Matt Cantwell: Gimme Shelter

Generally speaking most parts of Australia are pretty temperate which is why we spend so much time outdoors, and why we are so passionate about enjoying time in our gardens. In summer though, the temperatures can climb and without the right kind of cover then we are really limiting the available hours of usage in summer.

Secret Gardens Sydney | UmbrellaFor a cheap and cheerful solution you could simply purchase an umbrella. All shapes and sizes and no approvals required. Once upon a time the umbrella protruded through the middle of the dining table. Nowadays, they are side mounted and cantilevered and most spin 360 degrees. But by and large it is still what I consider only a temporary solution.

When my clients request shade I typically start with a structure, either attached to the main dwelling or freestanding in the landscape. Once upon a time I would simply grow a climber over the framework. This is a lovely approach; it is one of the coolest options. But it is also one of the messiest, particularly after rain and proving less popular as clients invest more in their furniture, often decorated with soft furnishings.

These days clients are after a cleaner finish. One that can complement the architecture of their home and not come with too many maintenance hassles.

Secret Gardens Sydney | Battens and glassMost structures consist of a frame, being a combination of posts and beams. Then it really comes down to what balance of shade, natural light and even rain protection may be required to complete the structure. Some clients favour a rainproof approach, particularly if there are space constraints internally or if their internal floors are timber. Many clients however simply want a shade proof structure. The options can be baffling so in order to keep it simple I simply ask my clients what ‘’ceiling insert’ they think they need and would like to see.

If the garden faces north and also receives hot afternoon sun then a solid ceiling can be considered. In this instance, maximum shade is desired and if the layout and proportions are correct, the low winter sun will still dip low enough to provide the warmth and light required, either under this structure or to the adjacent internal rooms.

Secret Gardens Sydney | Battens and treesIf however the structure is on the cooler or darker side of the house then some light through the ceiling or even greater flexibility might be favoured. Fixed battened or louvered ceilings with clear roofing be it glass or polycarbonate for a more cost effective solution can be a good option. They decrease the temperature in the hotter months but still allow light through in the cooler months or when it is overcast or raining.

Automated louvered ceilings are also a great option when flexibility of light levels is important. These are usually aluminium; tilt according to sun and with some systems the louvres even stack. The compromise though is that these systems close automatically in the rain, darkening the inside of the house at a time you want brighter conditions.  You can of course override this option and leave the louvres open but these options are popular with clients wanting to keep things dry as well so this defeats the purpose sometimes.

Secret Gardens Sydney | CourtyardConservatory awnings are essentially a fabric ceiling within a frame that can be completely retracted within the framework.   They fabric can be tensioned to be parallel with the floor surface, usually to complement the heights and lines of the adjacent internal ceilings. This option will provide shade at the flick of a switch and when the sun has passed, or in the cooler months when you want the sun on you, can completely retract to maximise the sun and light into your home. They are also quite wind resistant and great for star-gazing.

Folding arm awnings are very common, often used by restaurants and cafes. They are typically fixed to the main dwelling and project out on mechanical arms. They don’t cope with high winds or heavy rain but don’t require any additional structure and typically don’t require any approvals unless you live in an apartment.

There are so many options and sometimes I configure a combination of the above within the one structure. No matter which way you go, ensure your designer, contractor or product provider does their due diligence and ensures that any approvals required are clearly understood.

Secret Gardens Sydney | Tree

Last but by no means least, don’t forget the humble tree. Many clients are scared of trees, worried about the mess and damage they may do. If the right tree is selected and positioned correctly then it can be a wonderful addition to any garden. Sure I don’t often opt for it as the primary shade provider to my client’s outdoor areas, it is often an important addition, another element strategically selected and placed in addition to the manmade option.

Secret Gardens Sydney | Tree shade

A shade tree is a strong reminder of what makes it special to be sitting in a garden. I think we sometimes expect our gardens to remain a little too clean and sterile. Might be time to take the indoors back indoors and enjoy the outdoors for what it is.