Garden Benches for All Seasons

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.

garden bench, Malus floribunda

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.

winter, garden bench

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.

Garden Conservancy, garden bench, Gay Barclay

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.

British Embassy garden, climbing rose, garden bench

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.

garden bench, Lynne Church Landscape Design, shade gardens

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.

Lynne Church Landscape Design, garden bench, stone bench

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.

Garden benches, stone benches, landscape design

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.

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11 Comments on “Garden Benches for All Seasons”

  1. Nadine Says:

    Good ideas.

  2. Melissa Says:

    Thank you. Do you have a bench in your garden?

    • Nadine Says:

      I used to have a wooden one belonging to an Ikea outdoor set, but it ended up broken so now I’m looking for a new one as an anchor for the end of the (long) backyard. I am really tempted by a metal one that I saw on eBay.

      I love your front yard, I wish I had a flair for organizing things better. And living across the pond, I can’t even hire your services. 😉

      • Melissa Says:

        That lovely view in the front yard will be very different this fall when the crabapple tree has to come out, unfortunately. I hope the bench will still hold the scene together from a design point, but we will have to wait and see.

  3. Laurrie Says:

    You’ve touched on a pet peeve of mine: garden benches that are not used! I am not a fan of ornamental benches that only function as garden sculpture. Install a statue, not a bench! I want benches to be seating areas, used, sat on, a place of refuge, a place to actually sit. Mine (a cement bench under birches and Adirondack chairs in the yard) are where I sit late in the day. Just wish I had more shade.

    (I have always loved the picture of your front entry with that huge tree and the lush plantings and the welcoming bench, and I love that your son used it!)

    • Melissa Says:

      I sympathize. But if I’m outside in the garden I tend to be weeding, or watering, or something else. Hopefully clients will have more sense!

  4. Jean Says:

    I, too, am highly committed to sitting in the garden. This post comes at a perfect time for me, as I consider options for seating in my new serenity garden. Thanks for the inspiration.

  5. Bill Rutledge Says:

    I can identify with Osler’s quote. Just sitting in order to relax and admire our creation takes strong discipline. How often we want to to get up too soon, to move that rock, or to pull that weed.

    • Melissa Says:

      So true! And sometimes I go out around dinnertime, glass of wine in hand, only to find I’m weeding so assiduously that I forget where I’ve put down the glass.


  6. We’re in the UK, so the furniture and sculpture we make has to stand up to all weathers.
    I passionately believe that one can create things which function well – i.e. are comfortable – yet pleasing to the eye as well in their form.
    We will never be so good at design as nature herself, but she’s a great inspiration and influence.

    You have a wonderful eye, Mellissa, your photograpgs are beautiful!

  7. Doug Says:

    I think the idea is to work in the garden and then sit, relax and enjoy what you have accomplished.


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