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Gardening with Hannah Genders

Furniture with a future

Posted on September 20 2008 at 3:03:46 0 comments

Bench and flowers

Hannah Genders finds the perfect bench to complement a sustainable garden design.

Those of you who regularly read these articles will know how much I love to design and build sustainable gardens, using local products and reflecting the distinct character of the area.

I recently finished a lovely garden in North Worcestershire that ticks all these boxes. We used English oak in all the woodwork and reclaimed materials for the hard landscaping as much as possible.

I planted heritage varieties of fruit, all from the Worcestershire area, and we created a wildflower meadow and small woodland area of native trees.

I even managed to get the clients growing their own vegetables for the first time and they are now passionate about it and can’t believe what they are able to grow in a relatively small area.

The meadow and woodland area is a great success and has such a different feel to the rest of the garden away from the house. The views out to the surrounding fields are lovely but we all felt something was missing – what it really needed was a bench.

There is also a public footpath running through this area of the garden and the clients felt it would double up as a place where local walkers could stop and have a rest and eat their packed lunch. I thought this was a lovely, generous idea.

This gave me the job of looking for some furniture to fit this location. I wanted a chunky bench built from sustainable wood (where the wood has been cut from local English forests and will be replanted as part of a management programme).

It turned out this was much more difficult to find than I had imagined. Most of the wood available was European oak – which, although cheaper than English oak, is often poorer quality and of course has travelled a long way to get here, making it less sustainable.

The other factor is that in order to keep our English woodlands prospering and provide the funding they need to ensure their ongoing maintenance, we need to buy the products they produce.

This includes timber like I was looking for, but also hazel poles for hurdles and bean stakes (we used local ones in this garden) or English charcoal for your BBQ.

In a traditional woodland it is part of the natural cycle to cut down the timber storey (the large mature trees) and replant them. Research has also shown how much carbon dioxide is taken up when new trees are growing, a great help when it comes to the subject of global warming.

With all these factors in mind, you can understand how keen I was to try and find someone making locally-sourced furniture, but as my search came to an end we decided to buy the wood and have a go ourselves.

One of the landscapers I work with is keen to do more woodwork and we managed to find a tree that had been felled just south of Redditch. The best part of the oak tree is the heartwood – literally the piece that runs through the middle, which is less likely to move and split.

Looking at the grain, if the rings are close together it shows that the tree grew slowly in its lifetime. This also makes the wood stronger and less likely to move (it’s sort of the Rolls-Royce of wood).

When you are working with a section of wood this good you don’t need to do much to make it look really stunning: simplicity is the key. So we designed and made this simple, chunky bench.

And I mean chunky – it took about six people to move it into place. I also wanted to add a little finishing touch and this took the form of three oak leaves made from copper.

The bench now sits proudly in its site; it gives the clients and any passing walkers the chance to enjoy the view. It has travelled less than 20 miles from where it was growing to its new home and I believe it is also a thing of beauty in its own right.

This diversification into a little furniture design has given me a taste for it and I would like to try some more, so if you know anyone who would like some bespoke furniture that is completely eco-friendly and sustainable, give me a ring!


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