How to create shade in the garden

Stay cool, calm and collected with our top 10 tips for creating shade in the garden this summer


Photo by Hollow Creative.

How to create shade in the garden

Lazing beneath a cool, shady pergola when the sun is high in the sky must be one of life’s most agreeable experiences. Some form of shade structure is essential not just to beat the rays but also to make outdoor living more pleasant. Whether you choose a rustic pergola or a simple shade sail, creating a ‘ceiling’ in your garden makes sense on many levels.

With any garden structures you need to think about materials, position, scale and purpose, but a large vertical element like a pergola has much greater visual presence in the landscape than features like decks or lawns. They can also be costly so it pays to properly research what kind of shade structure would work best for your outdoor spaces. Here are a few ideas to get you started.

1. Make sure it’s weatherproof

We have a variable climate in this country, which makes it necessary to not only shade outdoor spaces from the sun, but also shelter them from rain and wind if we are to maximise our usage. For this your overhead structure will need to be covered in a weatherproof material and ideally screened along at least one of its sides.


Photo by Helen Bankers.


2. Create an outdoor room

With space inside becoming so much tighter for many of us, using outdoor areas as an extension of the house is the ideal solution. Covering all or part of the space above a terrace or deck will enhance its feeling of enclosure, making it feel more protected and room-like.


Photo by Hollow Creative.


3. Maximise your privacy

A covered pergola provides privacy from neighbours who can view your garden from above, but if you want to still allow sun to penetrate think about using a semi-transparent material such as timber battens or bamboo on top. Awnings and shade sails that can be removed when you want a little more light are also an option. For a more permanent waterproof structure consider aluminium louvres, tinted glass or polycarbonate awnings. In very tiny gardens overlooked by tall buildings think about screening the entire overhead plane of the garden to create one lovely, room-like space.


Photo by Helen Bankers.


4. Create visual balance between home and garden

Another advantage of building a pergola or similar overhead structure such as an arbour is that it will add visual weight to your garden, a big plus if it’s new and plants are still establishing. The verticality of the structure will help even up the balance between garden and house, an important thing to consider as a large house can easily overpower a small site.

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Photo by Hollow Creative.


5. Extend the architecture of the house

Pergolas and other overhead shelters such as arbours, archways and awnings can also be used to extend the architecture of the house into the garden. To reinforce this visual connection try and use materials or colours that will relate to those of the house. For instance, paint the vertical structure the same colours as the trim on the house or use the same powder-coated steel as the window joinery.

6. Choose your materials wisely

Visual weight is important when choosing materials for vertical structures, particularly if you have a small garden. Aluminium, powder-coated steel, wrought iron and other metals generally have a lighter appearance than timber, brick and concrete. However, the flexibility of timber gives you more design options. It can also easily be painted or stained to a colour that complements those of the house and be fine or rough sawn depending on the style of the garden.

Painted or stained timber structures obviously require more maintenance than natural timber, wrought iron, powder-coated steel or aluminium. Timber is also less durable than metal.

But if the budget is tight timber wins out over metal structures, most of which require professional skills to construct. A simple timber pergola can be built by someone with reasonable DIY ability and there are also a number of kitset shade structures available now.

7. Scale is crucial

As well as colours and materials, scale is crucial with pergolas and other overhead structures. If you relate their dimensions to the proportions of the house (door and window heights for instance) this will strengthen the connection between the two. Don’t skimp on the height and width of your pergola; a mean, cramped structure will not be pleasant to use or look at.

Umbrella for shade

Photo by Guy Frederick.


8. Consider lightweight shade options

Lightweight, temporary shade structures can add an enchanting festive quality to the garden and they don’t have to cost the earth. When the sun appears drape a piece of beautiful fabric (a sari or sarong for instance) over a homemade frame of manuka or bamboo poles. Stretched shade sails and canopies are also excellent alternatives to pergolas and other permanent structures. Many are waterproof and their flexibility of size and shape means they can be used to protect a variety of outdoor spaces from sandpits to patios.

Umbrellas are, of course, the ultimate temporary shade structure, ideal for shading smaller terraces and eating areas. These days there are many variations on the traditional garden umbrella including large, tilting patio types fixed to posts to make them more wind-resistant.

Pool 4. Built-in Louvretec aluminium louvres allow sunlight to be modulated on the outdoor seating area adjacent to the pavilion. Photography by Samuel Hartnett.

Built-in Louvretec aluminium louvres allow sunlight to be modulated on the outdoor seating area. Photo by Samuel Hartnett.


9. Investigate shade-control technology

When budget is not an issue the most sophisticated options for controlling the elements – sun, shade, light, ventilation and rain – are electronically controlled louvres. These can be used to clad both the sides and top of pergolas and are available in a range of different blade sizes and colours in adonised or powder-coated aluminium.

Many electronic systems can be customised to suit the space and some are sensor controlled to automatically close when it starts to rain.


Photo by Juliet Nicholas.


10. Train plants over man-made structures

Training plants over a pergola will soften the man-made materials of a vertical structure intensifying the connection between it, the house and garden. Plants are a cost effective way to create shade, and the light quality beneath green plants is lovely. If deciduous climbers are used sunlight can still penetrate below the pergola during winter.

The disadvantages of using plants for shade are leaf, flower and berry drop, insect attraction and their lack of rain protection. Pergolas also need to be strong enough to support the weight of climbers, which can be heavy when they mature.

Words by: Carol Bucknell

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