creative types in Suffolk and Essex have even been known to build bridges over streams and make wooden garden furniture and planters from railway sleepers.

Nelson Potter is a long established family-run timber merchants based near Ipswich and Woodbridge. We supply high quality timber garden products including wooden sleepers, log cabins, garden furniture, wooden sheds, decking, fencing, gates, and trellising. Meanwhile, here’s ten different ways you can use railway sleepers outdoors.

Wooden Sleepers –  Click here to see our full range of softwood, oak wood sleepers and gravel boards.

Raised Beds

One of the most popular uses of sleepers is to make raised flower beds, herb or vegetable patches. It’s simple to do. You just place them on a level surface in either a square, rectangular or even triangular shape, whereever they are needed and screw them together at the corners with two screws on each corner. If you are making two or three layers, attach the second layer to the first layer and so on, so they interlock.

Wooden Steps

For hilly or sloping gardens sleepers make an attractive alternative to brick or concrete steps; new sleepers have even been used to make wooden staircases indoors too. For outdoor steps, cut the sleepers to the right length using a chainsaw or handsaw and use a wood preserver on the ends of the timber. Dig out the step shapes, making sure the soil is fully compacted in. If the ground is soft, then concrete the sleepers in, or if the soil is sturdy enough, you can fix the sleepers to wooden stakes in the ground.

Pathway Borders

Sleepers make fantastic pathway borders and you can be as creative as you like. You might want to use rustic, rounded edge sleepers or to saw your sleepers upright in different lengths for a decorative effect. Again, your imagination is the limit. An attractive way to fill in pathways is by using either decorative stones, slate or pathway mulch, which will add different textures to your Suffolk or Essex garden.

Timber Pathways

There are a host of different pathway designs you can make with wooden sleepers, from straight to winding pathways and striped pathways, made up of a combination of timber sleepers and decorative stones or bark. Pressure treated wooden sleepers are a cheap way of laying a pathway and they cost less than brick or paving slabs. You can either set them in the soil, on a sand bed, or use anchored frames to fix them in place.

Decorative Gardens

Wooden sleepers can turn a small or large garden into a neat, functional and decorative space. Use sawn ends of curved sleepers at different heights to mark out stone or mulch pathways, create shaped raised beds in the middle of the lawn, or tier your flower beds for a different effect. Sleepers add style to your garden, and the end result is your outdoor space will look as if it has been designed by landscaping professionals!

Compost Bin

Using pressure treated timber sleepers are a low cost way to make a sturdy compost bin. For a simple bin, you just need seven pieces of timber (sawn to the right length) and four timber posts. Nail the boards to the corner posts, then hammer the posts securely to the ground. One side should be shorter than the others, for easy access to the compost. Use more timber sleepers for more elaborate bins.

Wooden Sandpits

A sandpit is a young child’s delight, where they are free to unleash their creativity and make patterns, castles or towers out of sand. Building a sandpit from pressure treated sawn timber is easy to do and you can build it directly onto a patio, so you can easily keep an eye on the children. Just cut your timber sleepers to length (painting a wood preservative over the cut ends), screw them together at the ends, then place a membrane inside for drainage. Paint the outside of the sandpit any colour, fill the membrane with sand, and then finish off by stapling the membrane against the wooden sides to hold it in place.

Retaining Walls

Building a retaining wall with pressure treated sleepers is an attractive alternative to brick, stone or breeze blocks. They can be used vertically or horizontally, and positioned in a straight or curved shape to level out a slope or to terrace your garden. Mark out where your wall should go and build a trench to start with (ideally with a third of the wall under the ground). If the ground is too soft, you can use a sand, gravel or concrete base. Affix a membrane between the timber and the soil for waterproofing. Once you’ve set your sleepers in place you can secure them with metal brackets.


It is possible to make planters with wooden sleepers in a similar way to raised beds. Just saw the wood to length and treat the ends before use. Once you have fixed the membrane in place for drainage, you might want to paint the outside of the planters for individuality. If you feel this is too time consuming to do, Nelson Potter sell a range of wood planters in all shapes and sizes for gardens in Essex and Suffolk.

Decking/Patio Area

New sleepers look stunning used as patio surfaces and make a superb alternative to concrete or stone slabs. You can also use sleepers to create a raised al fresco surface, such as decking, and this will help protect the wood to ensure a longer life span.

Nelson Potter, Suffolk – Click here to see our full range of wooden garden products, timber and accessories.

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