SURFACES AND LEVELS
The areas of a country garden closest to the house are made up of differing levels (comprising paths, terraces, yards and planting) interconnected by steps and/or ramps. When seen on plan, it is the correct proportion of these level areas, linked to the house, that should make a visually satisfying collage effect of interlocking shapes.
CHANGES OF LEVEL
Steps linking changes of level should be regarded more as a feature than a necessity and, if planned generously enough, become a series of landings that encourage leisurely perambulation. The landings lend themselves to decoration with planted pots and provide viewpoints.
Ideally, changes of level, which may well include some type of retaining wall, should be constructed either in the same material, or have some affinity to the surfacing of areas which they connect. Preferably, they should have a proportional relationship as well.
THE PROPORTIONS OF STEPS
The material of which the steps are made will, to a degree dictate their proportions but, broadly speaking, step treads look well approximately 45 cm (18 ins) deep, with a riser of about 15 cm (6 ins). This allows an average pace as one goes up or down. Consider the function of riser and tread, depending on the dimensions and form of material you have chosen. Bricks on edge and stone make steps with crisp edges that will wear with time. Using some form of slab material makes it possible for the tread to overhang the risers, creating shadow and increasing sculptural form.
The form of the steps should be dictated by the garden layout. Steps designed within traditional, formal layouts tended to be centralized within the plan and comprise one grand flight. But for a more casual effect, steps may be staggered, they may turn on a landing or even have larger areas between the risers.
With the increasing use of heavy machinery to maintain the garden, steps can be a hazard to negotiate, and ramps become a necessary alternative. These are simpler, and therefore cheaper, to construct than steps, but they deserve just as much consideration as to their location and material of construction. If you plan to use a loose material, such as gravel, shingle or wood bark, the gradient of the ramp must be kept to a minimum or its surface will be washed away. A combination of shallow ramps with intermediate landings may be the solution. For heavy wear, consider using granite setts or engineering bricks set at an angle (haunched) in mortar over hardcore.