• Building benches and ‘paths of desire’

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    Places to sit in the garden? You’ve got to have them.

    First the paths

    You have to take your time to figure out where to lay out paths and the words “paths of desire” I’d read about stuck in my head. Paths of desire are where you really want to go in your garden.

    “Landscape designers sometimes talk about “desire paths”: the paths traced by people’s habits of movement from one place to another, the paths that make clear where we want to go, and how we want to get there.” Dominque Browning, editor of House and Garden magazine in her book  “Paths of Desire.”

    Regardless of where a professional designer would lay out paths or how big or small your garden is, it’s good to let a little time to go by and figure out where you want to go on your place and build your paths there.


    Sitting in the garden

    You’ll do more sitting in your garden, if you make a comfy place to do so Novel idea because many gardeners joke about never having to sit in their own gardens! The first places to sit in my California garden were on old furniture I got curb shopping or from friends. These we put on the patio, …we had two patios, one the same level as the house and one down a level, built from stamped concrete in place of the deck that we had originally planned.  We’re on a pretty steep slope.

    Old furniture from trash day

    Old furniture from trash day on lower patio.

    We had two level 70′ long leach lines as the start to our paths. The rest of the place is on a slope. Each year we’ve ventured further out building a network of paths in order to be able to walk out without tromping through weeds. I laid out a path going through the garden planted around the lower patio.

    Paths needing places to sit

    Paths needing places to sit

    Tractor Man leveled the path I laid out, which runs the length of the garden 30 feet below and parallel to the house, about 120 feet long. Two years ago we extended the water lines from one faucet in the center to two, one at each end. I needed water further down like this and can now water 100 feet down from each end. Now, in 2011, that’s all the garden I can manage by myself. I think.


    We build benches…you can, too!

    All our benches were built with little or no cost. The redwood is expensive, but worth every penny. It lasts. The command post table and our dining table were also made of this.

    First and easiest bench, somewhere to sit while watering

    First and easiest bench, somewhere to sit while watering

    This first redwood bench was built from one 2 x 8 board about ten feet long. Two legs are cut, each 14 inches long, positioned about 10-12 inches in from the ends and nailed straight down from the seat of the bench. a two x four was nailed underneath for support.

    First and easiest bench made from one board and a two x four

    First and easiest bench made from one board and a two x four

    There’s a second wider bench from a 2x 10, constructed the same way under this oak tree below, along the same path.

    Bench under the oak, another easy 'one-board' bench

    Bench under the oak, another easy ‘one-board’ bench

    Another similar bench has the comfortable ‘rock outside the back door’ to lean against.

    Bench with rock behind to lean on

    Bench with rock behind to lean on

    A little ways along the same garden path, is my ‘collapsing lounge’, made from an old redwood chair and ottoman and a flip, flip mattress, with an army blanket over it. Set under a big Live Oak and propped up under a couple legs with rocks, it anchors this part of the garden and creates a destination. Comfort is the key here and I highly recommend making a comfortable place for yourself, with cushions and a pillow, very handy for after digging or when dizzy from the heat. Tractor Man and the dog like to sit there.

    Collapsing lounge

    Collapsing lounge fixed up for this year with a camp blanket

    In California, we don’t have much if any summer rain, so I leave this lounge out from May to the first rains in October. The table was found for free on trash day, as was the chair and the pillow shams were found at a thrift store. Just beyond this lounge, in back of it out of view, is the new meadow I’ve been working on.

    Below this garden path are the two leach lines which now form 12 foot wide, 120 foot long parallel paths 30 feet below one another. Beyond these two wide paths, in recent years, we’ve cleared and groomed lower and lower and have added a large loop path, winding through some woods that opens into a large, gently sloped area. With the tractor, we’ve been able to carve out this loop and make it fairly level and about 4 feet wide, the width of the tractor scoop.

    Tractor man, building a path, the lowest level we have accomplished so far. Trees are trimmed up.

    Tractor man, building a path, the lowest level we have accomplished so far. Trees are trimmed up.

    At an intersection, after doing some tree trimming, we built this bench-in-a-tree with a view of the large open space. This was a fun, fast bench to make and illustrates very well the slope of the land.

    Bench-in-a-tree at the end of a new path last year

    Bench-in-a-tree at the end of a new path last year

    View from bench-in-a-tree, looking onto Peckinpah Ridge

    Autumn view from bench-in-a-tree, looking onto Peckinpah Ridge


    The most recent bench was built alongside the upper part of the loop, where the view is breathtakingly beautiful. The mountain commands your attention here. Instead of just passing by on our walks with Maggie, while watching down at our steps, I wanted a real comfortable bench to stop and enjoy.

    Down the woodland path you can see the line of thick brush in the Sierra National forest.

    With a magazine picture to go by and a design loosely based on two very simple, yet classic Aldo Leopold* benches, we knocked it together, without too much yelling and too many treks between the ‘spot’ and our patio ‘workshop.’ Thank goodness for cordless drills.

    Again this bench was built for $0, built from landscaping redwood, 2-x 12s, acquired free from the local lumberyard, whose owner, when asked, said it was “too weathered!” “Gee, in that case, I’d be glad to take it off your hands” said I.

    Our newest bench, from a magazine picture, made from old wood- $0

    Our newest bench, from a magazine picture, made from old wood- $0

    I planted some Coreopsis, Coreopsis bigelovii, which will need no water after the first year and there is some hardy mint in the Talavera pot. The table is a thrift store find.

    “Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to plan in and pray in, where Nature may heal and cheer and give strength to body and soul alike.” –

    John Muir

    View from new bench...why it was placed here

    View from new bench…why it was placed here

    See the slideshow for more photos of places to sit here on the place.

    *Thanks to Kathleen Groh Levy for cluing me in on the originator of the bench design.

    Aldo Leopold benches

    Aldo Leopold on Wikipedia


    Share and Enjoy


    Sue Langley, a passionate gardener and photographer lives and gardens with her husband and Corgi, Maggie on 7 acres just south of Yosemite, Zone 7 at 3000 feet. She manages the Flea Market Gardening Facebook page and website.


    1. Candy Suter says:

      You live in a beautiful area! You must live on many acres. I love your benches. Yes you must have a place to rest during your walks around the yard. Especially one as big as yours. And that photo is spectacular! Love your view!

      1. Sue Langley says:

        Thanks, Cindy,…it’s 7 acres on a hillside. We bought it for the view which we could harly believe when we first saw it. Thank you! ~~ Sue

    2. Debra Clark says:

      Oh Sue im just so taken by your view and so many perfect ahhhhhh spots !

    3. sharon morelli says:

      love all that i saw ! i want to try alot of it , thank you , i love junk finding and being able to use it.

    4. sharon morelli says:

      it is so much fun to see what other people use in their gardens , i love to recycle and find junk i can use . thanks for all the beautiful pictures !

    5. Sue says:

      What a great story of your garden paths. Love the simplicity of the benches and jealous of the views. Thanks for sharing.

    6. Myra Glandon says:

      Sue, I am so jealous of your incredibly beautiful views! They are absolutely breathtaking. I would have a hard time getting anything done. I loved seeing all the benches you’ve made, hearing how you’ve been creating your paths, and sharing your story. Thanks for sharing with us.