It can be the focal point to your backyard, a garden accent or just an accessory, but the garden bench is seeing a revival in landscapes across the country. In one of my favorite areas at the Columbus Botanical Garden, visitors have the opportunity to sit on benches surrounded by confederate jasmine not only for relaxing, but also for an exhilarating olfactory experience.
In the personal garden however, most dream of creating a little retreat or corner of paradise in the landscape where you can sit, relax and visit with the natural surroundings and the garden bench is a key aspect.
The choices of materials for today's benches allow you to choose what is just right for you aesthetically and economically. Mention bench and the first thought that comes to mind is teak wood. Teak, mahogany and cedar are all weather resistant and can be kept stained or allowed to naturally age. The price differential is huge and now after years of watching I must say the teak bench is simply unbeatable. The wood bench is heavy and not easily tossed around by wind.
The heaviest is concrete, and this bench has been around a long time. It is moved to a new location only with great difficulty, so choose your site carefully. What is new however is the availability of large stones arranged and stacked, to create extraordinary designs. Though stone may not be native to your region, the benches nonetheless look harmonious with nature.
Wrought iron benches still are popular, heavier than wood and can come in varying degrees of ornateness. The iron is coated and weather resistant although at some period the coating will be damaged or broken allowing rust to develop and requiring repair.
You mention aluminum and children of the '50s may first think of shiny silver looking benches. But today the colors and textures have allowed manufacturers to create benches, chairs and tables that are really works of art. They are still lightweight which is easy for the owner to move but unfortunately most are easily tossed in storms.
Plastic is the least expensive and becomes faded and brittle with age. On the other hand, for a temporary use like party or teenager's gathering the plastic can allow you to get the seating job done without breaking the pocketbook.
I love benches, especially those I can't see from the back porch or deck. What I mean by this is that the backyard has become like the house with three or four rooms. As you walk the landscape you notice a path that leads you to a cozy area surrounded by wax myrtles and shade loving annuals like impatiens. Here I can unwind after a stressful day.
I love benches in the middle of cottage gardens where I am surrounded by colorful perennials, butterflies, hummingbirds and bees. I love benches by moving water where I can sit, watch and listen.
Without benches the landscape can seem to be only a place of work with little enjoyment. A well-placed garden bench however makes the landscape an extension of the indoor home.
Norman Winter is executive director of the Columbus Botanical Garden, Columbus Ga., and author of "Tough-as-Nails Flowers for the South" and the highly acclaimed "Captivating Combinations Color and Style in the Garden." Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.