By Jill Morgan
We all love a spot of summer sunshine, but there are times when you crave a little shade in your garden. A shady garden retreat is often just what we need, whether it’s somewhere we can escape with a good book or a group of friends. There are plenty of chic and creative ways to design that somewhere special and we’ve picked our favourites.
Read on to find out how to grow your own leafy canopy to dine underneath, a bespoke outside room or how to design a fairytale shelter perfect for twilight drinks. We can also help with the latest buys too – check out the parasols, gazebos and hi-tech shelters – there’s definitely a solution you’ll want to try.
Looking for more garden inspiration? Head to our garden ideas gallery.
1. Go for a super chic parasol
Need a cool spot to enjoy your morning coffee? Then pop up a smart parasol for instant shade. They come in all shapes and sizes, from neat, arcing shapes just big enough for two to supersized rectangular canopies designed to comfortably cover a dining table for eight. Single colours tend to be the norm – stone, grey, black and cream are all chic contemporary choices – but we particularly love this Riviera inspired parasol from Cox and Cox. The bold blue trim adds a jaunty nautical touch that’s sure to be a firm favourite for years.
2. Enjoy some undercover dining
Swap the sun’s harsh glare for a secluded dining spot instead, by opting for furniture with a built-in canopy. Popular back in the 1920s these fan-style folding covers were often found dotted along the beaches of Cannes and Nice. Today they are just as effective for blocking out the sun – simply raise or lower the canopy as needed. They are great for keeping out a stiff breeze too. This Lounge set from Next in dark grey faux rattan, features a canopy sofa, two movable seats, footstool and side table. They all slot neatly together when not in use, which is great if your patio is particularly compact and bijou.
3. Curl up on a swing seat
Treat yourself to a cosy day bed where you can unwind and be rocked to sleep come rain or shine. Swing seats can make a very special addition to a garden, especially when they are as beautifully crafted as this one from Sitting Spiritually and Blackdown Shepherds Huts. Made in Devon using oak and corrugated tin, the roomy seat is suspended from metal chains at each corner. Tuck these beautiful structures into a quiet, leafy corner and they can quickly become a much-cherished place for taking time out, especially during the hottest part of the day. During cooler months load up with blankets, cushions and throws and light a fire pit nearby for cosy, memorable moments.
4. Design your own retreat
If an off-the-peg shelter is just not your thing, then with a little imagination and creative flair you can create your own one-of-a-kind garden room. Start by clearing an unloved corner and think about how you can partially enclose the space. Painting an existing fence or wall black or another dark tone will instantly smarten it up, create an intimate feel and make a fantastic background for showing off salvaged finds such as these weathered louvred shutters.
Adding a freestanding screen can help to that room-like feel while a simple pergola overhead covered with corrugated plastic sheeting is unobtrusive but effective at keeping sun and rain away, plus it’s the perfect support for hanging a cluster of lanterns too. Pop in a highly decorative tiled floor or large rug, some open work rattan furniture such as these from Dobbies and plenty of tropical blooms and you’ve a truly special, totally unique retreat.
5. Go for a side-supported parasol
Some courtyard gardens can turn into furnaces on hot, summer days with brick walls and paving intensifying the heat. Restore some sense of cool and calmness with a large, cantilevered parasol. Suspended from an arching or right-angled side arm these contemporary sun-shades are designed to be easily adjusted to follow the sun’s path, without having to drag a weighty base around, ensuring a large, uninterrupted area of shade throughout the day. What’s more, they really suit an outdoor living or dining area as there’s no need to constantly dodge around an annoying central post whilst catching up with friends.
6. Grow a living canopy
If you have a favourite dining spot in your garden that’s desperately in need of some shade, then how about planting a natural pergola. Ok, it will take some time, patience and a little skill in training and tying in branches, but it looks stunning and will simply get better with age. The beautiful dappled light created beneath the leaves is enchanting and with a little planning you can choose trees that reflect the changing seasons.
This elegant design by Claudia De Jong features four plum trees that have delicate blossom in spring, golden fruit late summer and leaves that turn russet brown in autumn. With strong, straight trunks they have been planted a couple of metres apart to form a square, roomy enough to surround a table and chairs. The overhead branches have been carefully tied into a square framework and any outward shoots are neatly trimmed away.
7. Choose a sun-smart awning
Garden awnings have definitely come of age – long gone are the candy-striped, frill-edged affairs, today’s designs are sleek, discreet and feature built-in lighting, heating and sensors that can detect when they are needed. There are a few products that can be unfurled manually with a crank handle, but most have smooth motorised controls than can be operated remotely via handset or App. This design from Hillary’s is fitted with vibration sensors that can detect windy conditions and automatically close the awning to prevent it from being damaged in strong winds.
