Landscape Stairs - let your imagination run wild however get the dimensions right! - The Plant Hub

Landscape Stairs - let your imagination run wild however get the dimensions right!

By Admin on 01-08-2019

Stairs can be an integral feature in many landscapes. In the right hands, they become a palette where creativity runs wild and plants soften rigid construction materials. For some inspiration, check out landscape stair photos on the Gardeners Planthub Pinterest Board

Materials and gardening themes may vary, however, the dimensions of stairs are universal. Poorly designed stairs are uncomfortable and dangerous to use – regardless of how amazing they appear.

Designing your stairs

This can be a daunting introduction to stair design, and a difficult place to start. A summary of the main dimensions specified in this code is presented below to help you get the idea. Some definitions are necessary (or dare I say it “off on the right foot!”) so we are all talking the same language. Refer to the attached diagram.

Tread – the horizontal surface you place your foot on.

Going - horizontal measurement from the front to the back of a tread less any overhang from the next tread above.

Riser - the height between consecutive treads.

Flight - that part of a stair that has a continuous series of risers, not interrupted by a landing or floor

Landing - an area at the top or bottom of a flight, or between two flights.

Some of the basic “rules” from the Building Code of Australia that will make your stairs easy to use include:

· Keep dimension of goings and risers constant – it is uncomfortable to change stride halfway up a flight of stairs;

· Each flight must have not more than 18 nor fewer than 2 risers – to achieve this, flights can be separated by landings.

· Landings must not be less than 750mm long and have a gradient not steeper than 1:50 – this is to restrict the distance a person could fall down a stair.

· Riser (R) and Going (G) dimensions are specified in detail in the code. Such dimensions are assessed based on the formula 2R + G. For external steps, a great starting point for determining comfortable stair dimensions is 665mm. That is 2 x the Riser height plus the Going dimension equals 665mm. The table below is for non-spiral stairs and will help you with this.

Riser (R) in mm

Going (G)in mm

Slop Relationship (2R + G) in mm













If you wish to include plants and other landscape features in your stairs such as pavers, sleepers etc, it is best to consider how they will be incorporated before construction begins. For example, if pockets of soil are required for planting, how large should these be and how will they drain water? If pavers are to be used on the Goings, then their dimensions need to be factored into the stair design. If gravel is to be contained within the Goings, then the Riser must be of sufficient height to contain it. With some forethought, stairs can be both magical and safe to use.


Now for the fun stuff ……………… softening your landscape stairs with plants.

To include plants within landscape stairs, ie on the Goings between the Risers, the selection is limited to groundcover plants less than 190mm high or thereabouts. A great option for incorporating plants in landscape stairways is using well-spaced pavers or flagstones on Goings, leaving space in between for groundcover plants. Plants that are well suited to landscape stairs include:

· Lawn Thyme, Dichondra ‘Silver Falls’, Mini Mondo and Mondo Grass for sunny stairs. Zoysia tenuifolia would be suitable for lightly trafficked, sunny stairs where it could be planted on the edges of Goings or between pavers/flagstones;

· Viola hederacea for part sun and shade; and

· Dichondra repens for shade.

All of these plants are available through the Plant Hub online store

Margins either side of stairs, or in feature planting positions within stairs, are well suited to Australian native and ornamental grasses 

Gardeners Planthub is a specialist online supplier of many popular kinds of grass examples include;

· Grasses – Themeda australis ‘Mingo’ is a 20-30cm tall, prostrate form of Kangaroo Grass for full sun to 50% shade. It is an excellent choice for use on stair margins. Other taller grasses that could be used to ‘weep’ over landscape stairs include Poa ‘Eskdale’ and ‘Kingsdale’; Pennisetum ‘Nafray’ and ‘Cream ‘Lea’; Kangaroo Grass; and Fountain Grass (Dwarf and Tall form).

· Dianella – varieties include common Dianella caerulea also know as Paroo Lilly along with improved forms such as ‘Little Jess’ and ‘Lucia’, which all grow in full sun as well as shade, have strappy, non-spikey foliage and attractive flowers and fruit.

· Lomandra – Gardeners Planthub has many popular varieties including - ‘Shara’, ‘Tanika’, ‘Lime Tuff' and Slender Matt Rush. These have non-spikey flowers and strappy foliage well suited for use in pedestrian areas

· Sedges – Tall Sedge, Carex appressa is a great sedge for use along stairway margins, however its sharp leaf blade can preclude it from use in pedestrian areas.

The succulent groundcover Carpobrotus ‘Aussie Rambler’ grows well in full sun and is especially suited to coastal conditions. The succulent leaves of ‘Aussie Rambler’ do not tolerate damage so it is best grown on stair margins or ‘flowing’ over retaining walls that are so often associated with landscape stairs.

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