The importance of Seating outdoors
Covid and lockdowns have led us to look at our outdoor spaces anew. Seating within a garden is so important to connect people with their outdoor space. A seat enables a commune with nature as well as each other . In the community setting seating is essential. In Horsforth a new ‘Natter Bench’ has been installed in the park encouraging socially distanced chat and to help tackle loneliness. The Horsforth Walk of Art volunteer group (https://horsforth-woa.org) is supporting another ‘social seat’ sponsored by the Leeds Civic Trust. The ‘Take a Seat’ bench will be part of a colourful community of benches across Leeds to commemorate the Covid-19 Pandemic and will be decorated by a local artist.
Seats and Garden Design.
When visiting York Gate Garden in Leeds (see https://perennial.org.uk/garden/york-gate-garden/) it is very apparent that seating is a key design feature. This is, in part because the garden was designed as a series of rooms. Each area requires somewhere to sit and enjoy that particular space, aspect, view or deliberately designed vista. Another reason was that the most enduring of the garden creators, Sybil Spencer was getting on in years when the garden was left to her sole care following the loss of her son Robin. Seats were placed to offer respite from the toil of upkeep. This is where keen gardeners may fail; efforts are so concentrated on the gardening, insufficient time is spent absorbing the benefits of those labours.
There are a few design considerations to make around seating in the garden.
The site for a seat.
This should be chosen with care. Sun, shade, seasonality, and shelter are all important. Views from the seat can be manipulated by orientation and framing. If there is no obvious vista, enclosure and immersion within the planting is an alternative ploy. Scented plants around a seat can add to the experience.
A seat can be a focal point, or part of a feature to aim for, such as a bench wrapped around a tree. A back rest formed by a tree is not necessarily comfortable but direct contact with the tree is a bonus. Seats can be ‘discovered’ and offer rest as a beneficial experience to the garden explorer. The orientation of the seat can direct the vision to the next garden ‘event’.
The style of seating.
This to some degree is dictated by function as well as budget. Should the seat be a feature in itself? Sometimes aesthetics win over comfort. It can become a piece of art within the landscape. The seat can make the space relevant. A specially commissioned seat can hold a particular significance to the customer; a memorial to place, person or event.
A beautifully built seat can be made to reflect the style of the garden. The Arts and Crafts gardens built by the Gertrude Jeckll and Edwin Lutyens duo in the early 20th century, often featured a Lutyens bench which is still popular today.
How much is the seat likely to be used?
The material choice is important here. A large, heavy wooden bench is unlikely to be moved once in position. Light aluminium seats can be brought to use for large gatherings of friends and family for outdoor dining, then stored away. The storage available should also be considered.
All-weather versions of seating can get round the storage need or use weather proof covers. There is a growing range of seating made out of recycled products such as fabrics, sails, and plastics. For eg. see https://dvelas.com . The life cycle of any product is important to take into account.
Stone seats are the ultimate weather resistant form. Cushions can add vibrancy as well as comfort and would do the same for improvised seating on a wall or raised planting bed. If walls are to be used as seating, they should be about 45cm high and about the same in depth.
For a range of seating in a small space see :
Surface under the seat
A bench placed on a lawn can lead to frustration with maintenance of the grass. It becomes a hassle to mow around and bare patches result where feet rest. Much better to install a firm paved surface. Gravel is not ideal for a surface if the seat is to be moved frequently such as in an outdoor dining scenario.
Seats should be one of the earliest considerations for any garden design. They need not be expensive and can add style, form and function to the garden giving immeasurable benefit.