Tag Archives: garden seats

A Place to Sit and Contemplate

???????????????????????????????1. Sometimes it is the setting, not the seating which is the important feature. A simple bench is all that is needed to draw attention to the beautiful long vista, inviting you to take the time to sit and look. You need tanalised timber of course and farm posts are the most practical option. Make the bench long enough to hold two people and their coffee mugs without having to be too close, but not so long that it sags if somebody sits in the middle. This lovely scene is at Puketarata Garden near Hawera.
???????????????????????????????2. How could I not include this example from Wairere Garden in Gordonton? Obviously there are a few practical issues when it comes to sitting on this hand crafted bench which looks as if it has been made from old fence battens. With that length it would only be suitable for a single person or two young lovers. I really liked the sense of enclosure with it being placed inside a curved hedge and the contrast between the lichen-encrusted, rough simplicity and the clipped formality behind.
???????????????????????????????3. This is one of our own favoured seating areas, especially in summer when there is dappled light through the trees above. It is comfortable enough even without the tapestry cushions made by my late mother. The curved bench seat is stone, the table concrete on a brick plinth. I am guessing it was Mark’s mother who inset the vintage tiles around the edge of the table to add detail although few remain now. It does not always come equipped with the bottle of wine.
???????????????????????????????4. From home to away – the garden out the back of Restaurant Baudy in Giverny (where Monet himself used to dine with friends and you can repeat the experience to this day) applied casual French deshabille style to the outdoors. You would not want to be of large stature and trust to this outdoor setting, but the hollyhocks and gently rusting iron are the epitome of what is sometimes styled shabby chic in modern parlance.
???????????????????????????????5. Let’s be honest, you would not be wanting to sit on these chairs when the grass is wet, but then if it has been raining, outdoor seating will be wet too. The absence of worn track marks to the chairs suggested that they were not in great use when we visited this garden near Stratford on Avon. But that long grass, meadow look is very charming. And at least if the seats are sited in the long grass, the legs will not be making holes in the lawn and you don’t have to move the furniture to mow.
???????????????????????????????6. This is in a private Yorkshire garden and is, believe it or not, the children’s pavilion though I doubt that the comfortable cane chairs are there for the children to sit upon – far more likely for adults. Traditional cane needs to be under cover. It is only the all weather modern synthetics that can be left out in all weathers but modern or old, I have yet to meet outdoor seating that is more comfortable than cane. Personally I covet a little semi-enclosed pavilion like this one – with or without the Beatrix Potter wall paintings. In a climate which is never quite as warm as I would like, this type of outdoor room seems eminently practical.

First published in the Waikato Times and reprinted here with their permission.

Sit down, why don’t you?

Adirondack chairs

It took my American editor to clarify once and for all that these are not Cape Cod chairs, as often claimed but Adirondack chairs. You have been told. These specimens are somewhat more stylish than many examples, achieved by the graceful curve of the back legs and some relatively simple shaping of the back slats. Small detail can make a significant difference. Sadly, it did not make these chairs any more comfortable. I tried one and can report that anybody under two metres in height would find it most uncomfortable and there is some doubt whether those over two metres would think any differently.

at Wisley

I am sure there is a technical term for this seating design which reminds me of the dosey-doe move in American square dancing. I photographed this at Wisley, the RHS garden, where Mark and I mimicked a couple we once heard elsewhere. “ ’ere love, wot canya see from your side?” “”Oh a luverly pitcher with them waterlilies. Wot abaht you?”. When I then saw a similar seating arrangement in a French bed and breakfast, I realised it must have a tradition. Curiously, this seating configuration can actually give some sense of intimacy to sitting with your one companion in a public setting.

Stone, concrete or brick seating can be a problem

Stone, concrete or brick seating can be a problem, especially in a cool climate with high rainfall or when located in the shade. While the softening ivy, moss and seeding ground cover makes the seat meld visually with its surroundings, it also makes it damp to the derriere as well as being cold and unforgivingly hard. I speak from experience here with our own stone seating arrangements. Keep them in full sun and free of moss.

Seating in the round

Seating in the round – a particularly elegant example I saw in a private garden, but I still think this is more for appearance than congeniality. I once read an explanation that humans do not like to sit with their backs to strangers because of potential threat. Certainly this type of seating is more likely to be used for short term rest only and not in a companionable social setting. Sometimes these seats are built around existing trees but they seem to smack of the institutional garden more than the private, domestic living space.

elegant styling

There are many variations to the simple bench from the most basic example that is sold cheaply in our hardware stores to somewhat more elegant styling such as this. It is the curve of both the seat and the back which make this example more aesthetically appealing – and no doubt correspondingly more expensive. Being English, this is probably constructed from oak. The cheap benches in New Zealand are often Indonesian hardwoods which are not overly durable if left outdoors through our winters.

coming up short on practicality

I offer this as an example of a seat which looks stylish while coming up short on practicality. It is very close to the ground which is fine until you hit about 50. The curved seat looks comfortable but consider how hemmed in your arms would feel in this solid set up. If you are going to have the arms and back at the same height, then make the back shorter, not the arms higher. The use of wide armrests on outdoor seating – also seen in the Adriondack chairs – is a handy device for accommodating the coffee cup or wine glass.

