If you’re determined to use your garden for as long as possible this summer, a patio cover will help you shelter from both the late summer sun and the odd rain shower.
‘Think of cover for a patio – and a shaded spot – as a multi sensory experience of sight, sound and scent,’ says award-winning landscape and garden designer, Sarah Eberle. ‘Trickling water or swaying grass will feel cooling, while foliage is good at absorbing heat. The aim is to create an area to relax in, so avoid busy bright colors and instead focus on texture, using green, with and paler blooms – blues are a great choice and they look wonderful in the evening light, too.’
In the Mediterranean they do shade well out of necessarily, so look at pictures of gardens there for ideas to suit all sizes and budgets.
To get you started, we've rounded up the best patio cover ideas for creating shade, adding intrigue and providing shelter in your garden.
- See: Patio ideas – for a welcoming outdoor living space
1. Install a barely-there pavilion
If you are building a patio cover for a modern home, then look no further than a frameless glass structure.
Designed to provide free-flowing sightline, while protecting from wind, rain and excess sun, a modern ‘glass-box’ structure can feel surprisingly at home in a rural setting, too. Freestanding glass pavilions can provide all the creature comforts of an indoor living area in the heart of your garden. Use infra-red heating to keep the interior warm.
2. Create shade in your garden with trees
Bring a contemporary garden to life with a selection of clever planting – which can also provide adequate shade – and privacy to your outdoor oasis.
The parasol pruning of plane trees has encouraged a flat but full canopy to provide plenty of shade in this small garden. Both parasol (single stem) and umbrella (multi-stem) trees will have had the central lateral branches cut back to achieve their shape; the canopy can be trained over a frame for extra support.
- See: Patio planting ideas – add life to your outdoor space with plants
3. Provide patio shade with a parasol
With sunny days in short supply in some parts of the country, it’s easy to overlook the importance of shade when setting up an outdoor dining or kitchen area. But, shelter from the midday sun is vital for skin protection and all-round comfort. While outdoor areas in hotter climates benefit from permanent shade – in the most northeastern parts of the US – it’s best to go for a flexible solution, such as a parasol.
Parasols can be freestanding, with a heavyweight base, or supported by your patio table. They can be prone to wind damage so always lay flat when not in use. A cantilever parasol has the pole at one side, which may better suit your furniture layout, and often pivot to follow the sun so you’re not blinded halfway through lunch.
- See: Deck ideas – the essential guide to decking your garden or patio
4. Invest in a entirely bespoke patio cover
A pergola shouldn't be resigned to country homes. In fact, a modern scheme can hugely benefit from a structural design, such as this one.
Any garden structure should be considered in relation to the house. That's not to say it needs to match exactly – old meets new is very popular right now – but your choice should be sympathetic.
Inspired by a pergola designed by Hay Joung Hwang for the 2016 RHS Chelsea Flower Show, the owner asked her builder to work with garden designer Virginie Vallee or Square Garden Design to create a similar feature. The result is a pergola that complements the modern garden design without being an eyesore.
5. Site a pretty pergola
If there is space, a pergola with climbers is a beautiful way to bring shade to a garden or terrace. ‘It also adds an element of romance, especially if you choose to cover it with scented plants such as roses, jasmine or honeysuckle,’ says Laure Chaudanson at Helen Green Design. ‘A more architectural structure, combined with the right plants, works a treat in contemporary spaces, too.’
- See: Garden privacy ideas – that don't block the light or encroach on space
6. Create an outdoor room with a colorful canopy
Temporary structures allow for a bit of fun and the chance to dress up the garden for a particular event or occasion. For example, an Indian Summer theme would call for bright colors, pattern and plenty of blooms and foliage on display.
An outdoor living space need not be enclosed to work as a clearly defined ‘room’. ‘To successfully establish a relaxation area that feels like a natural continuation of your home, choose furniture in a similar design and style to that found inside, says Bianca Sanchez, director of Halo Design Interiors.
See: Cottage patio ideas – create a pretty spot for relaxing and entertaining
7. Use a pergola as support for trailing greenery
If your garden lacks shelter, then adding a man-made structure like a pergola could be a good option for you.
The role of a support goes beyond playing host to flowers during the growing season. Well-designed supports also enhance a garden’s aesthetic, providing strong clean lines that look good all year around, as well as giving your outdoor space an element of privacy.
The happy marriage of support and plant is the key to adding vertical elements. In practice, this means checking a climber’s eventual size to ensure it will neither outgrow its allowed space nor swamp its support.
8. Set up a shade sail
A simple fabric sail or canopy creates shade wherever needed, and choosing a bright color and pattern will make it a feature in a large garden, too. Outdoor fabrics have the benefit of being shower-proof, and stain, UV and fade-resistant, but an improvised shade in a sturdy interiors fabric will stand up to occasional use, too.
9. Entertain in a shady spot
Although the dream of catching some rays while dining outdoors sounds good, it’s much more practical and comfortable to include some shade. If your garden doesn’t have a covered spot that offers protection from the sun, you can create a pergola and grow wisteria and vines that will provide beautiful dappled light and relief from the heat.
Once the sun goes down, hang up festoon lights and paper lanterns – and lay down outdoor cushions – for a garden party vibe.
10. Invest in a permanent patio cover
Do you live in a permanently sunny climate? If so, then installing a cooling spot for relaxing, entertaining or designed purely as a retreat, will make your garden a joy to use all day long. And if money is no object, a verandah is the ideal option for your back or front porch.
Timber structures have long made favorite garden shelters, and there is a vast choice of styles beyond the standard design. We recommend using materials and colors that are sympathetic to the architecture of your home for a seamless look.
What is the best patio cover?
The best patio cover is one that caters to the needs of the garden as well as the user.
If your patio is overlooked, it’s likely you will want it to have a secluded feel. Temporary options like small tress in large planters or decorative screens can help, but if you need a more permanent structure, a small pergola or automated awning are good options to incorporate into your plans. As well as providing privacy, shelter and shade, a pergola has the advantage or creating an extra planting opportunity and adds an architectural element to the look.
What can I cover my patio with?
There are many ways to cover your patio. Incorporating an awning or durable roof to cover a patio area turns it into an extra living space that can be used year round. Choose a sleek, minimal design that integrates into your outdoor space.
What is the cheapest way to cover a patio?
The cheapest way to cover your patio is with a parasol or sail. Shade sails and cantilever parasols offer relief from the sun, without blocking a summer breeze or your views.
See: How to design a patio – a guide to getting all the basic elements right
Patio covers protect you from sun, rain, wind and cold and can be fitted to an outside wall or as a stand-alone feature, so it is worth investing in a good quality design.
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