Garden shelter ideas: how to choose

Designing your garden around built structures can add a whole new dimension to both the look and way you experience your green space. Functionally, of course, you will gain somewhere to sit out of the rain or – hopefully – in the shade. But you’ll also gain a striking design statement – dividing your garden into rooms or sections with structures creates an illusion of extra space – and a wonderful base for planting trailing, climbing, or even green roofing plants.

There’s a great range of shelters on offer to gardeners now. Whether it’s an arch, arbour, pergola or pavilion, you have a range of functions on offer. Perhaps you’re after a garden smoking shelter?

Let’s look at a few garden shelter ideas, working up from the smallest and least substantial to the pavilion – the big guy of the garden shelter world.



The simplest way to put a roof up as a form of garden shelter is to install an arbour.

An arbour is, in its simplest form, some seating with an attached roof. They usually feature bench seating made of wood, though their size and form also lends itself to cast iron and other ornamental metals.

Arbours are generally best sited on patches that get maximum sunlight, or positioned in areas that guarantee a great view. What’s more, their size makes them perfect for tucking away in heavily planted areas. But that’s not all, you might want to use an arbour as a seating option close to the house, perhaps on a patio or new decking, and their size and adaptability allows this.

The quicker you can get plants climbing up your new arbour, the better. Most designers know this, and the majority of arbours come with a trellis already integrated into the structure.

Classic climbing roses; the archetypal Dixieland plant, Bougainvillea; English cottage garden favourites like sweet peas and clematis – all make great flowering climbers on an arbour. If you want to go down the edible route, then consider grape vines, peas, climbing or clambering squashes, or even runner beans for an unconventional but heavy cropping addition.


Arches and Pergolas

Both arches and pergolas (sometimes called gazebos) are semi-roofed structures, meaning there isn’t a flat roof at the top; instead, beams are slung across the top of the supports, providing some shelter and the basis for further additions, should you choose.

Traditionally, a well planted pergola should offer enough cover to act as a smoking or rain shelter. The likes of clematis, roses, honeysuckles and vines will climb quickly, though bear in mind that not all offer year-round cover. For that you’ll need to look at something evergreen: clematis should stay leaved all year round, as will jasmine.

Arches are usually used as entrances or gateways into the garden, and are normally situated over paths: they therefore won’t provide anything more than passing shelter. A pergola can be treated much more like an outdoor – albeit wall-less – room.

You could also use this semi-roofed structure as a  rain shelter to cover the end of a length of deck where you might be eating or drinking, or to provide shelter for shade-loving plants, like ferns.


A pavilion takes your garden structure to another level. Although most don’t feature a fully water-tight roof, they do provide serious weather shelter straight out of the box.

Most garden structures don’t require planning permission, but some pavilions are big enough to cross that line, so – if you’re unsure – it’s probably best to check with your local planning authority. And remember, neighbours always appreciate forewarning of major property changes!

There are limitless options when setting up a pavilion – you can drink and dine under there, set up a hot tub, or even create a decent-sized children’s play area. You can order pavilions with or without decking, giving you even more choice.

Like all of these structures, pavilions – usually made from quality wood – are something of a blank canvas. Yes, they’re traditionally for planting, but you can use all sorts of decoration and ornamentation to give them more than just functional attraction. You can theme it around anything from a desert oasis to a country cottage room.


Final thoughts and other options

Before you choose your shelter, have a good think about what it will be used for, how it will sit in your garden, and how much of the year you’d like to use it for – smokers tend to smoke all year round, but few people want a barbecue in February.

There are lots of other options, and most wooden garden structures are very customisable, so if you have a specific use in mind and arbours, arches, pavilions or pergolas don’t quite cut it, then take a look at some sheds, playhouses and tool stores to see if they can be bent to your purpose.


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23 Sep 18