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Predicting the Future. Part 7. Can you see the wood from the trees?

We continue our series of predictions for Horticulture, Garden Design and Gardening in 2020; we’ve had ups and downs, tragic lows and soaring highs and I hope for more of the highs to follow and be realised in 2020 and beyond.

For my seventh prophecy, I predict that…

Timber will be a top material used inventively and dexterously in Garden Construction again.

This follows on from the overarching theme in my predictions for the direction of design going forward, where the environment must be in our forethoughts and can no-longer be an afterthought in our creative processes.

As timber, obtained from managed sources is one of the most sustainable material resources out there, it should be a no-brainer that we invest in tree plantings for future timber reserves. In doing so, we positively contribute to our environment, our landscapes and wildlife habits (although mono-cropping is not advisable for broadening wildlife).

We create Carbon Sinks improving our atmosphere, if not substantially, (click here for Wikipedia page explaining Carbon Sinks) and we effectively manage our soils and landscapes to produce a building material of great strength that can be replaced within decades. Alternative construction materials may be self-replenishing, but rather than decades, most take centuries or millennia to replace them. These include extracted resources like peat, coal, oil as fuel or for plastics, gas, stone, gypsum for concrete, metal ores, aggregates and silicas for glass.

Other than timber from trees, bamboo, hemp, cork, even natural rubber (not most modern rubbers) are all manageable resources that come from plants and can be used in construction. In fact, Bamboo is a strong and very durable resource that regrows incredibly fast and is widely used in Asia for construction. Perhaps we should consider trial plantings in the UK for just this purpose?

While most of us won’t plant acres of trees to provide future building materials, it isn’t beyond the realms of possibility, especially if you already have the land. Perhaps a good investment in your future would be to buy some existing managed woodland, which are available throughout the UK for sale. If all of this, appears outlandish or overly involved, then we should at least consider our timber seriously when purchasing or specifying for a project. Buy local if possible and question if you need to use exotic tropical hardwoods over natives. Buy timber from a sustainable source; FSC (Forest Stewardship Council) Approved Timber will be stamped. Click here to go to the FSC website for reasons why to used FSC approved timber.

You could also look to buy recycled timber. There are sources for previously used timber. Ebay, GumTree, Local Ads, Shop Windows, builders/contractors/landscapers and even some (particularly independent) Builder’s Merchants may all be able to sell or supply reclaimed timber, which is usable for projects. Be careful to ensure structural works use timbers that conform to planning regulations. Obviously, don’t take risks with timber strengths on projects requiring loading or where timbers are retaining, or restraining other materials.

Timber is a wonderfully versatile material that can be tooled, shaped, coloured and stained, textured, bonded and so much more. In its simplest, sawn state it is tactile and beautiful and with age and the effects of weathering it only improves. Green timber can crack and warp to unpredictable shapes and form. It can be laminated to add strength and even treated to bend into different shapes. The huge diversity of timber types available from both Hardwoods and Softwoods (with several of each being suitable for outside applications in the UK) make it one of the richest and most dynamic materials available. It has been under our noses in Garden construction for centuries, but we probably haven’t always respected it as much as we should have.

So, when next planning a new structural element in your garden or in a project for a client, consider the impact that material has in its extraction, modification, process and transport. Perhaps, just perhaps, timber would be the best choice to build from.


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1 Comment

Very interesting, Lewis. Food for thought!

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