Spring is called the beautiful season. However, summer is even more beautiful, especially in Malta. Towns and villages are quiet in the morning and vibrant in the evening, the sea is a constant blue, and the sand between our toes is a reminder that summer – like it has been since our childhood – just stretches for weeks and weeks ahead of us.
There’s just one conundrum. The very element that makes summer such a beautiful season – the sun – is also what can make it unbearable, especially in August when temperatures start simmering at eight in the morning and reach boiling point at noon.
However, you can still enjoy the sun while sitting in the shade. All you need is to invest a couple of weekends in some DIY.
Building a pergola
The best way to create shade in your garden or courtyard is to build an outdoor structure. Although we often use the terms interchangeably, there is a huge difference between a gazebo and a pergola.
A gazebo is typically an octagon-shaped wooden structure with a domed roof that is supported by eight pillared columns. To build one, you need some expertise in building and woodwork and it will take you the best part of a month to build a good, solid exemplar.
A pergola, on the other hand, is usually a four-legged rectangular structure with a horizontal, open roof. Although a gazebo provides more shelter from the elements, a pergola is easier to build and is more adaptable to the style of your choice. Also, a pergola’s open structure means that it blends well with its surroundings.
To build a pergola, first decide on its size as this will determine the materials you need. Once you have decided on the size, proceed to find the right setting and clear the ground for the foundations.
The basic pergola structure consists of four posts, joist beams and the stringers which you will use for the roof. Start by digging holes for the posts – then insert the posts in their holes, ensure that they are level, and set them in place using fast-drying cement. In the meantime, cut the joist beams to span the posts and attach them to the posts using bolts. To complete the roof, place the stringers to span the beams and bolt them in place.
The very element that makes summer such a beautiful season – the sun – is also what can make it unbearable
To add a green element to your pergola and boost its shading potential, plant some evergreen climbers, vines or roses next to the four poles. Train the plants over the roof to create a fairytale space.
A shed isn’t just for tools
A garden shed is a beautiful addition to your property.
Every man in the room will raise a hand to agree that their favourite room in the house is actually outside: the shed. A shed is as practical as a Swiss army knife: plenty of room for bits and bobs, shelves for a clean display of tools, and a nice workbench to house all your failed, or in progress, DIY projects.
However, a shed goes beyond the practical. Just hang a hammock from one end of your shed to the other and use it as a shady retreat from the sun.
The amount of effort needed to build a shed depends on what you want the finished structure to look like. However, for a basic wooden shed, all you need is a couple of free Saturdays. Start by laying out the floor. Find a level, well-drained patch and lay the foundations. Then frame the walls using strong wood. The best way to do this is to build the frames on a level ground and then set them up. Then hammer or screw the individual panels for each wall. To build the roof, lay wooden planks horizontally, leaving some overhang on each side.
A natural solution
If you have time to spare, then building a pergola or a garden shed can be a very enjoyable experience. However, you can spare yourself the sweat and injured fingers and choose a natural solution: trees.
Of course, trees are not an instant solution: while they provide cooling shade and the perfect shelter for an afternoon nap, it takes months for a tree to grow. However, you can cut down on waiting time by planting trees that grow and fill out fast.
Still, fast doesn’t mean a couple of summers – the fastest growing trees have a growth rate of around two feet a year, so you will get to enjoy their shade five to six years after planting. Good candidates include the European black alder, which thrives in full sun, the olive tree, a Mediterranean classic which needs little maintenance, or the ash, which requires a hot climate and regular watering.