Outdoor Living Made Easy: A Guide to Selecting and Maintaining Garden Furniture
March 1, 2023

by Kate and Len Lucas

When we were growing up, all the furniture you had was in the house and any furniture outside was either waiting for collection by the council or hadw been dumped by somebody else anticipating bonfire night. 

Haven’t things changed? Today without furniture in the garden you either don’t know how to enjoy yourself or your priorities are wrong. 

That’s all very well but you may have noticed that some outdoor furniture is more expensive than indoor furniture and some of it wouldn’t even fit or could be downright dangerous because it has a built-in gas barbecue.

Recognising that we could be looked down on if we didn’t have a table and at least six chairs outside together with an oriental parasol with built-in LED timed solar lights and integral BBQ, in our experience, it’s not so much the style of what you buy but how it is put together and what is it made of.

Here are some of our own experiences with furniture for the garden, in the hope they might be of help to you.

After several years of having to replace wooden benches, tables and chairs we decided on outdoor furniture made from acrylic resin. At least that’s how we would describe it. It never rots, fades, needs painting or goes rusty, so it stays out all year and all we have to do in the Spring is wipe it down to remove any dust or old spider’s webs. It’s good at what it does and the addition of some cushions makes all the difference. Not all wooden furniture ends up falling to bits, teak lasts a long time but you do have to oil it regularly.

We are also lucky enough to have a table and chair set made of aluminium.  We have tried wrought iron but it is very heavy and the orange rust does show eventually, especially at the joints. Aluminium is slightly more expensive but much lighter and although it will rust, it’s white and not so obvious. 

Parasols, oh dear, Parasols! This is the contemporary description of what we old people would have called an umbrella and joins the horticultural lexicon along with pergola and gazebo.

Parasols are important to us in our own garden and we would not be without them, but we have discovered two very important points. First, what happens in a breeze and second, the “up and down mechanism” which needs a working knowledge of Isaac Newton’s laws of motion. 

In our blissful ignorance of these universal principles, we did buy a very large square sail parasol which was strong enough to power a fifty-foot catamaran. It was a truly handsome beast but unfortunately also shared some of the characteristics of a real beast. Even though weighed down with four large paving slabs, it did not like the breeze. It is no more.

We then graduated to smaller, coloured parasols in an effort to avoid such problems. And we can report, some success. We are happy to expose our self-indulgent streak here and admit to having three: very blue, bright pink and sultry grey. At about 3 metres in diameter, they do look great on a sunny day but the breezy stuff still plagues us. Therefore, we have invested in very heavy round bases and they are a big help. So, if you are thinking about a parasol this year and your budget will stretch to it – buy the heaviest base you can afford.

However, another issue has turned up.

The up-and-down mechanism is now available in two forms. One uses a nylon chord and a winding handle and the other uses a rather natty bit of kit that does away with the nylon chord by having a sliding sleeve on the central pole. We have both and neither is perfect, but it is always possible that 2023 will see alternative methods deployed in an attempt to solve the question: “OK, Mr Newton, how does this parasol go up?”

In the past, the nylon cord has snapped and is difficult to repair. The sliding kit works but you need to be at least six feet tall if you want to have your parasol in the centre of your outdoor table.

Mind you, the number of ways that you can put up a parasol is clearly limited but if there ever was a project for a PhD in physics, we reckon this is it.

It will come down to your own personal preference but we would advise checking very carefully how your new purchase goes up and down before you buy it. There is nothing wrong with asking the garden centre to give you a demonstration.