coastal-garden-benchesSo, my penultimate object in this series symbolises our need (all too often neglected by the busiest gardeners) to sit and enjoy the fruits of our labours- the garden bench. And the one in the featured picture is made from reclaimed wood and, I think, looks rather inviting (especially with the addition of a couple of large cushions?).

Having said this, there are probably not that many garden benches that are frequently used for sitting. Here at Old School Garden, over the years  I’ve spread a number of these garden ‘must haves’ around (and have two more to restore/ assemble to place in key positions in my pond garden and to take advantage of the view across the fields to our local church). Apart from one or two used to take summer morning coffee (as an alternative to the rather more comfortable chairs on the terrace), these are not used for sitting. So, where should you position these essential garden objects?

One view is that it’s by a process of elimination, spotting the place where it looks right. However, what looks right, in practice might not feel right. Elizabeth West describes the difficulty in her book Hovel in the Hills:

“The right places to sit in a garden have to be discovered. They cannot be decided in advance. Alan [her husband] once erected a two-seat wooden bench beneath the laburnum tree because it was sheltered from the wind, caught the sun and looked out towards Moel Siabod [a mountain in Snowdonia].

On a few occasions we took out our cups of tea and sat there self-consciously, but it didn’t feel right. We would find ourselves drifting across to a patch on the drive about 10ft away, and we would stand there to finish our tea. So we moved the bench there. It caught all the sun, was not so sheltered and didn’t have quite the same view, but it felt right.”

The classic 'Lutyens Bench'- one to add a bit of class to your plot?

The classic ‘Lutyens Bench’- one to add a bit of class to your plot?

In a provocative article (see below for link), Antony Howard says:

“Discomfort remains the defining quality of outdoor seating. The goal of meeting the tripartite challenge of comfort, weatherproofing and looks continues to defy designers. Most seats make minimal concession to the fragility of the human frame. Sharp angles, hard edges and an absolute absence of ergonomics abound. Wooden seats promise a coating of green slime. Metal or stone ones freeze the buttocks. Grass or moss are obviously not to be taken seriously.”

He goes on to say that this discomfort doesn’t really matter, for garden benches are not, in general, intended to be sat on. ‘They are present to introduce the idea of repose’, he says, ‘which is perfectly justifiable in a place given over to the peace of mind, body and soul.’ Apart from this, they also have visual value in garden design- brightly painted to provide a focal point or attraction on a garden route, tucked in or under or around a tree to emphasise or frame it.

Either way, the garden bench- in all its manifestations- for me is an essential of gardening. Whether it be just the idea of rest and soaking up the surroundings, or actually sitting down (perhaps mid gardening session) to sip a drink, with clipped conversation tailored to the real wish to watch nature at work.

Hmm, the ultimate in benches designed not to be sat upon?

Hmm, the ultimate in benches designed not to be sat upon?

Further information:

‘The Art of Garden Furniture ‘- Antony Howard in the Daily Telegraph

‘A Short History of Benches’

‘The humble public bench becomes comfortable, inclusive and healthy’

 Old School Gardener

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