The word gazebo first appeared in the English language in the mid-eighteenth century, but the concept is much older than that. The Greeks, Romans, Ancient Egyptians and various Chinese and Japanese dynasties were all devotees of the idea. In the US, George Washington and Thomas Jefferson had open-sided ‘pavilions’, and there are some beautiful examples of colonial-style gazebos on the East Coast.
The world-wide popularity of gazebos, pavilions and pagodas is not hard to understand. They are relatively easy to construct, they can be made from a small amount of sustainable timber, they are cheaper than timber summer houses, and they make an elegant focal point in a garden, without obscuring the view beyond. You can even consider adding some extras to your garden, like decorative wooden birdhouses, to make it feel more alive.
A calm place to think, and a place to entertain
In China and Japan, pavilions were associated with serenity and harmony – a place to meditate or think, sheltered from the elements but not closeted away from them. But gazebos are also very convivial spaces. They make a flexible and photogenic setting for garden picnics, barbecues and parties, and in the US, are a popular wedding venue ceremonies.
For parties or day-to-day use, you can furnish them with garden tables and chairs or cushions; and blur the boundaries between garden and gazebo with some container plants or honeysuckle on the columns. Festoon them with bunting or fairy lights for a party, or turn down the lighting for a romantic al fresco dinner.
A garden gazebo can transform the design of your garden, without either the cost, or the environmental impact of a larger garden building (which often require concrete foundations or more building materials, both of which add to CO2 emissions). With a little care, a few garden design tricks and some sensible planting, you can create the perfect green paradise in your own back garden.
Pushing the boat out
A more recent use for the gazebo is as a shelter for a hot tub or Jacuzzi. If you’ve ever enjoyed a holiday with a balcony or garden hot tub, it’s easily possible to recreate the hedonism in your own backyard, especially if you have solar panels to heat water. Housing a hot tub in a gazebo provides all-weather shelter from rain, wind or even snow, whilst the open sides allow the heat to escape (a Jacuzzi in a summer house would turn into a a sauna!).
Gazebos come in many shapes and materials, from stone, brick, iron, wood, to a temporary gazebo tent that you put up for a couple of days for a party. For most people the best balance between affordability and durability is a wooden design – and that means it’s sustainable too.
When selecting a wooden gazebo (or even building one yourself), there are a few elements to consider:
Sustainability: When purchasing any product made from timber you should look for FSC certification. If you see the FSC logo you know that your timber building is made from wood taken from sustainably managed forests and that your purchase is not damaging the environment.
Shape: George Washington had an eight-sided pavilion at Mount Vernon; nowadays you are likely to find a choice of octagonal, hexagonal or four-sided designs. Four-sided designs look more utilitarian and less ornamental than the other two, so they are less likely to be a focal point on a lawn.
Sides: There are gazebos with fully open sides, but rails add elegance, and are a practical safety option for keeping children away from a barbecue area.
Floor: If you want a hot tub or cushions and furniture, then you may want a hardwood flooring to put them on. If you want to keep the cost to a minimum or already have an attractive base or patio, look for models available without a timber floor.
Durability: As with any wooden garden building, a gazebo must be able to withstand wind, storms, rain and damp. Look out for elements such as:
- Laminated timber posts (this lessens the likelihood of warping or swelling).
- Slow-grown timber from Nordic regions, which is denser and more robust than fast-grown timber from warmer countries.
- Pressure-treated joists and flooring, to protect against damp and moisture.
All of these elements make the gazebo more resistant to British weather conditions. Given all the visual and practical benefits of a gazebo, you want it to stay in peak condition for as long as possible. And don’t forget, for added protection you can invest in some eco-friendly water-based timber treatments to help protect your gazebo for years to come.