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Benches or garden seats are an important element in a garden. Somewhere to rest, to relax, to socialise, or to simply have a quick sit-down while you admire your hard work. Without them the garden becomes a place you walk through or view from the window. There should be at least one seating place but to my mind, ideally several.
Bath’s parks are full of memorial benches and I always read the small, engraved plaques on them and imagine the many people who would have sat and enjoyed the scenery. They are well placed to give the visitor interesting views of the trees and planting and I think it’s worth taking inspiration from these.
When I design a new garden, one of the first things I think about is where seats are going to be put and the best possible position for them in relation to the rest of the garden. This will influence how much use can be had from the furniture as well as having the widest range of views depending on where it is placed.
In smaller gardens the seating area is usually the main terrace where a table and chairs are set out, normally close by to the house, however in a larger garden, you will find other less formal spots where a bench at least can be placed. Think imaginatively about the places in your garden where you could have a bench or seats. Alongside a border perhaps, giving you a wonderful view of summer planting, or my favourite, is in a kitchen garden or near your veg patch, where you can rest your legs, have some tea and gaze at your vegetables and feel pleased with your hard work. Other good spots would be to catch either the morning or evening sun for breakfast or a glass of wine.
A place to simply watch the wildlife is also well worth considering, particularly if you have the size of garden where you can have some meadow or natural planting.
A bench placed along a path through a meadow or woodland can provide either a needed rest or a place to reflect on what you have just seen on your walk, creating a relaxing and peaceful mood.
Seating can be either formal or informal and it is worth thinking about using objects that can double up as seating, such as timber storage benches, or simply large logs, particularly in a woodland setting. A seat can be incorporated into a stone wall, this could also be used as a ledge to keep pots on too. Circular seats around the base of trees always look inviting and creates an interesting feature of the tree.
It’s worth considering the moveable and immovable. Creating seating in unusual places can mean literally moving some chairs and a small table or a bench to make use of the best seasonal interest in your garden. Heavy permanent furniture is usually best left for terraces or large weighty benches that take permanent root in the garden. Whether your seat is a large log or an ornate Edwardian bench, or a wooden seat covered in moss or lichen, a beautiful garden object, set in just the right place, in a perfect setting can look stunning and can add a feeling of belonging to a garden. Using over-sized furniture can add a statement to the garden and in particular using a very large bench against a tall hedge works very well.
Benches or seating need not always be entirely practical, they could act as almost a piece of sculpture or a support for plants and provide a beautiful focal point in a well-chosen position. I have a wonderful Victorian Gothic iron chair which is slightly rickety and not safe to sit on, however, I have allowed a clematis to grow behind it and entwine itself through the ornate ironwork of the back and this is always admired by visitors to my garden.
I love using antique, vintage or reclaimed furniture in gardens as I think they lend a lived-in quality and most can be safely left outside in all weathers, making them immediately available for a cup of tea in the winter sunshine. They give character and are can be more sympathetic in a garden of a period property, particularly here in Bath.
Colour is particularly important to me, and using colour on your garden furniture can turn a basic boring wooden bench into something vibrant and interesting. I have seen some wonderful combinations of planting dark Cotinus behind a turquoise painted bench or boldly, a bright red bench set into a darkly green woodland setting. It’s worth scouring your local reclamation yard, I am particularly fond of Gardenalia, to find one-off pieces of garden furniture, which can be painted and given a new lease of life to not only the object but also the garden.