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June 5, 2018 > A new benchmark in gardening

A new benchmark in gardening

By Daniel O'Donnell

Movies based on comic book characters are all the rage right now. The heroes that star in them use their special powers to do what they were destined to do. However, a good performance does not mean a hero will be remembered as a superhero. A superhero must save humanity and look good doing it. The same concept applies to garden benches. An ordinary bench provides a place to sit. An artistic bench is not only functional but does its job with flair and personality.

A bench is different from a chair as it provides a place to sit for more than one person at a time. Only extremely wealthy people could afford a chair in ancient and medieval times. A chair was complicated and expensive to make whereas a bench could be easily constructed by using salvaged materials. Chairs became mass produced inexpensively in modern times and benches stopped being the primary pieces of furniture used for seating.

Benches are not obsolete in modern society, even though they have decreased in popularity. Besides being used in cafeterias and sports arenas as the Òcheap seats,Ó benches are used extensively in gardens. Notable ones are constructed from unexpected raw materials. The use of unanticipated objects is what gives these benches personality and significance.

It is difficult to get rid of a favorite piece of sporting equipment that is past its prime. Making a cherished surfboard into a bench is the perfect way to immortalize it when it can no longer ride the waves. Blue Chalksticks and white Alyssum are the perfect plants to accompany a surfboard bench. The pale blue foliage of the Chalksticks and the airy white flowers will make it look like the board is still at the beach.

Using a large flat rock as a bench can save a lot of manufacturing time but getting it to and placing it in the garden will take some work. Fortunately, it can be done by a forklift. Tri-City Rock in Fremont ( has a selection of variously sized and different types of flat boulders to choose from. They will deliver and place it in the garden for a fee. A large rock bench that seats multiple people carries a lot of dramatic weight in a garden. Plantings that accompany it should be low growing and kept at a minimum.

Unfortunately, a treasured tree sometimes needs to be cut down. An easy way to preserve its memory and still get enjoyment from it is to make a bench out of the fallen wood. There are a lot of different bench styles that can be made. They range from as simple as using a large cut section of the trunk for the seating to getting the wood planed and using it to build an elaborate showpiece. It is important to have a plan for a bench before the tree comes down so the wood can be cut into the desired lengths for the project.

Salvaged metal landscaping tools make great raw material for garden benches. Broken shovels, spades, and pitchforks can be cut to equal lengths and used as legs. They can be fastened to a wooden seat or welded to an old metal bench frame at a local welding shop. Reclaimed wooden handles can also be used for the frame or for the seating area. It just takes a little imagination to keep some broken tools working.

A bathroom remodel makes the perfect opportunity to acquire an old cast iron bathtub that will be a splash hit in the garden. An artistic bench can be made by cutting out one wall using an angle grinder and then sanding the edges. A porcelain toilet planter makes the perfect companion. They can be found on Craigslist or at Ohmega Salvage ( in Berkeley that salvages building materials from houses before they are demolished.

Junkyards are great places to find two items that make really fun benches that can be given away as personalized gifts. An old truck tailgate makes an ideal back for a bench that can be given to anyone who likes farming, old trucks, or country living. It is possible to find an old airplane wing for the world traveler at a junkyard near a municipal airport. A piece of a scrapped airplane wing makes a great bench that carries a garden to new heights.

There are few guidelines when it comes to bench placement. It should be placed in the shade for summer seating or a sunny location for winter use if it is going to be functional. Jagged rock packs together for a stable base to place it on.

An ordinary bench is the unsung hero that allows someone to sit in the garden. A creative bench is the superhero that makes someone dream about sitting in the garden.

Daniel O'Donnell is the co-owner and operator of an organic landscape design/build company in Fremont.

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