The lone voice of horticultural reason

Placing A Bench

Nothing more clearly establishes one’s garden as a place to linger and enjoy the view than a garden bench. A bench invites the gardener or guest to stop, relax and take benefit from the months or years of loving toil spent creating our personal landscapes. Garden benches do not come with magazine racks, phone jacks or power sources for laptop PCs. They are a throwback to a gentler time, a respite from a worrisome pace, a simple structure through which nature says, slow down, sit one out, try observing for a while.

My wife presented our garden with its first bench just this past Christmas, a perfect bench, small, sturdy, cedar. However, as those of you who have been reading this column with any regularity may have guessed, choosing the perfect spot for it was no simple matter.

Primary to placement is that a garden bench affords a pleasant, peaceful, private view. After a rough day at work I’ve no desire to sit on my bench and contemplate the compost bin, the weeds in my lawn, or gaze at the people, strollers and dogs parading down my street. Nor do I want anyone gazing at me. I want to sit and talk to my wife, sip iced tea and observe my garden.

Ever sat alone on a bench in the middle of a vast park, not a tree within fifty yards, acres of grass behind you, acres in front, nothing but a four-foot-wide ribbon of asphalt winding its way past your feet then vanishing slowly to the horizon? You feel like you’re about to be assassinated, or at the very least, that sometime in the next ten minutes a great, errant Frisbee is going to whack you in the back of the head. What the environment lacks is seclusion, intimacy and something structural close behind so you don’t have to watch your back.

A bench works best in a cozy spot, a deep place where the garden surrounds us. The view straight out from the bench may extend 15 feet or 15 acres; what’s important is that the placement gives one a sense of being at the starting point. In February, as soon as I had removed the last of the lower limbs cluttering the ground amidst a stand of three tall cedars in a corner of my front yard, I knew I had found the spot. I had discovered a room, a private room, with the trunks of the cedars creating its back and their arching limbs its ceiling. Even in the dead of winter I knew this space would fulfill the final goal: providing a view of one’s property unique to the bench.

The front of my house runs parallel to the road, as most houses do. The stand of cedars is out at the front edge of my property, filling a corner formed by the road and end of my driveway. I should point out that the road has little auto traffic, almost none after 6:00 p.m. The bench faces my house and gardens, its back to the cedars, which shelter it from the road. Should it be placed exactly parallel with both the house and road? Of course not. That isn’t natural. By experimentation I soon arrived at a final placement slightly off parallel that allows for a private, unique view of my house and humble grounds. If I choose to turn and look sideways to the right I can just glimpse the road, in case I’m curious to see who has the new baby, or to call hello to a friend. But if the bench is being used for meditation, or thumbing through the mail, its orientation makes it clear to passersby that the user (though most don’t even see me) is not to be disturbed.

Don Engebretson
The Renegade Gardener