Outdoor Structures/Buildings

Modern gardens can be significantly improved with the addition of an outbuilding or two. As well as providing storage and a place to keep garden furniture, outdoor structures add form to a garden's design. You might like to consider an outdoor structure as something that you can build the garden around, rather than fit in out of the way. Not all buildings are attractive sights in their own right, but even if your garden already has some structural elements, they can usually be improved with a bit of careful planning and the judicious use of planting around them. Let's take a look at the commonest forms of outdoor structures used in North American homes today and how you might incorporate one or more into your garden's design.


Increasingly popular in many gardens, gazebos are essentially free standing structural elements that are installed to provide shade. In some gardens, they are used as a focal point in the layout, perhaps creating a sense of destination, with pathways leading up to it. In other gardens, they are set out over a seating area, such as decking or a patio, to provide a cool place to hang out during the heat of the day or to dine under. Gazebos are traditionally made from wood, but there metal ones which can be bought in kit form, too. One of the key elements of a gazebo is that it should have a pitched roof so that water will run off easily in the event of rain. They can be designed with a simple rectangle shape or in more ornate, octagonal patterns. Some gazebos take their design inspiration from oriental pergolas, but they can be decorated in any way you choose, in truth. Although they don't provide storage, the open walls of a gazebo allow for airflow, helping to keep you cool, when underneath its shade.


Ideal for gardeners who want somewhere to keep plants inside in winter or for people who like to extend the growing season as much as possible, a greenhouse is not commonly seen in modern gardens these days. This is because they tend to be hidden away behind hedges or screening. Their simple glass pane and aluminum strut design means they are not that often considered to be a garden feature - more of a functional space. Nevertheless, high quality greenhouses made from bevelled glazing and wooden frames are much more of a feature and can be pleasant place to sit out, kind of like a conservatory which is an outbuilding in its own right, unattached to the main property.


Among the simplest outbuildings found in contemporary gardens, sheds are traditionally manufactured from wooden panels with a waterproof membrane placed over the roof. Sheds tend to be smaller structures and used to store gardening tools, such as lawnmowers, spades, hoes and rakes. However, they can be used for much more than that. Well designed sheds are also great play areas for children. They can be used to store play equipment, but also decked out with things that will entertain children, for instance painting easels and scatter cushions. When installing a new shed, it is best to find a location that is as flat as possible. Set your shed out on a concrete base or on paving slabs. This will protect the lower sections of wood and the floor of the shed from ground water. These days, prefabricated vinyl sheds are also available which can be put up in just about any location.


Barns are only really suited to gardens which are on a large scale. They are basically used in agricultural settings to store livestock and goods, so in a smaller garden they can be a bit too much. However, in the right setting a barn is a wonderful outbuilding which can be put to many different purposes. A barn that is used to store items only soon becomes full of junk, so set aside only a section for this purpose and don't allow clutter to build up. The rest of the barn can then become an extension of your home offering a great place for family get-togethers or for cook outs in a setting that will work even if the weather is not great.


Favoured in many suburban gardens, summerhouses are sometimes brick built, but more commonly made from shed-like wooden panels. The purpose of a summerhouse is to provide a great place to enjoy the sun. If your garden is already south facing, then you may not require one, but for gardens with other orientations, an outbuilding set to face the sun most of the day can be very welcome. Creating a home from home, often on the far side of your garden, a typical summer house offers a glazed frontage which can be fully opened to welcome the warm air in. Many are arranged with an area of decking in front of them in contemporary gardens, to create a pleasant place to sit out in the evening with an aperitif.

Unlike more utilitarian outdoor structures like sheds and barns, Summerhouses are likely to require features to enhance their comfort. If you are hoping to get the most use out of your summerhouse, you probably want to consider a cooling solution for the warmest months. This could be a permanent installation, but in cases where the summerhouse only gets used for a few weeks or months per year a portable air conditioner may be ideal. Relatively inexpensive, and increasingly energy-efficient, the portable aircon can be moved from room to room, or back to your residence as needed.