Make sure your furniture is protected from the elements
• Give your furniture a good wash or scrub once a year to get rid of lichens and bird droppings - this is especially beneficial if the furniture has been sitting beneath a tree.
• Clean off your furniture before the winter comes - although it is tempting to leave this job until the spring, it is better for the timber to do this in the autumn - particularly if you are leaving the furniture outdoors. Dirt holds moisture far longer than something that is clean (and it's the moisture that brings on the decay) - by cleaning it you will also be getting it in a state where it can dry out from time to time on a sunny day, even in winter. If you are putting it under cover then removing the dirt will also mean that it does not dry hard onto the furniture.
• Different materials need to be treated in different ways. Oak is the most resilient to the winter weather and requires the least maintenance. If you have plastic furniture, make sure it is completely dry and covered – even faint winter sunlight will deteriorate the compounds in plastic materials. If your furniture is painted metal, check the paintwork does not have crumbly rusted bits, which may need re-painting before the wet weather sets in. While rattan furniture is lovely in the summer, there really is no better way to protect it in the winter than to bring it inside.
• To clean timber - we have always recommended using a warm solution of sugar soap and a scrubbing brush. You can leave the solution on the furniture for a few minutes to soak into more stubborn dirt patches before shifting them with the scrubbing brush. Once done, rinse off with a hose pipe and leave to dry. More recently, we have been using a product called 'Net-trol' from a company called 'Owatrol'. This is more expensive than sugar soap but produces very good results.
• Don’t use a pressure washer for cleaning wooden furniture - we have seen too many times the damage that this can cause by stripping away some of the timber itself as well as the dirt. Often this does not become apparent until the wood has dried out and taken on the texture of shark skin. The remedial action for this is to sand it down smooth again, although you don't want to have to do this too many times.
• Avoid putting any oil or sealants on new oak furniture. Oils tend to make the wood go black and pick up dirt, while other finishes sit on the surface, change the texture of the wood and need frequent maintenance.
• However, once the wood has been out for a number of years (on average about 10), the surface grain will have opened up and it will have lost its surface tannins - at this point replenishing these with new oils will be beneficial. Once again, we have found the penetrating oil products from Owatrol to be very good for this and we have started up a reconditioning service, which now includes this treatment as an option. Softwoods and less durable hardwoods will require much more frequent treatments with preservative finishes than this and it is best to get the recommendation of the manufacturer for this.
• The very damp year we have just experienced means that mildew is much more prevalent than usual and we have had one or two occurrences of it appearing on oak, which is very unusual. Conditions for mildew are generally warm damp areas where the spores get caught and bloom. Although it will not harm oak, it can leave unsightly marks that require bleach-based cleaning products to wash off. While bleaches do not harm oak, and most other timbers, they can cause discolouration - so it’s best to test it on a small area first before applying to the whole area.
• Don't allow wooden furniture to sit in a puddle, or very wet grass, all the time. It's best to place a flat stone or pebble under the legs so that it can drain and dry out from time to time. Oak is very low-maintenance, needing no oiling or chemical treatments.
• If, however, the furniture is habitually standing on grass (sometimes unavoidable) rather than on a hard standing or gravel, which drains, I would recommend using a preservative. If you can, after cleaning it, stand the furniture for a few weeks with its feet in some washed-out 'bean tins' filled with a preservative, such as those made by Cuprinol. The preservative will soak up into the feet giving this vulnerable area added protection (note: when doing this the wood around the feet may change colour, so please do your own tests to see what suits the wood you are using first).
• If you are leaving your furniture outside but covering it over, either with purpose-made covers or wrapping it up in a tarpaulin, make sure it is clean and bone dry before you cover it up and there is ventilation for air to circulate so that if moisture gets in it can also more easily get out on a dry day.
Choosing your outdoor furniture
• Make sure your garden furniture is not purely ornamental - comfort should be key. Your shoulders and arms are a surprisingly heavy part of your body. Look out for seats with a curved backrest.
• When choosing garden furniture, try to match the same scale as your garden and house: a large house, or dramatic tall planting call for a larger seat or dining scheme, whereas a cottage garden or small town terrace would suit a smaller bench.
• A bench with an arm has many uses: it can hold a book or a coffee cup - and if getting up from a seat is tricky, it provides a good 'push-up' point.
• Beware dining tables with legs in annoying places - well-designed tables avoid placing legs to tangle with those of diners.
How to place your outdoor furniture
• The right piece of furniture can provide a very good focal point in your garden design. Placing a bench by a tree or having a backdrop of climbing plants or roses can create a dramatic look. Sculptural designs complement trees of any size, while a piece such as the Meander loveseat by Gaze Burvill creates a charming focal point among the foliage in your garden.
• If you want to place your furniture somewhere it might be vulnerable to theft, for example in front of a town house, then be sure to get discreet leg fixings: they are very easy to fit when the furniture is installed, and make it more difficult for the furniture to be pinched.
For more information, visit www.gazeburvill.com
The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated. The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.