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Choosing shades and covers for stylish outdoor spaces

By Hosea Omole | March 29th 2018
Pergola with appropriate climbing makes a great and beautiful shade

Outdoor living spaces often require some kind of a cover to protect you from the elements. But there is a lot more to shades and covers than meets the eye.

Canvas awnings, overhead trellises, pergolas, sail shades and other covering solutions have a big influence on the final look and feel of your outdoor space and garden design. They may be open, where maximum light is desired, or completely solid in other cases.

The kind of cover you choose will also determine the perceived scale of a space.

For instance, a low pergola will create an intimate feeling, whereas a high one may establish a more uplifting or lofty setting underneath.


Building a pergola over part of your backyard is an instant shade fix. A pergola can be free-standing or attached to the house and are typically built from timber, steel or aluminium. Timber is the most cost effective alternative but will require regular maintenance to guarantee a longer lifespan.  

The design of the pergola must include your preferred covering.

If you prefer a weather proof cover, you have to ensure that the sides of the pergola are as open as possible to allow for cross-ventilation. Alternatively, if your pergola cannot vent easily, you can use a shade cloth cover.

If the rain is not a problem, fast-growing deciduous vines are a good choice but will take two to three years to give good cover.

They also require an extra-strong pergola to withstand the weight of heavy climbers such as Thunbergia or the English ivy.

Shade structures

Shades include awnings, umbrellas and the more contemporary sail shades. Awnings will attach to an existing structure and vary from simple canvas types to retractable options which give you the flexibility to adjust the cover depending on the position of the sun.

Umbrellas offer a good shading alternative for small groups. They never go out of style and produce an instant resort feel.

They come in very many styles but durability and convenience of use should be taken into account when selecting a style.

If you like something a little more contemporary, you should consider shade sails.

With clever designing and overlapping, they create good shade and will not build up too much heat underneath if you select the right shade cloth material.

They usually need several anchor points such as a beam or column on the house and some heavy-duty, angled steel poles so the sails are properly tensioned.

The writer is a landscape architect

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