“Someone is sitting in the shade today because someone planted a tree long ago.”
Some seek the sun. I prefer a respite from the sun, yet still spending a lot of time outdoors. I took shade for granted until neighbors cut down mature trees between our yards and we lost the shade we had designed a patio around. Overnight, we stopped using this patio which had been a favorite spot for reading and dining next to a peaceful water feature. It made me sad to be unable to enjoy this beautiful space anymore. We recently came up with a solution for this dilemma which gave me the idea to write about shade. More on that later.
Offering shelter from the sun creates cooler, comfier spaces and enhances existing outdoor spaces for maximum enjoyment. It is possible to let the sun shine and enjoy being outdoors without soaking up the damaging UV rays. Designing pockets of shade is just as important as the plantings in your garden. Shade also reduces stress on plantings and decreases watering needs. Here are some ideas to help you create nice shady spots, shielded from harsh rays and sizzling temperatures.
1) Garden Umbrellas
The easiest way to create shade is to add an umbrella over your outdoor table. Obvious. Near our dining table we had created an outdoor seating area to lounge and read. The problem was it could not be enjoyed for 90 percent of the day because it was in full sun. Enter the off-set, free standing umbrella. I fought my husband on this one. I thought 2 umbrellas near each other would look tacky. I thought it was gimmicky to get one of these giant umbrellas with adjustable positioning. Boy, was I wrong. This seating area is now one of my favorite places to enjoy the garden and entertain. It gets used daily and is shady almost all day long. To minimize competing umbrellas, we matched their colors. Our umbrella, a special-order from Home Depot, came equipped with a canopy-top solar battery that powers a series of mini lights that run along the umbrella’s ribs and cast lovely whimsical star-like lighting at night as an added bonus.
2) Sun Sail Shades
When our neighbors cut down some shade trees, our shady patio terrace was suddenly rendered unusable in the daytime as it was in full sun. We had admired restaurants with sail cloth shades and had wondered about installing one ourselves. A chance encounter with a display of them at our local Costco solved our dilemma. Meet the newest addition to our garden!
The sun sail shades come in many colors. Ours is made by Coolaroo. They come in triangular or rectangular shapes. They are made of breathable, porous fabric that blocks UV rays but yet lets rain drain through. Modern ones are made of long lasting knitted polyethylene. Classic ones are made of sail cloth, hence their names. They are easy to clean and take down for seasonal storage. More than one can be installed if needed. They can be anchored in creative ways: to trees, to garden structures, to the house or on poles. Free standing ones can even be installed and secured to poles embedded in concrete filled planters. Ours is hung on an old antenna on the roofline of our home, in the house’s siding and on the pillars of a pergola structure. We had fun figuring out how to anchor it!
3) Natural Shade
If your property boasts big shade trees, consider moving your table or seating to take advantage of natural shade. When we designed our stone terraces almost 20 years ago, we saved a large oak tree for shade and built the patio around it. It is a bit messy when the tree sheds, but we wouldn’t want it otherwise.
Smart cat: Oreo lounging in the shade of the oak tree. He moves around the patio following the shade throughout the day.
Moving an outdoor table under the shade of a tree is practical and easy to do. Eating under the long expanse of a tree limb creates a lovely ambiance for your meal.
To see how I created this moonlit table among the ferns, including a DIY tutorial on making birch bark napkin rings, please click here.
4) Architectural Structures
Integrating architectural structures in the natural setting adds beauty and function to your outdoor spaces. Pergolas, gazebos, screened-in porches, and follies are all wonderful additions to maximize outdoor living with shade offerings. Of course these are much more involved and expensive options but they will provide years of enjoyment and are an investment in your property’s value. We have a pergola that deliniates a side terrace and provides a structure for plants to grow on, creating a green roof of sorts. We have trained clematis and wisteria to grow sequentially over ours.
5) Curtains, Trellises and Awnings
Trellises and curtains create instant privacy and shade on decks and porches. Trellises look beautiful, allow air circulation and provide lovely dappled shade. If you can’t hang curtains, consider using planters filled with concrete to secure poles or 2 X 4s to act as supports for your curtains or trellis panels. On a front porch, we hung curtains for privacy, decorating appeal and to provide additional shade. It is always a cool place to sit and relax even in the height of sizzling summer temperatures. The curtains really play up the porch. Read about designing this outdoor room here and here.
Retractable awnings are great options for creating shade over a patio or deck which is connected to a building. More costly, it is an investment in long term shelter from the elements.
Outdoor spaces aren’t all about soaking in the sun. If you’re not getting enough use of your deck or patio, consider playing up your outdoor spaces by providing shade. You will be amazed at how much more versatile your spaces will become. After all, great outdoor spaces are “Made in the Shade”, pun intended!