Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Northern California Coastal & Inland Valleys
March, 2010
Regional Report

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Good looking, durable outdoor furniture can transform a patio or deck into a comfortable living space.

Patty O'Furniture

What is wet and sits outside in the garden?
Patty O'Furniture

I have never indulged myself with a good set of patio furniture, but I can tell you from visiting designer homes and the fancy-schmancey places where we shot television shows that a good set of furniture makes all the difference in the world to the appearance of your garden. It turns a patio or deck into an outside living area. Just check the garden show if you don't believe me.

Not only should outdoor furniture be durable and comfortable, it should also look good, and probably all of the pieces should match.
My friend Chris bought a wrought iron set of Italian outdoor furniture that was hugely expensive - thousands of dollars. I thought she was out of her mind for spending that much, but that was over 20 years ago and it still looks gorgeous on her covered deck. She has reupholstered the cushions because the cats shredded the Naugahyde, but other than that, it has withstood the test of time.
All metal outdoor furniture, cast iron especially, should be inspected at the beginning and end of each season. Any cracks in the finish should be sanded with a steel wool pad and touched up with matching paint. Exposed iron will rust, so it's very important to keep it painted. Wash the frames with mild soap and a soft cloth several times during the season to remove dirt.

My mom has a good set of Brown Jordan outdoor furniture that lives outside in North Carolina all year long. It was moderately expensive to purchase, but has held up well for the past twenty-five years with very little maintenance. The company recommends washing their furniture with a mild detergent and a soft cloth. After washing, apply an automobile wax to the frames to protect against ultraviolet exposure and salt air.

Henry has a mishmash of plastic and aluminum furniture, but I would dearly love to find a set of something handsome for the lower patio. However, it's not my money or my garden, although I take it very personally.

Those light-weight plastic chairs that you buy at the hardware store are the most economical type of outdoor furniture, until you consider that you will probably replace them several times during your lifetime. To get the most from bargain furniture, it should be stored out of the sun, washed periodically with mild soap and water to remove mildew and dirt, and replaced when you begin to see cracks in the plastic.

The ultimate in outdoor furniture is teak. It is durable, sturdy and requires very little maintenance other than regular cleaning. It is also impressively expensive. Teak's golden glow and warm honey color will fade to silver-gray over a period of about nine months if left outdoors. The color change will not affect the durability of the teak, only the look. You need to decide if you want to be a slave to your patio furniture or if you can live with the natural weathered color.
There are products that will maintain that honey color, but it is a cosmetic treatment only. Many professionals recommend teak oil. Personally, I don't like it because it does not have sufficient UV protection and fades unevenly. Plus the patina from the finish feels glossy and unnatural.

Teak furniture should be cleaned at least annually with a solution of laundry detergent with a very small amount of bleach. Use a soft brush or a sponge, never use anything more abrasive than a Scotch-Brite pad. It is also advisable not to allow teak furniture to sit for long periods in standing water.

I hope this helps you decide what sort of glamorous outdoor furniture to buy when the time comes for replacement. Buy the best you can afford and most importantly, enjoy time in the garden!

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