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Furniture Fundamentals

How do you enjoy your garden? After all the hours we spend planning, planting, and weeding, it is definitely worth it when we get to sit down and just enjoy our gardens.

The garden furniture you choose to sit on says as much about you and your style as the plants you choose. Picking the perfect garden furniture is not always easy.

The first piece of garden furniture I purchased was about 17 years ago. It was a simple black iron table and four chairs. Gardening had really caught on throughout Kentucky and was becoming more popular every year. Sometimes it takes a little while for design and manufacturing to catch up with the trends, so I really didn’t have much to choose from in my price range. The majority of outdoor furniture at that time was all iron.

Maintenance-free furniture
After we moved to the city, I thought it was time to update the old iron furniture, and I fell in love with another metal table and chairs. This time it was a much nicer set, a cast-aluminum table and four chairs. This metal is much lighter than iron, so you can have more substantial pieces and still be able to pull your chair out and sit down. The real draw for me was no maintenance. Cast-aluminum furniture does not rust like my old iron set did, so it never needs repainting. Designed to last a lifetime, this substantially more expensive furniture is definitely worth it, especially if you use your furniture a lot.

It wasn’t long after we put the new cast-aluminum set in our garden that we realized that, though we had fallen in love with it in the store, it simply did not work in our new garden. The set was beautiful, the detail incredible, and the color was perfect—a black base with a blue verde finish. We kept it for a while, hoping it would somehow fit in, but it never did. So we resigned ourselves to start looking for a new set.

Evaluate your garden
What did we do with the old set? As constantly designing gardeners, we knew exactly where it would look perfect—on our friends’ patio. This furniture had more of an Old World feel, and their garden was more open and spacious than ours, so the furniture worked perfectly in their garden.

We always learn more from our mistakes than our successes, so with that lesson under our belts, we now knew what would work best. Our small and eclectic collector’s garden needed furniture that was visually solid and would serve as an anchor element. The iron and aluminum sets before blended into the garden and became lost in the business of all the planting in such a small space. Now I knew it had to be solid wood, like teak, or a more economical cultivated wood cousin such as shorea.

Choosing the right mix
This time we thoroughly evaluated how we used our garden furniture before making any buying decisions. The standard table and chairs looked good in our garden, but we never really used the table. The chairs were usually pulled out from the table and the table usually ended up serving as a fancy potting bench. The favorite part of our garden is that it draws you into it, and all we really wanted was to sit and relax and enjoy the company of our family and friends in our garden.

Now we have a wonderful loveseat and chair with soft and comfortable outdoor cushions. Instead of a dining table, we have a coffee table and end table. The environment is so much more enjoyable and relaxed. Everyone that visits just loves it. Another set of our friends loved it so much, they ordered the same set for their screened-in porch that overlooks their garden.

The wood frames are hardwood that is oiled annually with teak oil, which protects it from the weather, and we also cover the furniture during the winter. The cushions, much to my amazement, stay out all summer and early fall. The covers are made from an outdoor fabric called Sunbrella. After a rain, I go out and lightly towel off the beaded water from the cushions and they are dry and ready to sit on in minutes. The cushions zip right off for washing, and I store them in my basement for the winter. Our friends leave their cushions on all winter because they are under roof and protected from snow. On those occasional warm winter days, they can sit out and enjoy the garden in winter.

Artsy and usable furniture
Our garden is also home to two benches. One is an old, rickety iron bench that we just can’t seem to part with, and is almost like a piece of artwork in our garden. The other bench is a solid wood bench, and has a solid presence in the garden. It looks like a teak bench—it is not—and I chose it because it was comfortable to sit on: it is substantial enough that any member of my family, no matter how big or small, could sit on it with comfort and security. It is 4 feet long, so there is room for two to sit, relax, and talk about the day.

Whether it’s a table and chairs, a bench or a loveseat and chair, comfort as well as beauty of the furniture should be a part of the selection. Ask yourself, how do you want to spend time in your garden? Does your furniture selection complement this use? It is exciting to see the luxury and comfort of indoor furniture making its way into the garden. Outdoor fabrics of all colors and designs are available, and cushions are so soft you can even take a nap in the garden. With this new edition of furniture, my garden is now the most popular room in the house.

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