Add A New Dimension To Your Garden

8th May 2009

With UK summers aspiring to more sun and higher temperatures, you need somewhere in the garden to cool off and sip an iced drink… so why not opt for a pergola, gazebo or summerhouse?

A garden can be given an instant facelift with the addition of a couple of timber structures. Arches, arbours and pergolas are a great way to create instant interest and a new dimension to any garden. And clever positioning can help disguise even the most untidy corner!

Andrew Leech, Director of the National Home Improvement Council, suggests: ‘If you are looking for a simple arbour or pergola, there are many types available in garden centre and DIY stores. Most come in kit form, are pre-cut, pre-treated and ready to be assembled.’

Planning permission isn’t usually a problem, although if you live in a conservation area or in an AONB (Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty) it’s best to check with your local planning department.

Whatever you are considering, it’s wise to begin by marking out its imagined position and dimensions on the ground with string, sand or gravel. It’s fairly easy to imagine how much space a smallish arbour will take up, for example, but a pergola, gazebo or summerhouse need a little more thought.

If it’s to be a walkway, make sure you get the width and height right – remember that once any greenery (such as a climbing rose, wisteria or honeysuckle) has taken hold it will make the framework appear that much smaller. Make sure there’s enough head height – a 2.2m clearance is about right.

The sides of the pergola can be left open or enclosed with trellis or screens, the ‘roof’ is usually left open, and greenery is encouraged to scramble across the cross beams.

Brighten up a dull corner of the garden by adding a gazebo or summerhouse. They can be used to store various bits and pieces of gardening equipment too – although beware of turning what should be a pretty and relaxing area into a storehouse or shed! If this might be an issue, consider a partitioned structure – one part for storage, the other for that sought-after garden room.

Larger structures can be used in cooler weather too, as they offer shelter from breezes or even from summer showers and on really hot days they offer retreat from intense sun. Consider the direction of the prevailing winds and whether or not the open sides of the summerhouse will catch the sun.

Decide when you are most likely to use the summerhouse – if it’s to be for breakfast al fresco, for example, then position it where it will catch the early morning sunshine.

Gazebos and summerhouses need a bit more pre-planning before they can be installed as you will need a stable flat base. Most suppliers recommend a concrete slab between 50mm to 100mm deep. Concrete paving slabs could also be used, railway sleepers or even a joist-type ground level decking base.

Whatever you’re creating, it’s not advisable to cut corners. Given the rigours of the uncertain British climate you are best off using top-quality timber and timber products.

Modern pressure impregnation (where the timber is often referred to as pressure treated) means that wood preservative is applied under pressure, thus protecting it against rot decay and insect attack and prolonging is service between 15 – 30 years depending on the type and degree of treatment. That’s a pretty good shelf life.

Once your structure is in place it won’t require any special treatments for a couple of years. After that it will start to weather naturally and you may want to maintain its original colour by giving it the occasional coat of stain or colour. Products are widely available in both natural wood tone shade or in brighter, contemporary colours.

And building with wood is a very green thing to do. Bear this in mind: using one cubic metre of wood instead of other building materials saves an average of 0.8t of CO2 being released into the atmosphere. The manufacture of concrete generates almost eight times – and steel 14 times – as much CO2 as wood. Wood is the only major building material that can be independently certified to demonstrate it has been sourced sustainably. Over 90% of wood used commercially in Europe comes from Europe, where sustainable forest management is practiced.

You can obtain more information about timber from the
wood.for good campaign on

Find Your Local