Phew it was hot…

Last September I wrote about how we don’t really need fancy arbours and pergolas in our gardens when it is seldom too hot to sit out in the intermittent sunshine of the typical British summer. I will now perform a volte-face, as for 10 weeks we have been seeking out the shade and avoiding the midday sun like we were living Greece or Spain. Let’s consider the options.

I should always want a tree in a garden, for what could be cheaper or easier than pulling a deckchair out of the shed and sitting under the tree in the shade? The best sort of shade is dappled by leaves, so I still feel a little warmth of the sun. For my terrace, I rely on the parasol in the hole of the table, although that shades only one side, the sunward people enduring burning necks. I should upgrade to a truly enormous parasol or one that tilts, if I could be certain of being able to put the thing up, it being heavy and me being short.

I fancy a large pergola. It would be at least 4 metres wide for a family gathering, allowing enough room for table, chairs and the space to pull them back and get around the back of other occupants, that last dimension often not being thought through in seating ergonomics. If constructed from wood, the limiting factor is the length of timber joists available. Here we hit on our first problem – 3.6 metres is commonly available, but longer lengths need tracking down and have to be heavier in their dimensions to prevent bowing, which will bump up the specification and price considerably. A free span of over 3 metres may be better constructed of metal and modern building materials but the expense is likely to be more than I could contemplate – it will be cheaper to eat indoors for lunch and enjoy an open terrace in the evening.

Although there are wind-out awnings, sails, and easily erected gazebos, I have found they are either cheap and apt to fail in adverse conditions, or expensive. Yer pays yer money…..I shall be content with a 3 x 3 metre pergola for me and a couple of friends. That would be a good choice for me, as I could grow climbers up it. Not wisteria – it flowers in May, well before sitting-out season. Hedera colchica or honeysuckle would give me overhead shade within 5 years, but I would rather be patient and grow a star jasmine up each post, which would take its time to cover the pergola and surround me with scent on July evenings and not require too much pruning.

I may give roses a miss on a small pergola, they are apt to claw you in passing. Whatever I should grow, it would need a thorough thinning out every few years, if the upward gaze is not to rest on dead twigs and spiders about to drop down your neck.

My favourite shade solution would be a verandah. Sadly, they are out of fashion, as they cost just as much as a conservatory to construct, less a few panels of glass. A conservatory will be counted as an extra room and increase your house value accordingly, whereas a verandah will not. It is a pity, for the verandah I grew up with was a great asset – cover in winter for us to play outdoors on our trikes and space for mum to hang washing with shade and coolness in the summer – which was seldom required in the usual Lake District summer. I can more often recall the rain hammering on the slate roof than wafting myself in the summer heat.