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Have a Seat

Have a Seat

By Therese Ciesinski, GardenSMART

With the pandemic keeping us all at home a lot more, you may be grateful for your garden, and think of it as your refuge. Maybe you’ve thought about how you might add to your space to make it more satisfying and more beautiful. An easy and relatively inexpensive addition is a garden bench.

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A garden bench is more than just a place to catch your breath. Because it is man-made and intentionally placed, it becomes a focal point whether the gardener intends it to or not. A garden bench anchors a space and gives it context, adds strong lines to the garden, and can provide color, texture, and a destination. 

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When choosing a bench, look for a shape, material, or color that echoes the style of your garden. A bench with straight lines will pop against a billowy perennial bed. A painted bench can provide color where flowers are scarce. Whether your garden inspiration is Japanese, English cottage, formal parterre, or wildflower meadow, there’s a bench style that will harmonize.

You can find garden benches at all price points and in many different materials, including plastic, fiberglass, and concrete. Wood, metal, and stone, however, have an innate naturalness that integrates more seamlessly into the garden. Each material will develop its own patina, and look better and better as the years go by.

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Wood: If you want a bench that’s comfortable to sit on, wood’s the best choice.

Teak and mahogany are the most durable woods, but are expensive. Red cedar is long-lasting, inexpensive and readily available. To make your bench last, oil it every year, or give it a coat of a water-repellent preservative. Untreated cedar will weather to a soft gray, as in the top photo. If you’d like to keep the red color, you’ll need to treat it.

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Metal: Metal is sturdy and durable. It lends itself to either airy scrollwork or thicker, weightier forms, as in the two photos above. Wrought iron is a classic bench material, but needs to be painted to keep it from rusting, unless you like the aged look. Steel is strong, versatile and inexpensive. Aluminum won’t rust, is light and easy to move, and is usually found in more modern, streamlined designs. Any metal can be cold to sit on.

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Stone: A stone bench is a seat and a sculpture in one. Absolutely stunning in a garden, stone gives a space character, the sense that it’s timeless and grounded. Yes, it’s pricey, usually heavy, and the coldest material to sit on, but stone will outlive you.

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Tip: Whichever bench material you choose, be sure the ground where you place it is level. A hard surface such as gravel or concrete tiles help level it and keeps the legs from absorbing moisture from the ground.

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A bench that’s four feet long seats two people; five feet long will seat three. The most comfortable seat height (from the ground) is around 18”. Seat depth is about the same, though if it’s backless the seat can be as wide across as you’d like. A backless or armless bench sends a signal that it’s less for lounging than for pausing.

There’s a longtime joke that the only person who never sits on a garden bench is the gardener. Don’t be that gardener. Stop, sit, and enjoy what you have created. Have a seat!

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