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Gardening Articles: Landscaping :: Yard & Garden Planning

What About Teak?

by Yuri Bihun

Throughout North America, summertime draws people outdoors to relax in the leafy sanctuary of their backyard decks and gardens. A bewildering assortment of garden furniture and accessories is available in a wide selection of materials, price ranges and styles. Increasingly, outdoor furniture is more stylish and functional as well as affordable and comfortable. Pieces that fold for easy storage, sleek silhouettes, innovative finishes, and the contemporary reinvention of classic designs define millennial fashions in outdoor furniture. Although maintenance-free, resin-based materials, metal and non-porous wicker are giving wood a run for the money, discerning homeowners still prefer the organic feel of traditional wooden furniture.

In the United States, cedar and redwood--both light, durable and attractive--are the preferred species for outdoor furniture and garden accessories. Oak, ash and other common hardwood species are solid, hard-wearing alternatives. Although they generally lack the sturdiness and durability of domestic hardwoods, properly stained or painted aspen, pine, Douglas fir and other softwoods, are also popular. Eucalyptus, rubberwood and a host of lesser-known tropical hardwoods are heavy, extremely rot resistant alternatives that have been making an increasingly strong showing in the marketplace.

However, only one species--teak--stands out as unmatched in its appeal and utilitarian value. It's ability to withstand the rigors of adverse climate, yet maintain its weathered look, make teak the premium choice for outdoor furniture today. Teak's appearance actually improves with age; exposed to the elements, the wood fades to a soft, stone gray that merges into the landscape. Because of its durability and beauty, teak furniture has often been specified by architects for the punishing wear and tear of public spaces. British craftsmen have used teak in traditional high-end, garden furniture since the 18th century and teak benches built over a century ago still grace London gardens from Hyde Park to Kew.

Beyond enjoying its natural beauty, few people sitting in their teak deck chairs and settees give any thought to this versatile tropical hardwood. For most Americans, price, quality and design are the primary features in selecting furniture. If they think about where the wood is coming from at all, it is assumed that it is coming from a benign source. In the case of an exotic hardwood like teak, however, the passage from the rainforests of Southeast Asia to the bench in your backyard is a tangled journey, one that might make you sit up and think about where this wood is coming from and what impact it is making locally as well as globally.

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