If you could have the ultimate item to enhance your garden, what would it be? For some, it might be a fountain or pond. But for many people, the answer would be a gazebo or summerhouse.
They add charm, but also practicality and are especially suited to the Australian climate because they offer shelter as well as beauty.
Gazebos are popular as shaded outdoor eating areas, as a spa shelter, beside a pool or tennis court, to screen off unattractive areas, such as a shed or storage area. Or they can simply be a decorative addition to provide interest and a focus.
A gazebo can be designed to fit and suit even the smallest garden and there is a wide range of styles and features available. Most designs are hexagonal or octagonal, although the traditional bandstand - sometimes seen in public parks - is usually rectangular.
Gazebo companies will design and erect the summerhouse, or you can buy it from them in kit form to put together yourself. You can also design the structure yourself. but the construction is fairly complicated and requires detailed carpentry. It is advisable to plan the project carefully.
The rectangular shape is the easiest to build yourself, although most handy people are capable of constructing a hexagonal or octagonal one. However, getting the roof to fit correctly on a hexagonal or octagonal design requires a degree of skill and some specialised tools.
The advantages of having the manufacturer build it are that you may get a more professional finish and most companies will provide a warranty for their work. It also saves you time - but, of course, costs more.
In the past, gazebos were usually built of timber or iron lacework. Powder-coated aluminium has now replaced wrought iron if an older look is desired. Aluminium is often used in public or commercial areas because it is more difficult to vandalise.
If choosing timber, it is important to use treated pine or hardwood because the timber needs to be protected from white ants and weathering. Treated pine - the most popular choice for summerhouses - is sold according to its grade and treatment rating. The higher the rating, the better the quality.
It is advisable to use no less than grade H4, particularly if the timber posts of the gazebo need to be embedded in the ground. You should also avoid using green timber because although it is cheaper, it is likely to warp.
Painting the gazebo is recommended - otherwise the wood will dry and crack. A good quality paint will provide protection for six to seven years.
The structure itself, if built properly with good quality timber which is then painted, will last about 40 years.
The summerhouse can be constructed on a concrete, timber or paving base. Making sure the surface is level is extremely important.
Concrete is a relatively cheap base and has the added advantage of not allowing weeds to grow through the surface.
Timber is good for a sloping site because it is easier to work with to get the level right.
Summerhouses require little maintenance if they are built properly. The most important aspect is the material used for the roof, which has to be able to handle severe conditions. For this reason, slate or tiles are better than timber.
Choosing where to put your gazebo depends on the purpose you want it to serve. If it is to hide an unattractive aspect of your backyard, then position it where it best achieves that.
If it is to be a sheltered eating area, then for convenience make sure it is handy to the kitchen and the barbecue area - and to the swimming pool if you have one.