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Updated on March 3, 2012

Furnishing The Outside

The ideal garden furniture looks good, is comfortable, and can be left out all year round but unfortunately it doesn't exist. This means you have to decide where your priorities lie. If the all year round aspect is important to you either because your patio or terrace would look bleak without furniture, or because you have nowhere to store it during winter you will need something that can stand all winds and weathers.

Cast iron needs annual repainting to prevent rust forming and it's excruciatingly hard to sit on. You may find it such a joy to look at that you are prepared to take cushions with you each time you use it. This would be necessary, because although there are such things as plastic covered cushions that can be left outdoors they soon become sticky and uncomfortable to sit on in hot weather.

Cast aluminum is cheaper than cast iron and a great deal lighter important if you like to move things around. But it looks lighter too: somehow the very beautiful reproductions of Victorian designs lack the guts of the cast iron original. However it does have one major advantage it's non rust so you only need to repaint it when it's beginning to look shabby. Also available in modern designs cast aluminum is just as uncomfortable to sit on as cast iron; once again you will need to approach it armed with cushions.

Plastic covered metal furniture combines strength with a maintenance free plastic surface. Any seat with a perforated metal or slatted base will have more give and so offer slightly more in the way of comfort and coolness.

Timber furniture always blends in well with its surroundings, but needs cushions for comfort and meticulous maintenance. Although you can leave hardwoods like teak and iroko exposed to the elements they will last much longer and keep their richness of colour if you give them an annual application of oil. Softwoods will need resealing with a clear varnish or replanting each year. Sadly log furniture should be stripped of its bark: otherwise it will harbor damp and pests.

Softer Options

The most comfortable garden furniture is the most impractical which is why those opulently upholstered armchairs with matching swing seats come with an optional set of waterproof covers. In theory you are supposed to shroud them like typewriters each night, because even if it doesn't rain, the morning dew will eventually rot the fabric. But few people can be bothered and they soon begin to look faded and forlorn especially once they are covered in bird droppings.

For many people the simplest solution to garden furniture is to use lightweight items that can be carried out, and carried back in at the first drop rain. Cane furniture is ideal in this respect, because it looks as naturally attractive indoors as out, and can even survive the occasional light shower. Wood and canvas director's chairs are just as adaptable, although since they fold away you could keep them exclusively for the garden and hang them on a hook in the garage, if you have one.

Even built-in garden furniture whether made of bricks paving slabs, timber or concrete still has the problem of carry out cushions. But at least a long and uniform run of seating means you can make them from flat squabs of foam, which will stack into a neat pile when not in use.

Hanging Baskets

Hanging baskets are exclusively summertime delights, because they can't hold enough soil to protect roots from the cold. This means they need planting in late spring, and growing along under cover, before finally facing the great outdoors. Although semi circular baskets are available for hanging flat against a wall, most are meant for seeing from many angles either hanging in the corners of buildings or hanging from the roof of open porches.

Hanging baskets are usually made of wire and look most attractive lined with sphagnum moss. The only drawback is that the moss allows the soil to dry out rapidly and in hot or windy weather you could find yourself having to water plants twice daily. It will cut down the watering if you give the moss an inner lining of plastic with a few holes made in it allow for drainage. In any case it's a good idea to install a saucer in the bottom because this retains moisture as well as preventing anti-social dripping. The ideal way to water baskets is to take them down and lower them in water for about twenty minutes. If you have hung yours in a hopelessly inaccessible position. you may find the only solution is to throw in ice.

Planting a hanging baskets is a delicate procedure if you want to exploit its potential fully. Half-fill the lined basket with suitable soil and at this stage plant any trailing plants gently threading the shoots through the linings and wire while making sure you have left the roots inside. Then fill the basket to within a couple of centimeters of the top and plant it with the non-trailing varieties. Whereas window boxes and containers often look spectacular with just a single type of flower these most miniature of miniature gardens usually look their best with a jubilant mixture.

Giving Barbecues A Grilling

The best looking barbecues are those you build in as an integral part of your patio, backyard or terrace. They are not only more handsome in appearance but you can build them with as big a cooking area as you need; extend them to include a sensible work surface and you can even extend them to include built-in seating. This could be a good idea in a tiny paved area, where free standing garden furniture would not only look cluttered but seriously impede people's freedom of movement.

