By Katie Marks, Networx
There's something wonderful about stone benches in the garden. They're timeless, classic, and elegant, and they can turn any space into a magical fairyland or pleasant place to rest. Depending on what kind of stone you use and how you place it, a bench may be formal, quirky, or highly natural in appearance, but no matter how you slice it, it's a great addition to the garden, especially along with a gorgeous garden path.
Whether you need more garden seating, want to boost the value of your home by enhancing the landscaping, or just plain like stone benches, if you want to install one, you've come to the right place.
You're going to need to think out the placement carefully. Writer David Reed recommends putting it somewhere you already enjoy spending time outdoors or in the garden, rather than trying to make a nook happen, as it were, by installing a bench there. If you're designing a garden from scratch and you don't know where the focal points will be, take a look at the garden map, and consider issues like where the sun will fall, and where the highlights of the garden, such as fountains, ornamental trees, or colorful flower beds, will be situated.
You should also start thinking about your supplies and materials. In some regions, you can harvest natural river rock and stone from other sources on publicly-owned land, but you should check first. There may be a daily limit on how much you can take and in some cases you may not be allowed to take anything.
Your next option is to buy stone from a quarry or garden store. Quarries can provide a wide range of stones including stone ordered from more remote locations, and they can also cut and work it for you, if desired. Garden stores typically have access to a similar range of options, but it's geared specifically towards gardening needs. You may, however, pay a premium because it's considered a specialty item, whereas a quarry might offer more reasonable prices (especially if you can find a willing tile contractor who's able to help you access wholesale prices).
A friend, or two, can also be really helpful. Your stone bench may require some digging as well as hauling large stones around. Many hands make light work, and reduce the risk of injuries!
Freestanding benches are among the simplest and most straightforward to build: you balance a large stone on top of two smaller pillars of stone. However, this description is a little deceptively easy. You need to choose a large stone that provides ample comfortable seating, and your support pillars need to be built up well, whether you're using piles of rock or single large rocks. If you make a mistake, the bench could be unstable, which would be dangerous.
You'll be anchoring support stones in the ground, so they don't need to be perfectly even, and you can use more than two supports; three creates maximum stability and strength. To prevent subsidence, dig out holes for the support stones, line them with gravel, cover the gravel in sand, and then place the stones. This provides support and drainage so the stones won't list into the ground over time.
Once you have a stone bench in place, you can explore whether you want a retaining wall or backrest. If you're lucky, you might have a single slab that can be lowered into the earth to make a visually striking backrest. You'll definitely want a friend for managing that, as such stones are very heavy (as you probably already noticed when installing the seat). You can also stack stones, dry or with masonry, to build up a comfortable place for people to rest their backs.
Remember that a garden bench is only as comfortable as the seat and the locale, but when it's built right, it can be a haven in the garden.