8. Add a striking sail shade
Make a sculptural statement in your garden with a sail shade. Square, rectangular or triangular in shape, they come in many different grades of fabric and finishing so consider how often you will use yours before you buy. Party shades tend to be cheaper to buy and shorter in lifespan, designed for occasional use they are usually made from a recyclable mono-filament polymer.
This knitted fabric is durable and breathable, allowing retained heat to escape through tiny holes and while it will block some UV rays – usually around 90% – some can still get through. For a longer lasting canopy, look for fabrics that are described as water resistant or waterproof. Often woven from high density polyester they will reliably keep the rain off, block up to 98% of UV rays and come with strapping along each side for added tension and marine grade corner fittings too.
9. Design a leafy pathway
Not just purely practical, adding shade into a sunny garden can completely transform the whole space and make it feel much more inviting too. One of the simplest ways to do this is to add a series of simple arches along a pathway. Not only will this frame the view beyond, but it also creates a rhythmic play of shadows along the walkway that highlights the texture and colour of surrounding plants. A gently arcing design, such as this elegant Monet Arch from Agriframes will help to open up the space. Plant with wisteria which will quickly cover the frame with its light, vivid green foliage and if you buy a grafted plant that’s over five years old, you’ll enjoy a dazzling cascade of blue or white blooms every May and June.
10. Escape to an arbour
Fancy some quiet time out of the sun then a neat, wooden arbour makes a stylish retreat. Compact and simple in design, they make a secluded but comfy place to perch for an hour or so, especially when armed with a cuppa and a good book. Usually designed with a gable roof and slatted wood or trellis sides they can be tucked into a leafy nook and surrounded with fragrant climbers for extra charm. Look for a sturdy design made from pressure treated timber and go for a seat that is roomy and supportive. This Edenbridge Arbour by Forest from Wayfair has a built-in bench with sloping back making it extra comfy, just add a couple of plumped up cushions and you won’t want to move.
11. Upgrade your gazebo
Forget wrestling with flimsy frames and fly-away covers, the best gazebos can be a truly stylish addition to your garden and the perfect setting for lazy evenings throughout the summer months. This geodome design from Build With Hubs will certainly get some attention. Made in the UK using sustainably sourced hazel, the wooden lengths simply slot into the connecting hubs to create a rigid but roomy shelter. Tie in three or five canvas sails to create shade exactly where you need it.
12. Make your shady spot a focal point
Turn your need for shade into an opportunity to add a little drama to your garden. A finely crafted metal gazebo - such as this hexagonal design from Room in the Garden – will bring a smile to everyone’s face and become a magical setting for everything from your morning coffee to evening drinks. Although a pretty, large structure, the open trellis sides are designed so you can see through to the garden beyond, ensuring the shelter doesn’t dominate and block the view. Add a canvas roof liner for extra protection from sun and showers. Side coverings are also available in myriad colours.
13. Give a summerhouse a modern edge
Traditional yes, but the perfect shady retreat for many has to be a summerhouse. Quintessentially English, these outdoor hideaways can become ideal locations for a friendly catch up, afternoon tea or a sundowner G+T. Made with timber walls and usually sporting symmetrical windows and wide opening doors, some designs such as this beauty, The Burghley from Scotts of Thrapston come with an impressive lead-effect glass fibre roof. It’s beautiful sweeping lines teamed with cool paintwork and simple furnishings create a light and spacious feel, ideal for modern outdoor living.
14. Plant a pergola for dappled shade
Imagine spending the summers month under a leafy canopy, rustling in the breeze and out of the sun’s hot glare. Well building a pergola could be the answer. Constructed from heavy, weather-treated timber uprights with a framework of timber joists above, they are pretty quick to assemble and plant up with a few mature climbers, they can look as though they have been there for years. Position one right next to the house and you will use the space pretty much all the time. Just add a cosy outdoor sofa, side table, rug and standard lamp such as these from Ikea and it be a cool place where everyone will want to hang out. Hang a few paper lanterns overhead for a fun finishing touch that will make the space even more inviting.
15. Invest in a hi-tech shelter
If your garden is very exposed and you love entertaining in all weathers, then it’s worth splashing out on a generous outside room. Simple but oh-so-stylish, this Camargue design by Renson at Garden House Design is large enough to cook, laze and dine under. It features a rotating louvred roof that can be fully retracted as day turns to twilight and endless combinations of sliding and louvred walls, built-in lighting and heating options to enable you configure to exactly suit your site and needs.
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