What could be more inviting than a comfortable bench under a shady tree where you can relax and enjoy the sights and sounds of your garden?
English novelist Jane Austen wrote: “To sit in the shade on a fine day and look upon the verdure is the most perfect refreshment.” A bench in the garden can be a place for the tired gardener to rest, but a place to sit can be much more than that. A seating area can be a destination, a focal point at the end of a path, an anchor for a design, to encourage visitors to explore, be surrounded by fragrant flowers, or tucked away in a secluded corner.
Types of seating
Benches and garden chairs come in all shapes and sizes and it is important that they are comfortable and have sufficient depth, that they are placed on a stable foundation and are of quality all-weather material. Much will depend on the space available when choosing the seating, and deciding whether it blends in with the surroundings.
Traditional wicker chairs are perfect for a covered porch, simple wooden benches suit informal settings and cottage gardens, or cafe-style chairs and table in a courtyard for al fresco dining. Use garden furniture as a colour accent to blend or contrast with plantings. Surround a chair with sweet smelling lavender; place cinnabar-red chairs among tawny grasses; a coral bench near pastel flowers. For a more sophisticated effect on a patio, paint a table and chairs black and add white cushions.
What seating you can include in your garden
The Lutyens bench
The timeless and elegant Lutyens bench was designed by and named for Sir Edwin Lutyens, a prominent English architect during the early 20th century. The classic shape of the Lutyens bench allows it be placed anywhere in the garden, whether in a formal setting, a naturalistic garden, near a pond or in a romantic corner.
In a sheltered space
Garden seating has moved on from traditional timber to wrought iron and aluminium, with whimsical and innovative designs. Should your garden be exposed, a bench placed against a wall or hedge will give protection from wind. The soothing sound of water falling from a fountain in a sheltered corner of the garden is the perfect place for a bench. A bench amid restful green foliage is an invitation to rest for a while.
Within a roofed structure
A roofed structure with seating provides shade from the heat of the sun and shelter from rain. In bygone times, they were also used as places for meditation. In his garden in Tuscany, the philosopher and writer, Pliny the Younger, born in 61 AD, often rested on a seat set in an alcove, or in a summerhouse of marble that opened onto a green enclosure.
Arbours reached the height of popularity during the Victorian and Edwardian era, where they were often used for romantic rendezvous. Far more sophisticated were the arbours in formal French gardens. At the potager at Villandry, a chateau of the Loire valley, half-round, rose-covered wooden arbours in Renaissance-style feature in this world-famous kitchen garden.
In a private corner
Where a neighbour’s upstairs windows look down into the garden, a built-in bench in a roofed arbour will create a shady corner, a little hideaway in the garden, which also gives a gardener an opportunity to grow sweetly scented climbing plants to beautify this structure. House and boundary walls, fences or hedges can be perfect for a private seating place, or near the house where you can enjoy a break and a mid-morning coffee amid fragrant herbs.
For entertainment and guests
A curved bench can follow the curve of a path; seating around a fire pit in a semi-circle blends in well; a raised wall with curved built-in seating is perfect for outdoor entertaining. A pause along a steep path is often welcome and can take the form of a flat rock. Surround a bench with fragrant and colourful flowers and enjoy visits from butterflies and bees. Sitting outdoors on summer evenings can be enjoyable with flowers scenting the air.
Don’t overlook the kids. Encourage them to discover the wonderful world that surrounds them when they are outdoors. Outdoor seating for children can be as simple as wooden logs placed upright; a ring of tree stumps becomes a seating area for a teddy bear’s picnic. There are commercial children-size benches and chairs perfect for tea parties.