Sail Shades for Contemporary Sun Protection

Protection from the sun makes a garden more accommodating in the height of summer as well as being safer. Over exposure to the sun is responsible for well-documented problems with skin cancer, not to mention the not-so-flattering leathery skin look.

Conventional Options for Garden Shade

In other articles on this site we’ve discussed providing shade for the garden, particularly shades that can be taken down or retracted easily to cater for the vagaries of the UK ‘summer’. Some of the solutions are portable like gazebos or marquees, or there are retractable awnings and canopies that can be fixed to the side of the house.

But what if you don’t like the look of those options, they don’t fit your contemporary maison? Well, one option that’s been in use for commercial open spaces for some time is now available for domestic properties – the sail shade.

What is a Sail Shade?

The sail shade is a triangular shaped material shade which rolls out from a cassette or roll and then fixes to a mast-like pole, or a bracket mounted on a handy wall. In fact the early versions were just what they sound and look like – old nautical sails being reused rather than thrown away once they were past their mend-by date.

They seem to have become most popular in Australia and New Zealand and certainly most of the offerings on sale in the UK originate from Australia. As the concept has taken off there have been variations. For example you can now get sails that don’t retract and are intended to stay up all the time, which are cheaper. The shape range has extended too, so now there are square sails and custom cut shapes available. And there’s a wide range of colours too.

Fitting and Installation

A sail shade installation will be different for almost every garden. There are two key points, the supporting posts out in the garden have to be mounted very firmly to withstand the tension placed on the sail. Many sail shade suppliers recommend steel or aluminium posts rather than wooden ones because of the tension, which is exaggerated under high winds. Most also recommend taking the sail shade down if high winds are forecast.

The second point is that the shades are not designed to be perfectly flat, but to be twisted in a graceful curve. This is achieved by placing the mounting points at different heights. It’s more difficult to tension a flat sail and it will hold water when it rains, whereas water will run off a curved surface.

Curves and Tension

It’s also worth noting, when deciding on layout and shapes, that the sails have a concave edge (or catenary curve). This is to help get the correct tension between the posts but it means that the edges of the sail curve in then out again as they run from corner to corner.

This means that if you place two sail shades next to each other there will be a gap in the middle, where the two edges curve away from each other. The sail shade isn’t too close to the post or bracket at each corner either, because of the mounting cables and tensioning gear, and this exaggerates the gap. So if you are thinking of using more than one sail shade, they need to overlap to provide complete shade protection.

Take a Look Around

Sail shades are a great addition to a contemporary garden and they don’t cost a lot more than similar-sized awnings or canopies. Their grace and ‘wow’ effect make them an attractive addition to the garden as well as one that has a major effect on garden safety.