• Building benches and paths of desire

    by  • June 23, 2011 • Design, How to, Projects • 6 Comments

    Places to sit in the garden?  You’ve got to have them. Especially when the place is affectionately called ‘Rancho Relaxo.’

    First the paths…

    We took our 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.

    “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 in “Paths of Desire”

    Regardless of where a professional designer would lay out paths, 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.

    The first places to sit were old furniture I got curb shopping or from friends. These we put on the patio, …we had two, 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.

    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

    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 clueing me in on the originator of the bench design.

    Aldo Leopold benches 

    Aldo Leopold on Wikipedia


    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 also manages the Flea Market Gardening Facebook page and website.

    6 Responses to Building benches and paths of desire

    1. June 23, 2011 at 12:12 pm

      I have so enjoyed this inspired post, Sue! I honestly feel you could use this lovely selection of charming photos to produce a best-selling coffee table book on casual seating in the garden! The one of you and your daughter wrapped up snugly in blankets, Maggie demonstrating how easy it is to perch on the tree bench…they are all so delightful!

      Now, having seen these, I am even more captivated/awed by the beauty of your garden. Its charm is enhanced with these many quirky and ever so appealing little resting spots. Each is unique in design…so simple and rustic and just so perfect for your location and setting…you truly are an artist, Sue!!!

      I am ‘crazy’ about paths in the garden and you’ve created such a wonderful garden to explore…I honestly don’t know how you ever get anything done around there. I’d happily spend each and every day just wandering happily and contentedly along your paths. Thank you so much for sharing your beautiful garden with us! XOXO

    2. June 24, 2011 at 6:24 am

      Great post, Sue!

      When we went to NZ, Andy had the idea to sit on every bench we found on the trails. He figured someone put them there for a reason – a perfect place to rest while hiking up a hill, a great view, or for some cherished memory. I thought it was silly at first, but it ended up being a great way to explore NZ through other people’s eyes.

      I started reading your post last night, but got side-tracked looking at pictures from a visit with a friend in Mill Valley. He’s in his mid 90’s now and spent over 60 years building his home and expansive trails throughout his property. As he did his field research, he’d collect rocks. Over the course of decades, those rocks ended up being the paving stones and walls for his own slice of heaven.

    3. June 25, 2011 at 8:13 am

      I love your bench designs–especially their honest simplicity–and how they’ve weathered to perfection. The fact that people turned down wood because it was too weathered seems bizarre, though I could see contractors wanting to give their customers something looking as close to fresh-from-the-sawmill as possible. I have hardwood around the house that I oil up every other year or so, but most of the rest of the wood around the house gets to do its thing and go gray.

    4. June 27, 2011 at 8:10 am

      Thanks, Desiree, for your kind compliments…I like paths, too, and think they can form planting areas naturally by where they develop. Fun!

      Katie, sounds like Andy’s crazy idea was a good one! I’d like to think everyone who builds a bench would place it with a good reason. Wasn’t NZ wonderful? Check out my NZ week when I visited my sister. http://wp.me/p10S9N-mx I hope we’re all gardening when we’re ninety! Great story!

      Thanks, James! I love weathered wood, but not everyone feels that way, I guess. It pays to ask at lumber yards for no good wood. A wise older friend told me, ‘Once you paint wood, you’ll always have to be repainting it, but leave it natural and there’s no up keep.’

    5. July 12, 2011 at 8:38 pm

      You are quite welcome for the info on Aldo Leopold! This summer I’d like to visit the Leopold Center near Baraboo, WI. If you would like to learn more about him and the foundation, go to http://www.aldoleopold.org/. I’m sure he’d love your gardens as much as the rest of us do!

      • July 13, 2011 at 12:06 pm

        Thanks again, Kathleen and thanks for your very kind comment! I will look up this link. he sounds like a fascinating man.

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