First published in the Waikato Times and reprinted here with their permission.

The outdoor dining and entertaining conundrum

A well designed outdoor dining area at Foreman's garden in Lepperton - and well under 20 paces from the kitchen

A well designed outdoor dining area at Foreman’s garden in Lepperton – and well under 20 paces from the kitchen

We live in a house which was built in 1950, long before “indoor outdoor flow” was ever conceived of and there is no doubt that we lack it. At one time, I had ideas to rectify this and went as far as getting concept plans drawn by an architect. The estimate of $100 000 for the work was a bit of a disincentive so we did not proceed, for which I am now relieved.

The latest House and Garden magazine has an article on the renovation of a Wellington property where the owner is quoted as saying: “We didn’t want to open the front of the house to the weather because, if we did, we’d all get blown away. We designed our house as an interior home, not an exterior one. Wellington is not a sit-outside sort of environment.” Actually, much of this country is not best suited to outside entertaining, at least when it comes to evening dining. Witness the plethora of fire pits, gas heaters and outdoor fireplaces. But you would not think that to look at modern design in houses and gardens.

One of the properties featured in the new book “Contemporary Gardens of New Zealand”, shows an outdoor dining area on an exposed platform with no shelter or shade and down a flight of 37 steps. Or it may be 39. I bet they never use it. Who wants to dash up so many steps to get the dipping sauce you forgot, or the serving spoon? Make that glass of wine last because the first to finish gets to climb the steps to the house to get another bottle or two. If the owners leave the dirty dishes on the table until the next morning, the neighbours will be able to see and judge. That particular property has a second outdoor eating area immediately by the house so you can be pretty sure that is the one they use.

Oft times, home owners place seating and entertaining areas too far from the service areas. I paced it out and think that few people would want their outdoor eating area more than 20 paces from the kitchen. It becomes inconvenient and if it is inconvenient, you won’t use it much. I’ve seen too many summer houses placed where they will create a focal point in the garden but they are just in the wrong place for use. Unless you have servants at your beck and call (and children are an unreliable substitute), save your money and make a focal point in some other way.

Most of us will wander a little further with just a cup of coffee in hand, but again if your seating areas are beyond about 30 paces from the electric jug or fridge, you are not likely to use them for morning teas or evening drinks. Even more than gazebos, garden seats are often stationed as focal points rather than for use. Never is this more obvious than when it is but one gaily painted chair. I think that seats need to be placed where you will use them, not used as de facto garden ornaments.

Just our glorified porch but an indication to me of how well used a garden room could be

Just our glorified porch but an indication to me of how well used a garden room could be

Garden rooms are my preferred solution after noticing these in a number of English gardens. These differ from gazebos and summer houses in that they have the capacity for more protective walls. There are times when just a roof is not enough to keep the situation pleasant enough to linger longer. Most of us find eating outdoors very pleasant in the right conditions and it can also make for more relaxed entertaining. After all, gardens are best enjoyed when you are out amongst them, not viewed from house windows so a charming and versatile garden room situated not more than 20 paces from my kitchen would be lovely addition. With some forethought and investigation, it could be so much more than just a free standing conservatory or a trellised gazebo. In the meantime, we make do with a comfortable outdoor dining suite beneath a large sun umbrella which is good for daytime use when there are more than just the two of us, but not so good for long evenings, even in summer. The closest we get to a garden room and the reason I know one would be well used, is our favoured sitting spot which we use all year round and at all times of the day. It is enclosed on three sides but completely open to the garden. It is just a glorified front porch and it only fits two comfortably but I think it is a pointer in the right direction for my choice of a garden entertaining area.

My all time favourite garden room from the Alhambra in Granada but it may look a tad pretentious here

My all time favourite garden room from the Alhambra in Granada but it may look a tad pretentious here

I leave you with the very best example of a garden room or gallery that I have seen. It might look just a little pretentious in my garden, it being of Moorish origin dating back to the tenth century and located in a palace at the Alhambra and Generalife in Granada, Spain. But can you imagine entertaining in that space and glorying in your garden surrounds?

First published in the Waikato Times and reprinted here with their permission.