The garden bench -- what single piece of furniture could be more essential to the outdoor room?
A chair is too solitary. In a bench there is the potential of companionship, of spirited discussion or quiet confidences shared.
Also -- and very important to my mind -- a well-designed bench offers a place to put up one's feet, even to stretch out if it is long enough -- a dandy place to retreat to with a good book or the Sunday paper, and a pillow.
There is nothing to beat a bench in the garden -- placed out in the open at the end of a long vista, or in the shady nook created by a venerable old tree, whether overlooking a splendid view or beneath a simple window box.
What could be nicer than a bench thoughtfully placed, an invitation to pause and rest and admire the view? Or a comfortable seat just out of the traffic pattern where you can still keep an eye on children, pets and the neighbors' doings?
There are benches in every shape, size and style, to fit every budget or whimsy.
A simple, wooden backless bench that will give years of service can be quickly knocked together from 2 x 12s by a novice carpenter. Or, if you prefer your carpentry done for you, there are exquisite Lutyens, Chippendale revival style, 6-, 7- or 8-foot models, available for several hundreds of dollars.
Benches are made in just about every material. There are wrought-iron Victorian fancies; sleek, aluminum, contemporary designs; and rough-hewn, giant log creations that look as if they had jumped right out of the Hobbit. Wooden benches come in a bewildering range of styles with names like Monet, Nantucket and Chesapeake, and in materials such as oak, teak, cedar, fir and pine.
There are even benches constructed along the lines of a wheel barrow, with handles and wheels, so that they can be easily moved from place to place as the gardener pleases.
For those who like their garden furniture low-maintenance and nearly immortal, then stone must be the thing, with cast stone and cement close behind. These are frequently heavily decorated in floral or classical motifs and can fit in with a variety of traditional garden styles.
There are also graceful, if more ephemeral options, such as wicker settees and rustic benches made out of pliable branches, a la Adirondack. These tend to be perishable and not long lasting unless put inside for the winter.
Synthetic materials appeal to some groundskeepers, often for their care-free and usually child-proof qualities. Using recycled, plastic lumber is one option. Incidentally, this relatively indestructible type of bench is ideal for dockside use. Just remember to bolt it down, and you can leave it out all year without a qualm.
Which material you choose can be more than a mere matter of style, however. Whether you use your garden year round can have a profound bearing on whether you select a stone, concrete, metal or wooden bench.
If you are like me, and use the slightest wisp of warmth or sunshine as an excuse to go visit your garden even in the depths of winter, it will not take you long to decide that wood has definite pluses in cold weather. Try sitting on a stone, metal or cement bench for a few minutes when the temperature is hovering around 40 degrees, and you will soon feel what I mean.
Almost all local home and garden centers offer at least one version of the garden bench. Watson's Pool & Patio on York Road has an extensive selection. Other emporiums will usually have prices in line with their customary inventory. Don't forget to check your discount membership store, too.
Brown Jordan (upscale, metal) 9860 Gidley St., El Monte, Calif. 91731, 626-443-8971, Ext. 221
Country Casual (wood) 9085 Comprint Court, Suite 4238 Gaithersburg, Md. 20877, 301-926-9195
Julian Brogi (Asian designs) 3534 Belmont, Portland, Ore., 97208, 503-232-2545
Pat's Concrete (cement) 11037 Pulaski Highway, White Marsh, Md. 21162, 410-335-8151
Sun Teak (carries Lutyens style) 3529 Edgewater Drive, Orlando, Fla. 32804, 888-786-8325
The Tidewater Workshop (wood) P.O. Box 456, Oceanville, N.J. 08231, 800-666-8433
Pub Date: 5/31/98