Gardens are the perfect place to relax or host a summer barbecue with friends. The lacy canopy of a mature tree is the ideal solution for much-needed shade − but man-made structures, whether temporary or permanent, can offer a convenient and instant shade fix and extend the living areas of your home.
Shade cools the garden by 10 degrees, making a steamy 33-degree day feel more like a tepid 23 degrees. For me, trees are the best shade option; their leaves are like an outdoor air conditioner, refreshing the air around them as they expel oxygen and moisture and gently rustle in the breeze.
Light and shade
Consider where you live and how much sun protection you would like before you start planning shady spots in your garden. If you live in a Mediterranean or arid climate with long, hot summers, 75 per cent of your garden should be in shade. Seating and entertaining areas should be well protected from the sun. In variable climates where summers are hot and winters chilly, 50 per cent of your garden should be in shade. Deciduous trees are perfect temperature regulators in these environments as they moderate the sunlight during summer, protecting you from the harmful UV rays while in full leaf, and they allow the subtle winter sun to shine through when their braches are bare. Tropical gardens will benefit from 80 per cent shade with evergreen trees such as palms to cool the garden right throughout the year.
A tree for all seasons?
Shading the exterior of your house, particularly the western walls that absorb the hot afternoon sun, will dramatically reduce the temperature inside your home.
You will notice a distinct drop in both summer temperatures and your electricity bill as you rely less on air conditioning and more on Nature’s own cooling system. This principle is called passive solar design, and works particularly well with deciduous trees as they have the added benefit of allowing the winter sun in to help warm up the house.
If you don’t have a tree, and perhaps no time or room to grow one, it’s time to get busy and choose one of the many alternative shade options available.
A large-scale market umbrella can transform a backyard hotspot into an oasis of cool. With a variety of materials and designs, you can definitely find one to suit your needs. Stabilise your umbrella by placing a 10-15kg flexible weight on the metal stand. Market umbrellas are great for shading small areas such as a garden seat for one. Cantilevered umbrellas are now being used over pools and spas as they provide instant shade and can be moved to where shade is needed.
A suspended shade sail is a chic and affordable alternative to a traditional pergola. Made from shade cloth or PVC, with varying levels of UV protection, shade sails are a convenient option as they can be removed in winter and re-attached in summer. Sails are usually triangular or rectangular in shape and priced between $30 to $90 per square metre, depending on the quality of materials used. They are suitable for patios, pools and courtyards and even over driveways to protect the car. Use a mix of high and low diagonal fixing points, to give a shade sail its distinctive twisting shape. A wide selection of great colours are available, but don’t skimp on quality − cheaper materials may break down quickly in wet weather.
A well designed pergola or pavilion adds an indoor-outdoor room to your home: perfect for all weather entertaining where you can eat, relax and entertain friends. Pergola covers and structures typically use materials that will not twist, rot, warp or decay. They may have straight, pitched or curved roof designs. Clear panels can be inserted into curved nylon-coated PVC roofs to allow light into your outdoor room. Powder-coated framework comes in a huge array of colour choices to blend in with your home. Covered pergolas make your home more energy-efficient by reducing glare and heat from the sun and offering protection from rain, frost and hail.
Natureed panels have been used to decorate backyard fences for years. Made from woven reeds in varying heights and lengths to create a natural-looking screen, they are now available in shade structures that work well in tropical-style gardens. Natureed panels filter out light while allowing airflow, which means your shady space won’t get overheated. The undulating wave design is both beautiful and practical. If you want to create more shade from an existing timber pergola, add Natureed panels to the top of the rafters with a staple gun. Natureed will cast delicate shadows and also bring a simple courtyard area to life.
Awnings play an essential role in keeping the heat out of your home by providing shade and reducing glare. Extendable awnings can span a width of up to 3.6 metres off the wall and are particularly well suited to large patios and courtyards. Awnings can be operated automatically or manually and some designs can be fully retracted neatly into a roller tube when not in use. When extended, awnings provide a shaded space unobstructed by posts or beams. Windows on the western side of your house can benefit from awnings, as they protect your carpets and furniture from fading.
Shade-loving plants add colour and texture to the cooler areas of your garden. Plants that enjoy complete shade include Kaffir Lily (Clivia miniata), Philodendron ‘Xanadu’ and bromeliads, while ferns thrive in cool and moist shady spots. Dappled shade is preferred by many flowering plants such as bugle flower (Ajuga reptans), impatiens, winter rose (Helleborus), begonias, hydrangea, lily of the valley (Pieris japonica), correa, mint (Mentha) and vireya rhododendrons. Small-growing bamboo such as Blue Bamboo (Drepanostachyum falcatum) will thrive in shade and create soft blue-green walls in your garden.
Quick tips for shade
- The cheapest way to create shade in your garden is to plant a tree; deciduous trees are best. Your local nursery can recommend the best tree for your area.
- If you opt for a market umbrella, make sure you stabilise the base with a weighted stand during high winds and ensure you can lift it into place easily as some are lighter than others.
- North-facing pergolas will always catch the sun and are great for year-round entertaining. South-facing pergolas will need transparent materials on the roof
to allow a little extra light in.
- If you are using your pergola for entertaining, lay out your outdoor furniture and barbecue in the designated space before you buy to assess what size you need. You don’t want to leave a guest out in the rain.
- Try growing a vine over your pergola for cool, refreshing shade. Vines will need rafters spaced at least 60cm apart. Well-behaved vines include grape, star jasmine (Trachelospermum), Stephanotis floribunda and Virginia creeper (Parthenocissus quinquefolia).
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