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Choose and Use Furniture


A garden is an outside room, and like any room, it needs to be furnished with practical things to make it more functional – including seats, tables, umbrellas, barbeque and clothes lines – as well as with less practical things to make it look good - statuary, decorative wall plaques and the like.


Before you start buying outdoor furniture, think about what your garden is used for and what sort of furnishings will enhance those activities. In most cases the garden’s main use will be for growing plants, for relaxing and entertaining, and possibly also for children’s outdoor play. A secondary use will be as a service area for outdoor bins, storing portable barbeques and for hanging out the washing.

Your main use of the garden may be to enjoy a quiet cup of tea, in which case you won’t need much more than a couple of comfortable chairs and possibly a small table, but if you regularly entertain large groups of friends you’ll need at least a couple of large outdoor tables with dining chairs, a number of portable chairs (some of which could be stacked or folded up when not in use), a large barbeque, and possibly some smaller serving tables or trolleys.

<<graphic designer – place following in shaded box>>

Some of the most commonly used outdoor furnishings include:

· Outdoor seats – including fixed garden seats and benches, as well as seats which can easily be moved around such as deckchairs, poolside recliners and hammocks

· Outdoor dining area – including outdoor dining tables and chairs, portable trolleys, side tables and large market-style umbrellas

· Barbeques – fixed or portable

· Washing lines – retractable, removable


In most cases put your garden furniture where it will be used most:

· Close to the kitchen door or main entranceway – this makes it easy to carry food and drinks outside; a bench by the back door is also useful for sitting on while taking off your shoes

· Under cover – a shady verandah or gazebo is excellent for year-round outdoor sitting and dining; alternatively use a shade wing or large market umbrella for hot weather

· Close to the barbeque, pool, sandpit, etc.

Sometimes the main purpose of the furniture is simply to look good, in which case comfort and ease of use are secondary considerations. Some examples of placing furniture for aesthetic appeal:

· a decorative garden seat at the end of a straight path – the seat acts as a focal point at the end of a vista

· a seat framed by a flowery arbour – to enhance a cottage garden theme

· an ornate wrought iron table and chairs in a paved courtyard – a stylish, rather than a comfortable, outdoor setting

· a rustic timber bench in a secluded part of the garden – looks quaint but is really only good for short periods of sitting

What to Look For in Garden Furniture

· Comfort – The main purpose of sitting outdoors is to relax, so make sure you buy comfortable furniture. This is especially important for chairs and seats because the more comfortable they are, the more you’ll use them. Always try them out before your buy. Also don’t underestimate the size of tables – your family and guests won’t enjoy being crammed together at a small table.

· Durability and cost – At the top of the range are the ornate metal settings which last many years and require very little maintenance and the durable hardwoods which need re-staining occasionally. At the lowest end are the plastics which are quite good value, as they are fairly long-lasting, are easy to clean and can be stacked away, but naturally they don’t have the appeal of timber or metal furniture. In the median range are many types of timber settings, including softwoods which are best kept under cover to prevent warping and splitting.

· Appearance – Think about how well the furniture blends with its surrounds, and whether the style will soon look out of date.

· Ease of cleaning and maintaining – Plastics need to be wiped down regularly, especially white plastics which show up dirt and mildew; metal furniture doesn’t stain but does need to be repainted and possibly treated with anti-corrosives; timber furniture will show some stains and will need to be painted or stained and possibly treated with preservatives.


Barbeques are considered by many as an essential part of the summer experience. But you needn’t be limited to using them only in warm weather - a good barbeque in the right position can be used throughout the year.

The Choices

Fixed or portable?

Portable bbqs on wheels have the advantage that they can be moved about the garden, depending on where there’s shade and shelter from wind. The heavy ones can be difficult to manoeuvre over a wet lawn, and are best wheeled over decent pathways. Some designs need to be stored under cover – either buy a cover if you plan to keep it outdoors, otherwise store it in a shed or verandah.

Fixed barbeques are for those who are serious about outdoor entertaining. They are generally built in as part of an overall outdoor entertainment area, and should be constructed from materials to match the paving, walls, etc.

The Styles

Built-in brick – These are generally quite substantial structures. They run on gas, electricity, wood or heat beads. Depending on their construction, the bbq consists of a grate, which is the shelf below the bbq that the fire burns on; a grill, which allows excess fat to fall through the metal bars; and a solid metal hotplate. Thicker hotplates take longer to heat up and cool down but give a more even heat over the entire plate. Other features include built-in shelves and tabletops, and separate storage areas for fuel and cooking utensils.

Movable trolley – These bbq units are built into a moveable trolley. They are self contained and usually run on bottle gas. They are the most convenient, cleanest and easiest to use, though not the cheapest type of bbq.

Free-standing Oven or Kettle BBQs – These portable bbq’s are handy for smaller yards and for those who use bbq’s occasionally and for smaller numbers. They burn on heat beads or gas inside an enclosed chamber. They are, in effect, an outdoor oven and can be used in the same way as a conventional oven (for roasting), as well as barbequeing. A kettle bbq is more energy efficient than an open bbq.

How much cooking area do you need?

A family of four will generally find 0.5 to 1 sq metre of cooking area will be more than ample for their own needs and adequate when entertaining a couple of other families.


Not so long ago, washing lines were the most prominent feature of the backyard. Thankfully, modern lines are less obtrusive, and even large lines can easily be moved out of sight when not in use.

The main choices are wall-mounted retractable lines or free-standing hoists. If space is limited, you may have to use a wall-mounted model. The washing will take longer to dry but the units are compact and the lines can be folded back when not in use.

Free-standing hoists are the obvious choice for families with larger backyards. The hoists are lightweight and can easily be folded up and lifted out of the ground by any adult.

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