Garden seating is so much more than just a place to sit.
A bench can be a focal point, work like a piece of sculpture, can punctuate a hedge or lawn or be a place to enjoy a view. Garden seating can be about creating privacy or about entertaining friends and family.
Above all, garden seating is at the heart of the garden. But do we sometimes forget this? I’ve seen lots of gardens and their places to sit over the last year. And I’ve come to the conclusion that the benches, tables and chairs we choose make a huge difference to the garden.
You don’t have to spend lots of money
Some of our garden chairs were bought at auction by my mother, in the 1970s. We have had to repair them from time to time.
Vintage chairs – £20 each from a depot vente in the South of France. But putting them on top of the car would have caused considerable wind resistance and a higher petrol cost. Depot ventes are second-hand warehouses – look them up if you’re in France.
We bought four French chairs in a depot vente in France, and drove back with them on top of the car. I suspect if you added the extra petrol cost of going from the South of France to England, then they weren’t such a bargain.
But auctions and junk shops can be a good source of garden furniture, especially if you think more about what the furniture is made of, than what it’s made for.
A friend of mine bought a second-hand glass and metal office table and uses it in the garden. Second-hand office furniture can be very cheap.
Use garden furniture colour to create atmosphere
The colours you use in your garden seating areas make a huge difference to the atmosphere you create.
A design by Martyn Wilson at BBC Gardeners World Live. The bright orange table and chairs really creates a vivid splash in the garden. The atmosphere would be quite different if the garden furniture was in another colour.
Wenche Imink uses ‘Wet & Forget’, a garden furniture cleaner, on her garden furniture to achieve a slightly bleached Nordic look. (links to Amazon are affiliate links, which means I may get a small fee if you buy through them, but it won’t affect the price you pay. Other links are not affiliate.)
Gardening writer Francine Raymond of Kitchen Garden Hens paints all her garden furniture either yellow or grey to go with the house, which is yellow brick and grey tiles. The pink cushions reflect the pink roses nearby.
Think about your bench when planting…
Or maybe it’s the other way round? Think about your planting when you’re deciding what colour bench or garden seating you want?
A pretty blue bench outside the back door at Doddington Place Gardens echoes the colour of the hydrangeas behind.
This bench in Whitstable Open Gardens was painted in red and orange stripes – exactly the shades of the flowers in the foreground. Was it a happy coincidence or planned?
Another blue bench, blue hydrangea garden seating area at Doddington Place Gardens.
A purple bench at Sussex Prairie Gardens. The benches at Sussex Prairie Gardens are inspirational in the way they set off the planting.
Garden furniture and architecture
You can reflect the architecture of your house in your garden seating area.
The Salutation at Sandwich is designed by Edward Lutyens. Of course, the garden benches are Lutyens, too! If you can’t manage quite such an exact period match, Lutyens’ era was between the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
Although a Lutyens bench would probably look good near any style of house.
This Lutyens bench in Mel and Emma’s garden (from Whitstable Open Gardens) makes a charming seating area near a patch of meadow grass. This is a long thin town garden behind a Victorian house.
Garden seating as a focal point
A bench or garden seating area makes a good focal point for a garden – or for an area of garden.
Should you have a long avenue of trees – or any other part of the garden needing a focal point – then a bench offers both focal point and seating area. At Doddington Place Gardens
And you need a focal point or points in every size of garden. Pheasant Farm, below, is under an acre, but it has several different areas with benches as focal points.
A garden bench as focal point in Pheasant Farm garden (open for the NGS by appointment).
A very pretty Gothic-style bench in the front garden at Pheasant Farm, creating a focal point for the lavender.
We have two stone benches as focal points for the borders on either side of the parterre. They can get a bit overgrown to sit on, but I think the beds look better with a bench in the middle.
Garden seating as sculpture
Many garden benches are places to perch while enjoying a drink or a chat. They’re not necessarily for lounging on with a book. So you can risk an exciting-looking design to give your garden sculptural interest in the winter.
My friend, Amanda, bought this bench by Sculpsteel to use both as garden seating and as a sculptural statement to enjoy looking at.
This beautiful wavy ‘bench’ can be viewed either as sculpture or as a place to sit.
Garden seating as storage
When space is short in a garden, then it makes sense to use the space under the benches for storage. It doesn’t always have to be built in or covered up.
My brother Hugo and my sister-in-law Anna store things under their garden bench and table.
Or you can have built-in storage and seating, like this garden by AZ Landscaping Services at BBC Gardeners World Live.
Garden seating as part of the hard landscaping
I have seen some very successful garden seating which doubles up as part of the hard landscaping elements. People can perch on a broad edge to chat, but it doesn’t look particularly like a bench when no-one is around.
Charlotte Rowe’s garden – the main image shows the garden without people, with white raised bed borders. The top image shows Charlotte’s guests using the border edging as a perch. A great way of maximising space in a small area!
Low walls are generally a good way of dividing up the space, offering a place to perch and also somewhere to leave drinks or snacks.
This way of retaining stones inside a metal cage doesn’t look immediately welcoming as a place to sit, but it looked great at the Santa Rita 120 garden at RHS Hampton Court Flower Show this year.
Upcycle leftovers into garden seating
When my brother, Hugo, and my sister-in-law, Anna, used railway sleepers for decking in their courtyard garden, they had some left over. They turned them into a simple garden bench (which is also a focal point).
Hugo and Anna’s railway sleeper bench. It has a mirror behind it.
More garden seating ideas
A solid piece of beautiful wood used as a bench in Dan Pearson’s Chatsworth Garden at RHS Chelsea Flower Show in 2015.
You can fit a small simple bench in without disturbing a beautiful view. At Doddington Place Gardens
A quirky ‘horses’ bench in the roof garden of the Ham House Hotel in London.
A garden seating area with a collection of different chairs (pulled together with a pink theme).
Matched set of garden seating – this is Tom Hill’s garden design for Ascot Flower Show.
Minimalist garden chairs – these tuck discreetly under the table because they have no arms and a sleek design. In the courtyard garden of Dan Cooper, blogger at the Frustrated Gardener.
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