A garden bench is the perfect place to sit and relax outdoors.

Effective garden design begins with space for living and resting, with comfort being the number one priority. The best seating area is created as an outdoor room enclosed with walls or foliage for a sense of security, without being dark, stifling or overgrown.

The space should be the right scale. If it’s too big it can be isolating but too small can feel cramped.

Here are a few ideas of what you can do to make the most of your outdoor space.

Sculpt the surrounds

Add a skyline with a high fence or wall, pergola, plants or screens in varying heights for a three-dimensional effect. Create height behind the sitting area by positioning layers of plants graduating outwards.

Also, high, solid fencing creates a sense of security that can also serve as soundproofing if the garden overlooks a road or busy area.

Keep it level

Seating areas must have a level surface, with a slight fall for drainage to allow for rain and watering runoff. Depending on the surface, for every metre across the ground there should be a slope of between 10-20mm.

As a guideline, follow the natural gradient of the ground to direct the flow of the surface water when laying paving or concrete.

Grow for shade

When choosing a vine to grow on any structure, check how it climbs. Some grow by twining or putting tendrils around a support, others scramble upwards by spurs or thorns, and some attach with small clinging roots or suckers.

If a pergola potentially needs repainting avoid attaching climbers such as ivy, philodendron or creeping fig as they’re difficult to pull away. Flowering plants such as wisteria need a strong structure to support their weight.

TIP Twining plants can wrap around columns up to 50mm wide, but add mesh or wire if the posts are bigger for ease of attachment.

Match size and scale

The size of the space determines the function and the mood. Intimate seating for two chairs needs about two square metres, but an entertaining area with a six-seater table needs at least 5 x 4m for room to walk behind the chairs, plus another metre all around.

You can protect outdoor metal tables and chairs by applying two coats of rustproof primer and a marine-grade enamel top coat.

Make it enclosed

Enclose the space by adding a roof, covering with a shadecloth, gazebo, archway or trellis.

The canopy of an overhanging tree or vine-covered pergola makes the best shade, venting naturally so hot air doesn’t build up underneath. Deciduous plants allow for cool shade in summer and warm winter sun.

TIP A pergola can be enclosed with lattice sides for a cosy seating area while allowing for breeze and light.

Use existing structures

Use solid perimeters including the house, fence, balustrading and plants as boundaries to shape the area.

Wire, glass and picket balustrading can be installed to meet Australian Building Standards on decking safety while still allowing for the view.

Inspire exploring

Separating the yard into distinct spaces tends to block or partially obscure the view to various areas, creating interest and inviting exploration of the garden for a sense of discovery.

Small details such as a special plant variety, a statue, water feature or colourful pots add visual interest to a secluded sitting spot.

TIP Use tall plants and hedges as barriers around the garden, creating a distinction between areas.

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