Garden And Outdoor Structures - An Overview On The Main Types By Andy Finn Garden structures encompass a wide range of light buildings for landscaping and practical purposes such as pergolas, gazebos, sheds, decks, arbors, cabanas, pavilions, trellises, garden bridges and so on. Some have mainly a practical purpose but also serve as a landscaping accent, like bridges, while others offer a socializing purpose, like gazebos or pergolas. Garden structures can be made of different materials, like wood, metal, vinyl, canvas or a combination of them. Each material offers pros and cons, but the main difference is between man made materials, metal and vinyl, and natural wood. Depending on one's preference or need, vinyl offers the least maintenance, followed by metal and wood. However, wood is still highly rated and the most popular choice for its intrinsic beauty. Durability can be considerably increased by firstly choosing the right wood (not all wood are equal) and secondly by applying special outdoor wood stains to boost resistance to sun, rain, rot and termites. The best choices for a wood garden structure are cedar, western red cedar, southern cypress, pressure treated pine and tropical red woods. The most common choice is cedar, for it offers ready availability, performance and value, while tropical woods are the least sought after because while they offer outstanding strength and beauty, they are also very pricey, difficult to get hold of, and there is a chance they may come from unregulated harvesting. Below, a summary of the main and most popular garden structures types. Pergolas Pergolas are becoming increasingly popular around the world, especially in North America and even more so in Australia, where their presence now equals or even exceed that of gazebos. One of the reasons for the pergolas popularity is their relatively simpler set up and cheaper installation costs comparing to equally sized gazebos. A simple pergola is basically a straight post and beam structure with an open top and does not require a roof, a frieze or a rail around it. This is also why they are a favorite of DIYers, even though they can be purchased as kits. To make up for the lack of protection from rain fall, a pergola may be fitted with an optional retractable canvas (usually motorized), easier to install than a complete roof but still letting the sun and stars in in fine weather. Apart from their intrinsic installation or construction simplicity, there are also two other reasons why pergolas are a favorite amongst the outdoor structure range. One is practical, they do not need a large lawn or garden to be installed because they can be built attached to the house, making them suitable for small backyards too. In fact, this is probably the most popular of all the garden structures options available. The other is aesthetic, despite being so simple, or probably because of it, they are strikingly attractive and instantly transform any garden or backyard from a run down area into a pleasant outdoor summer living room that acts as a social focal point where to relax and lounge about. Arbors Arbors are similar to pergolas and in fact sometimes are mistakenly cross referenced, while in fact they serve a different purpose. The one thing they have in common is the open top framework, but while pergolas are large enough to accommodate at least one set of chairs and a table for
socializing, arbors are more decorative accents placed next to a wall or at the entrance of a garden walkway in order to give visual separation and at most they can offer shade for a bench. Furthermore, the open top is often arched while the side posts are framed by latticework or a trellis for climbing plants or flowers to grow. Arbors are used mainly as landscaping decorative accents to add definition or visually separate different areas of a lawn. However, there are no hard and fast rules when it comes to garden structure definitions, and sometimes you may come across large arbors or small pergolas that could be called either way. Think also of a pergola attached to the house with a closed canvas top and a slight pitch to shed water, this could also be called a "lean to" or a "verandah" (also spelled veranda). Gazebos Gazebos are a classic and enduring type of garden structure that instantly convey a feeling of lazy summer afternoons or evenings spent talking with friends while sipping ice tea the colonial style way. Traditional gazebos are hexagonal, octagonal or oval, but modern day gazebos or more simply square. Like pergolas, they can be built with wood or vinyl with gazebo plans and they are especially popular as pre assembled gazebo kits, because the traditional hexagonal or octagonal plans are more demanding to implement that a simple square pergola or cabana. Gazebos differs from pergolas not just in their basic shape but also in that they feature a fully closed roof. The roof itself can be either a simple hip roof with eaves all round, or a pagoda style roof, which is a hip roof with the top part detached and overlapping the bottom part so as to create a gap between the two for better ventilation. As the sun heats the roof, the lighter heated air under it escapes from the gap while sucking up the cooler air from below, thus creating a constant flux. However, a DIY pagoda roofed gazebo is not the easiest option for a novice but it may be a rewarding challenge for someone with carpentry experience. Gazebos also come by default with a variety of additional features like a deck where to stand, an all round hand rail and a frieze between the top of the posts mimicking the rail below. The frieze and rails also acts as braces for structural side stability. Because of their complexity and additional features, gazebos are generally a tad more expensive than equally sized pergolas but they offer evergreen charm and better protection from the rain. Unlike pergolas though, they are always free standing structures, not attached to the house. Having said all this, popular portable gazebos are made of a simple four post metal structure with a top pyramid canvas, they are found ready made and cost a fraction of permanent fully featured gazebos, in other words there is a huge range of gazebo styles for all budgets. Sheds Sheds may be not immediately considered as glamorous as pergolas or gazebos, they are more a necessity garden structure with a very practical purpose all year round, not just in fine weather. However, it is precisely their popularity and the fact that most people cannot do without them that a mind blowing range of shed styles has developed over time, from basic shack like boxes where to stash household items to state of the art cottage sheds that look better to live in that most houses and considerably improve a garden appearance. Shed construction techniques include ready made pre assembled and pre primed kits or full DIY projects, involving a box like structure with the sidings connecting with a tongue and groove or other methods, or traditional post and beam structures, like barns. Garden sheds can be enhanced with porches or decks to become pieces of landscaping art, but traditional storage sheds are best identified by their roof shapes, each one offering pros and cons. The most popular roof shape is the gable one, for it offers extra loft storage space and snow
shedding capabilties in cold climates. (Storage shed kits and storage shed plans here). The saltbox roof is like a gable roof with a side shorter and the other longer but it offers better headroom for small sheds. The traditional gambrel roof, as used in barns, offers the most headroom and loft space of all but it is more challenging to implement as a diy project because of its two pitch design. Finally, the shed roof is a simple flat roof with the pitch determined by the different height of two opposite walls, it is easy and stylish but suitable for warmer climates only. Decks Decks are used as extensions of the house over the garden or backyard or stand alone over a lawn. Typically, they are built outside the living room or the kitchen/dining area so as to have an easy extension of the house, bringing the indoor out and the indoor in, increasing livability and value to the house. Decks are built on piers and ledger boards if attached to the house, or on piers only if free standing. Their structure is not unlike that of a standard wooden floor, with piers, main beams, joists and floor boards on top. Given that they are meant for outdoor use, the wood should be an outdoor grade one, better still treated with an oiled based wood stain to be re applied seasonally. Oil based stains penetrate the wood better that other types of stains and are specific for high wear and tear decks. One important aspect in deck construction is that the wooden boards must be evenly spaced out with a pre determined gap between them to allow for water drainage in all seasons. The gap must take into account the natural wood expansion in the rainy season and the shrinkage in the hot,dry season so as to guarantee a drainage gap at all times in the rainy season and also to avoid excessive board gaps in the hot season. Wood decks are amazingly beautiful and practical at the same time, increasing property value and adding a tough of sophisticated ambiance to any garden or backyards.