The recent heatwave that saw temperatures soar to record levels in the UK sparked plenty of discussion about the best ways to keep cool when the mercury rises.
Of course, one of the things we all like to do when it’s hot is get outside into the fresh air. Our gardens are our havens when the weather is at its finest.
Yet on the very hottest days, it can become too oppressively hot even to sit in our gardens. As much as we might want to get outside, if we lack the shade, if there’s nowhere to sit out of direct sunlight, it can become too much. Dangerous, even, given the risks of heat stroke.
You’ll have heard the advice about keeping well hydrated and slapping on plenty of sun lotion. But what can garden furniture do to help you keep cool should the hot weather return this summer? Here are some handy tips.
Nothing beats having a few big trees in your garden for creating shade. However hot it gets, under their leafy boughs you can guarantee finding some welcome respite from the sun.
But of course, we’re not all lucky enough to have fully mature trees in our gardens. And if we don’t, we’d be in for a bit of a wait letting them grow – not exactly the solution we’re looking for if we want a shady escape next week, next year, or even in 10 year’s time.
For a much quicker fix, garden furniture is our friend. You might not be able to grow a big tree in time for the next heatwave, but you can certainly buy a parasol.
The bigger the parasol, the bigger the area of shade it will provide. But larger parasols are also more prone to being blown away in the wind, so make sure you pair it with a suitably sturdy base to match.
As an alternative, cantilever parasols make for a fabulously flexible solution, making it easy to manoeuvre the sail into position to provide shade in different areas. Cantilevers are also great for reaching over chaires, tables, daybeds, loungers etc to give more complete coverage.
Choosing the right materials
Quality garden furniture should be all about providing comfort to allow you to enjoy your outdoor spaces. And when temperatures are at their hottest, a key consideration for comfort is keeping furniture cool enough to sit on.
Some materials heat up less than others when exposed to direct sunlight. Untreated timber, for example, does not heat up very much even after hours in the sun. But varnished wood, on the other hand, does get hot, because the glossy surface reflects the sun’s heat back (and onto you). You’re also likely to want to sit on cushions of some sort for maximum comfort, rather than directly on exposed wood.
Rattan wicker has always been popular as a garden furniture material precisely because it barely absorbs any heat at all and is therefore always pleasant to sit on. However, natural plant rattan dries out very quickly and is prone to cracking. Synthetic wickers made from polypropylene resins, on the other hand, are equally good at staying cool even in the hottest temperatures but are much more durable.
One of the most surprising choices for staying cool is cast aluminium. Ask most people about what happens to metals when left in the sun for any time, and they will probably answer, they get very hot. Whilst that’s true of most common metals, cast aluminium is an exception. It doesn’t absorb heat very well at all and therefore remains pleasantly cool to the touch even under the hottest of suns.
Like cast iron, cast aluminium is made from melting down aluminium and then pouring it into casts to shape it. It has a very high melting point so isn’t an easy metal to use in this way. But the result is a tough, lightweight and highly versatile material that can be moulded into a wide variety of shapes to create unique options for garden furniture.
While fabrics used in cushions won’t tend to deteriorate in direct sunlight the way that natural rattan does, they will fade from prolonged exposure to sunlight. Specially formulated UV-resistant synthetic fabrics from companies like Sunbrella won’t fade and, because they absorb less UV rays, may also stay cooler to the touch.
One final tip as far as choice of materials goes – always, always go for light shades over dark. Dark colours absorb heat and therefore heat up a lot more, whereas light shades reflect more heat and therefore stay cooler.