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News: Benches: Sometimes More than Just a Place to Sit


October 15, 2019

Seating in the form of council rings.

Benches can be found in many different garden spaces; from wooden benches along paths in public parks to stone benches in secluded areas of private gardens. Seating is an important feature that is incorporated into all types of gardens, however it can be used for much more than just enjoying the scenery.

Council rings, traditionally made of stone, are low circular benches with a small opening at one end. The design of the council ring serves both large groups as well as the intimacy of one or two people.

The council ring is a signature element in many of the gardens designed by the Danish landscape architect Jens Jensen (1860-1951). Jensen developed the idea of council rings to work in both public and private spaces. The council ring is a symbolic representation of both ancient Danish traditions of village gatherings and newer ideals of American democracy. The circular design of the structure invites people to come together in an egalitarian way. Just as a circle has no beginning or end, there is no hierarchy within a group gathering around a council ring. Jensen placed council rings in the Chicago-area parks he designed during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries as a way to encourage neighbors to come together as equals to share ideas, experiences, and stories and to enjoy the beauty of nature.

Questover, Indianapolis, Indiana. 2006. John D. Cochran Jr., photographer. 

Jens Jensen laid out a council ring for Questover (top) in the 1920s. The ‘outdoor conference room’ at Crescent Ridge (below) acts much like a modern-day council ring; it is used exclusively for meetings, not for dining or entertaining.

Crescent Ridge, Garrison, NY. Sarah Griffin Banker photographer.

Council rings found in contemporary garden spaces still serve as welcoming and intimate places for people to congregate in groups or to sit alone in contemplation of their thoughts or of nature. While today there are modern adaptations found in gardens that may not be the traditional stone bench, council rings continue to be a garden feature that invites visitors to stop and reflect upon their surroundings as they discuss or ponder things big and small. 

Images from The Garden Club of America Collection at the Archives of American Gardens By Audrey Abrams, GCA Garden History & Design Intern, June 2013



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