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Romancing the bench: outdoor benches give a garden enduring graciousness and invite you to sit and enjoy your surroundings.

Outdoor benches give a garden enduring graciousness and invite you to sit and enjoy your surroundings

Magical things happen on a garden bench. Grandmothers amaze us with tales of jitterbugging. Dads break their silence on the war. Lovers spin dreams for the future. And children speculate about what the dog might do if it had wings.

There's a reason for this magic. Put two people on a garden bench surrounded by trees and flowers, let them look out at something (a view of distant hills, or even clouds overhead), and suddenly their souls soar. Thoughts open up. Language relaxes. Pauses are soothing. Life expands to its proper perspective.

No garden should be without a bench - better two or three. A bench can capitalize on good views; it's a place where you can linger to enjoy a sweep of grass, the plop of a fountain, or the activity of a bird darting in and out of a nesting box to feed its young. And a good bench provides a logical place to stop and rest between wanderings along a garden path.

Most gardeners like their benches against something, whether a rock retaining wall or fence, a stand of dark conifers, or a big rambunctious shrub. A freestanding trellis supporting a scramble of vines makes a fine backdrop for a bench. Simple as it sounds, the trick is this: Place the bench where you'd like to spend time sitting. The photos on these pages can give you some ideas.

Benches come in a wide variety of materials, colors, and styles, from natural or painted wood to stone or twiggy prunings. There are traditional English teak benches and wrought-iron reproductions of Victorian classics. Many of them could stand alone as garden ornaments. Well-placed boulders, long stone slabs, or wood planks can also be used to provide seating.

No matter which bench you choose, pay special attention to where you put it, then sit back and let the magic happen.


* Like all outdoor furniture, benches must be able to stand up to sun, rain, insects, fungus, and smog year-round. The most durable materials include metal (wrought iron, steel, cast aluminum, or enameled aluminum) and wood (especially teak or redwood).

* When shopping for a bench, pay special attention to the joinery. A good joint, where the bench leg or armrest meets the seat, looks nearly seamless. And it is strong.

* Give the bench good footing - poured concrete, pavers, decking, or lawn - so that it stays level and won't sink into the soil when you sit on it. You can make wood runners that will support each pair of legs: where bench legs will sit, sink two pressure-treated 4-by-4s into the ground so their tops are level with the surrounding soil.

* A small table on one or both ends can hold a tray of beverages, a book, or binoculars. A couple of pillows or a throw can make your bench more comfortable.
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Title Annotation:includes related article
Author:Lorton, Steven R.
Date:Jun 1, 1999
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