Composite or Hardwood decking?


In the not too distant past, back when I first picked up a shovel and ventured into landscaping and garden design, timber decking was all the rage and we were throwing together American style decks like there was no tomorrow.  Except tomorrow it rained, and the day after, and half of the days to come after that.  We soon realised that softwood was not meant for decking in the UK, especially in the gardens of the North West of England.  After all of the scrubbing and re-staining along came composite decking.  It look a bit plastic but it meant we could still have decking but we didn't have to spend hours maintaining each year.  It didn't look perfect but it did the trick, kind of!  


Over the past few years decking has really made a comeback and whereas before my clients shuddered at the suggestion of a deck, many are now seeing the benefits of them and they’ve once again become an integral part of the contemporary landscape.  They add texture with their clean lines and bright ideas such as ground level decks they break up the paving adding shape and form.  


The question I ask my clients when they include decking in their design brief is Timber or Composite?  I still see that shudder as soon as i mention timber.  “No not softwood, hardwood” I explain, yet still I’m met with reservations.  Which should you choose, what are the benefits of each type of material and what are the drawbacks?  


Let’s start with composite decking.  Often recycled plastics and wood fibres this isn't going to rot, swell, twist and warp although the frame it’s built on may still do so.  Some are non-slip but a lot are not and equally dangerous especially in frosty or damp, shady conditions.  You can now use composite frames to build decks on which it a no-brainer if you ask me, but this is the most expensive way of building a deck.  Composite require very little maintenance, just the odd sweep and washing down.  My problem with them is always the visual appeal, some look good especially in silver as they don't look so much like plastic wood.  Within the last few years Millboard has risen and brought us their incredible Enhanced grain which is polyurethane moulded from smooth timber to give a really effective and non-slip finish (see image).  It actually looks like wood!  It’s not cheap however and by far the most expensive option when creating a deck but well worth it.  Follow the link for more information


Forget your previous experiences of Scandinavian Pine decking, there is a natural alternative in alternative softwoods and tropical hardwoods.  If it’s in the damp shade all day then  it can gather algae and may get slippy as will anything, even composite decking in the same position.  There are several options from the more durable softwoods such as Red Western  Cedar and Siberian Larch to the almost indestructible tropical hardwoods such as Yellow Balau, Iroko, Mandioqueira  etc.  All FSC certified and sourced from sustainable sources although they wouldn’t be as environmentally friendly as composite.  For me this is the look I would want in my garden.  It won't look as new if left alone forever so it does require maintenance to keep it looking fresh, Cedar every year or two, Balau and similar hardwoods every 3-5 years as it’s more durable and  dense.  Avoid a grooved finish in my opinion, you might think it adds more grip but it allows dirt and the slippy stuff to take hold and is harder to maintain.  A nice smooth finish will give you the best look and make life a little easier when it  comes around to sanding and sealing.  As for expense, in the long run it may prove more costly with the maintenance if you're employing someone to do the work but for installations hardwood is a lot cheaper.  So even if you're living in soggy Manchester it's certainly worth considering for your  landscape design project.  For a good selection of hardwood timber and similar products take a look at the link below.


There is one more to consider called Kebony.  It’s a sustainable softwood engineered to take on the properties of hardwood.  It requires little to no maintenance and gives you the finish of a striking tropical hardwood.  It’s an incredible material developed in Norway, it silvers beautifully and you'll sleep much better at night knowing how much more environmentally friendly it is compared to tropical hardwoods.  Follow the link below for more information.






This is a mockup. Publish to view how it will appear live.

comments powered by Disqus.

Robert Hughes Garden Design is an award winning, innovative and creative landscape design practice based in Knutsford, Cheshire.  


I offer a professional garden design service to domestic and commercial clients in Cheshire, Manchester, Liverpool and all around the North West of England and beyond.

let's talk

Robert Hughes

7 Ash Grove, Knutsford,

Cheshire, WA16 8BB


01565 621304 

07825 371337


FB: /RobertHughesGardenDesign



Robert Hughes Garden Design

Robert Hughes Garden Design

Robert Hughes Garden Design