Natural Gardener columnist Valerie Easton reminds us Northwesterners that every warm day and pleasant evening is precious.

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CALIFORNIA LANDSCAPE architect Tommy Church was famous for his adage that gardens are for people. Sounds obvious, but we gardeners get so obsessed with plants and more plants that we forget to leave space for open-air dining, relaxing, reading and napping.

I’m afraid we dismiss outdoor furnishings as niceties unsuited to our less-than-balmy climate. But isn’t it even more important to make the most of summer where it’s briefest?

Every warm day and pleasant evening is precious. If you haven’t created comfortable outdoor spaces you can be sure you won’t be out there soaking up the sun or celebrating long, lingering twilights with an al fresco dinner.

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Companies from Design Within Reach to West Elm are encouraging us to step up our outdoor game with lines of classy, adaptable furniture. Remember balancing a limp paper plate precariously on your knees? And those rubbery lawn chairs that stretched so much that part of your anatomy inevitably sagged through the slats? Banished, done with.

Every garden needs well-cushioned armchairs as inviting as your favorite reading chair. How about the all-weather wicker Montauk Lounge Chair from West Elm, with rainproof cushions included? The aluminum frame is rust-resistant and covered in a handsome faux-wicker weave so large the rain will run right through. The Nest Chairs, with their retro beanbag shape, and chaises (Montauk Loungers) look equally comfy. West Elm’s Barrow Collection, ideal for smaller gardens, is inspired by poolside parties in Palm Springs. The sleek chairs and tables are thoroughly modernist, and the chaises have wheels so you can easily move them about. There’s a little round bistro table for two, or a clean-lined rectangular table that seats six, both with simple, slim chairs, all in powder-coated, weather-resistant white (

My pick for the most versatile piece of outdoor furniture is the Primary Pouf from Design Within Reach. Made from the same durable foam as the furniture at Seattle Public Library downtown, these versatile little cubes are cushy enough to sit on, solid enough to serve as side tables, lightweight enough to easily carry about and colorful enough to brighten any outdoor space. Poufs wash up with warm water and soap.

Create ambience as dusk falls with the 15-inch-high Luau Portable LED Lamp, also from DWR. It’s coolly curvaceous, yet glows warmly for six to 10 hours after charging. It can be hung from a tree or arbor, or stood on a table, and can be dimmed. If you prefer an open flame, consider the Danish-designed Lighthouse Outdoor Torches. These slim metal torches burn lamp oil or citronella, and burn strongly and steadily like little bonfires (

Don’t you love lingering outdoors at restaurants beneath the warmth of overhead heat lamps? Costco sells stainless-steel propane patio heaters that look like handsome streetlights. Along with lap robes, heat lamps might be our most useful garden accessories (

With heat overhead, cushy seating and atmospheric lighting, now all you need is an outdoor rug or two underfoot on the deck or patio. Some of the prettiest are Viva Terra rugs ( Made from recycled-plastic bottles and packing materials, the rugs don’t fade or trap mold or mildew. They can be cleaned with a garden hose, and come in bright or subtle colors, stripes, florals or more traditional oriental-type designs.

No more webbed lawn furniture or rickety folding chairs. Don’t you dare drag a card table outside to eat on. There are so many great alternatives that hold up to the weather while offering an invitation to make the most of our all-too-brief summers.

Valerie Easton is a Seattle freelance writer and author of “petal & twig.” Check out her blog at

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