Sitting down in your garden is a feat to be worked at with unflagging
determination and single-mindedness –
for what gardener worth his salt sits down. I am deeply committed
to sitting in the garden.
- Mirabel Osler
I’ve been working on a couple of garden designs recently that seem to call out for a space for a bench. It’s made me think of some of the gardens I have created, or visited, that include a space for sitting.
As Osler’s quotation shows, benches aren’t always for sitting. Sometimes a bench is really just a “focal point,” giving a garden room or area a place to draw the visitor’s eye. Other times, the garden owner, or someone visiting them, will actually use it. Take my own front yard bench, for example. My older son often liked to sit in this this bench under the crabapple tree in our front yard during high school, studying or reading.
A small 4' bench nestles under the crabapple tree in my front yard in summer.
But I really included it in the design as a visual focal point – and I hardly ever use it. It’s most visible – and striking – in the winter, I think.
The bench in winter.
A bench can be painted to provide some zip in a garden”room,” like this small yellow two-seater in Gay Barclay’s garden in Potomac. This bench looks inviting and as though it’s used often.
A small seating area in a private garden welcomes visitors on an Open Days tour in Potomac, MD.
In a more formal garden, a bench against a wall with climbing plants provides structure. But take a look at the bench below, which although lovely, has no path leading to it other than grass in front of it. How often do you think garden visitors sit here? But without it, the effect would be completely different.
A climbing rose above a teak bench adorns the wall of the British Ambassador's residence in Washington DC.
Doesn’t this small seating area with a teak bench look more inviting? It’s in the front yard of a garden in Cleveland Park, designed by Lynne Church. I could definitely cozy up with a book here.
A small seating area with teak bench under an old cherry tree, in a garden designed by Lynne Church.
All these benches are wooden, but you don’t have to limit yourself to that material alone. Here’s a stone bench from the same garden, under a large tree in the back yard. It seems to blend in more naturally with its surroundings than teak, at least to my eye.
A curved stone bench lets the plantings behind it shine through.
Finally, here’s Corinna Posner’s garden, from the Garden Conservancy Open Days tour here last year. Note the stone bench area built into the retaining wall – as well as bistro seating in the foreground.
Two seating areas, separated by a gravel area, in Corinna Posner's garden. The "built" bench is just barely visible across the gravel space, in the retaining wall under the coppiced Catalpa tree.
The possibilities are endless, and you don’t need a large space. So if you’re planning changes to your garden, think about the value a bench – or other seating area – can add, for the eye, the visitor, and the gardener.