Suggestion: It's underrated

Many of the pleasures of gardening are direct and overt, and others just lurk beyond grasp-ability.  Some are concrete, some just suggested or hinted at.

Benches and garden seats, for instance, are about 90% suggestion and 10% realization.  Hardly any gardeners I know give themselves time to sit, but there’s something about a well-placed chair or bench that is powerful just in its suggestion that you could sit, or to remind you of a time when perhaps you did sit there.  It’s like you can get a proportion of the benefit of the relaxation just by implying it.

If benches had bum-memory, this one would know mine well. I only have to look at it to be reminded of long summer afternoons twenty years back. The smaller but similar bench at the top of the long border at Great Dixter is more heavily loaded with memory and therefore suggestion – of balmy summer evenings, drink in hand. Can’t believe I haven’t got a pic of it.

Last time I was in The Music Garden, Toronto, I stumbled across these tiny tea-cups, perched on boulders.

The effect was incredible.  Not only was their fragility exaggerated by contrast with the boulder, they suggested some recent event which I would have loved to be at.  They looked like they’d been part of some installation, as if stuck down.  But no, they were loose.  I wondered if they were the residue of some elaborate tea ceremony, or perhaps just of a picnic, and that the participants had just wandered off in a romantic stupor.  Whatever it was, I wished I’d been there.

See if you can spot all four of ’em

And they left me gagging for a cup of tea.


  1. Oooh that’s so Picnic at Sitting Rock! I would have looked up, thinking to see those picnickers floating skyward. And re seats in gardens, it’s remarkable how often designers forget to do something about the view from, rather than just the view to. One sits, looks about and thinks….um…..’why did I come here?’

    1. You know that’s exactly what I was thinking of, Catherine. Dreamy cups of tea leading into a slow, eerie exit-procession of participants hovering a foot or two above the ground.

  2. Oh Michael. I have tried to convey this same message about placing a seat in the garden but my poor choice of words leaves my audience staring at me as if I were mad. Thank you for putting it so well and even putting the theory into mathematical terms. It reminds me of the saying that sex appeal is 50% what you’ve got, and 50% what people think you’ve got….the power of suggestion!

    1. The math was pretty rough, Cally. I’m sure if we could really nail the proportion of suggestion in any gardener’s garden seat, it’d be a fair bit higher!

  3. You are so right about the seating! I never use mine, but I like them to be there. If those teacups were placed deliberately, they are a fabulous idea. The more I look at them, the more intriguing they seem.

  4. Hi Michael,

    Lovely post – evocative, intelligent and as always, insightful.

    Cheers, Marcus

  5. Lovely post, Michael. I have same feeling about garden seating …… it brings a human element into nature that suggests contemplation and peace. I think of my garden a bit like an outfit … hopefully tasteful and appropriate, but something that makes people want to approach you and stay awhile cos it suggests a welcoming personality or tendency for fun and surprise. The delicate china teacups are especially fun, as they have saucers. Standards are upheld!!!!

    1. And no sign of tea bags, Julie. Come to think of it, I should have checked for tea stains in the bottom of the cups

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