My complicated relationship with garden furniture

Monday 13th February, 2023

At a certain point after acquiring a garden, you will be overwhelmed with an itching urge to fill it with stuff.

Maybe it's some sort of deep, primal fear of open spaces, where a sabretooth could flank us more easily. Or maybe it's just that middle-class love of making things far more complicated than they have to be.

Personally, I like to imagine it was a shadowy meeting between the trouser-seat-Illuminati, and the secret cabal in charge of wood stain, who negotiated a fiendish plot to ensure that people do more sitting ("NOW, YOU CAN SIT OUTDOORS!"), and have to buy a big tub of whateveritis every year to look after the damn stuff.

But anyway, now that Spring is less of a wild and romantic dream, and is now a definite possibility- you may find yourself looking out of the window, thinking to yourself "Hmmm, you know what? Being outside doesn't seem quite as terrifying as it did a few weeks ago."

The most important thing to think about is a faff. All garden furniture comes with a certain degree of hassle- but try to mitigate it as much as you can.

Do you have to put it together yourself? IKEA, god love 'em, has given most of us a false sense of security when it comes to our competence at putting together furniture. A few twists of an Allen key and BAM! You can display your FarfignÖut bedside table as a monument to your glory. Gone will be the friendly step-by-step instructions. Gone will be the little bag with all the stuff you need. It will be just you, the tools you haven't touched in years, and a pile of wood and metal looking at you smugly.

What type should you get? Well, your options for the furniture are basically metal (weighs a ton, can go rusty, needs cushions), wood (needs painting with protector/stain every year or it WILL rot), or plastic (looks horrible). I might be being a little cruel on plastic here. It is by far the easiest to put together, bird poo wipes off a treat, and you can get a set without taking out a second mortgage. All good things. Personally, I prefer wood- I just like that rustic feel. But you can still jazz up even a really cheap set of plastic garden furniture with nice cushions, an umbrella, or one of those little tables with wheels.

How heavy is it? The other factor is weight. If you have a more 'hands-on' spouse, who doesn't mind getting stuck in with the heavy lifting, or a teenager you can persuade to be useful- you're fine. A bit of "To me, to you" and it's moved in no time. However, for the rest of us, this will be a struggle of epic proportions. The chairs are fine. The benches, a bit more of a strain- but the table is a hernia waiting to happen. You're going to have to do this every time you want to cut the grass. So, although it's not the biggest point in choosing a set of garden furniture, at least give it a passing thought so you know what you're getting yourself into.

Does it need looking after? The short answer is, yes. Winter is especially brutal to garden furniture, and the merciless lash of the British weather does nothing to prolong its health or aesthetics. Plastic needs wiping down with a Jay cloth and some soapy water- but there is nothing short of slathering the set in suncream that will stop that UV fade over time. As mentioned, wood needs protective stuff painted on every year. It is well worth checking the metal parts to see if they need repainting- any half-decent DIY shop will tell you which is the right spray can to buy.

If there are any bits that are meant to move, WD40 every six months and you're golden.

Finally, where are you going to put the damn things? Cushions need to live indoors when they aren't being sat on, and if possible being able to put furniture away for the winter will greatly prolong its life. But, for those of us without tardis-style sheds, or accommodating garages the best solution is some kind of cover. This will be made of PVC or similar, with a drawstring to close around the chair/bench/table. Do NOT get attached to these. The best attitude you can take to garden furniture covers is that of a stoic philosopher: they will last as long as they last and it will not affect my emotional state. They have a nasty habit of getting blown away in storms or being chewed by foxes for some bizarre reason.

But anyway, this is all worth it- because frankly sitting outside in the sunshine with a beer, and a slightly too well-done burger, is life's greatest joy. I know it's cold, I know it's still dark. But it is getting warmer and brighter each day. And very soon, your lovely wife/husband/partner will turn to you and say "Darling, it's gorgeous this weekend. Shall we have a barbeque?" And then, you will turn to your garden furniture and smile.

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