If you don't want to design the barbecue yourself it's possible to buy kits that include a charcoal grid cooking grill supports and sometimes a battery operated rotisserie. These come with construction plans and instructions but you have to supply the bricks and mortar yourself and of course the size of cooking surface is pre determined.

A cooking surface of about 30 x 50cm (12 x 20in) is usually enough although if you intend to give ambitious barbecue parties, it will certainly be well worth making it larger. It will also be worth using fireproof rather than ordinary building bricks.

If you have an old cooker to plunder, it is very easy to brick build a basic barbecue. Using a rack from the oven as a measure, just build three sides of a rectangle up to stooping height and lay a tray from the oven over them. Continue building up the sides of the rectangle for about another nine inches, and top it with the oven rack. Unless your barbecue is in a very sheltered position, continue the three walls upward for a few extra courses, to protect the cooking area from draughts. A baking tray from the oven can provide a charcoal grate to slide onto the oven tray at the lower level while the food for grilling goes on the oven rack at the top. If you want to be able to remove the grilling rack for cleaning, loose lay the bricks that form the windshield.

If you have not got room for a permanent structure and either don't like the look of free standing metal barbecues or don't have anywhere to store them in winter the Brick Development Council has designed a simple brick built barbecue that only takes 15 minutes to on receipt of a stamped addressed envelope. Bricks are loose laid in circular courses because a circular structure is much stronger than a square and can be reasonably stable without the use of mortar. The main advantage is not so much the speed of assembly or the fact that the barbecue can be dismantled in five minutes but that the bricks can be stacked neatly and unobtrusively against a wall when not in use.

Choosing A Barbecue

The appearance of most free-standing barbecues leaves a lot to be desired, so it's worth researching the market fully before making your choice. It's also worth analysing their capacity carefully: some models are far more sophisticated than others, offering cooking grids that can be raised or lowered; charcoal trays at the back of the cooking area as well as beneath (back-heat is useful during spit-roasting, because it prevents fat dripping onto the coals and smoking); vented lids for cooking larger items quicker and less smokily; separate charcoal grates, which allow air to circulate freely and ashes to drop away, so the charcoal burns more intensely; and warming grids, to keep food hot during serving. You may or may not need these refinements, but if you want a barbecue that includes a rotisserie, it's a good idea to buy a battery-operated version, or one to which a battery-operated spit motor can be attached. Turning the spit by hand gets very monotonous-bearing in mind that a chicken can take up to three hours.

Compromise meaures

If you're only thinking in terms of grilling chops and sausages, table-top grills or Hibachis offer a compact and visually inoffensive way of having a barbecue. They are much neater to look at, easier to store and, of course, you can stow them in the back of the car and drive away for a picnic-barbecue.

Some free-standing barbecues that offer grilling and spit-roasting facilities run off portable gas cylinders. This means they provide instant, smoke-free, adaptable and reliable heat. But the food lacks the unique flavour that charcoal imparts, so there seems little point to this form of cheating.

Whatever kind of charcoal-burning barbecue you choose, long-handled utensils are essential to keep you a comfortable distance from the heat and smoke. You will need at least a long-handled fork, tongs, spatula and a brush for basting and, even then, it's advisable to use oven gloves too. You may even want to consider a long-handled and hinged wire basket, especially constructed to take food like hamburgers or fish, which can be turned over as a whole, instead of requiring you to turn over items individually. Finally you may want a pair of bellows. Charcoal usually takes about forty minutes to heat up, and one of the most exhausting aspects of a barbecue can be trying to huff and puff it into life.

If a roof has been specially constructed to take a conventional garden, it can bear enough soil for a lawn and plants to grow in.

Patios, terraces and paved back gardens should be treated imaginatively to form an extra special outdoor room.

At ground level where weight is not a problem you can build low retaining walls for permanent flower beds.


The ideal garden furniture looks good, is comfortable, and can be left out all year round but unfortunately it doesn't exist.

Most balconies in modern blocks of flats are built to take a lot of weight- but they are so tiny it's difficult to exploits this advantage.


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    • lionel1 profile image


      7 years ago

      You are a man of true class. Thanks for your hub post.


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