Creating Shade in Outdoor Spaces

“Someone is sitting in the shade today because someone planted a tree long ago.”

Warren Buffet

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.

Nice cooling shade over a seating area from a large off-set umbrella. As the sun moves, we can adjust the position of the umbrella.  Patio upholstery is protected from the sun, an added bonus!

Twinkly lights cast soft lighting under the umbrella at night.

Two umbrellas in close proximity over the dining table and the seating areas are really not duelling or obtrusive. It helps that we chose matching  neutral khaki colors for both umbrellas which helps them visually disappear.

The only negative of the off-set umbrella is the large unattractive base. I set a large planter on ours so that when seated in this outdoor living room, we enjoy flowers and the base is somewhat concealed.

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!

Enjoying our side terrace once again in dappled shade.

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.  

Situate outdoor seating under the shade of trees.

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.

The pergola casts lovely patterns in the shade it provides.

The pergola creates dappled shade over a wall fountain and small pond.

My very talented brother built this gazebo in his backyard with all the bells and whistles.. Over the top for most, but extending outdoor living to 3 seasons in great style. Simpler, commercially available sreened-in gazebos are good options as well.

At Chanticleer Gardens in Wayne, PA, this pergola is a favorite shady resting spot with the most magnificent wisteria trained upon it!

Sitting under this pergola is magical.

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!

20 thoughts on “Creating Shade in Outdoor Spaces

  1. Your home’s grounds are so beautiful and inviting!!! Every space provides something delicious! We’re looking for an umbrella to meet pur needs without gobbling up oo much real estate. I like yours with the lights!

    • That giant umbrella transformed our patio living Alycia! They sell out quickly at Home Depot so we had to special order it and it took months to come in. That was a couple of years ago. I know you can also get them in high end catalogues but they often don’t have the tiny lights. So nice to hear from you. Enjoy the holiday weekend!

  2. My neighbor has one of those giant umbrellas and I think they look great! Your backyard space looks beautiful Johanne, with lots of shady spaces! I know you must have been horrified when your neighbors cut trees down, but you have solved the problem in style! Happy summer!

    • Thanks Jenna! I only wish I had solved the problem sooner. It really was an easy solution. I just didn’t know where to find those sun sail shades. We love our giant umbrella and hope you’ll get one for yourselves too. I live under ours all summer long! Happy 4th Holiday weekend. You will be busy!!!!!!!!

  3. Such gorgeous, beautiful, cozy, relaxing spaces! (though I bet there is a lot of working making them so beautiful! wink!) So so worth it! LOVELY!

    • Deceiving Jodi. I have planted perennials in most of my pots now and they just come back every year and don’t require anywhere near the watering annuals do. I travel a lot so I’ve had to go to a lower maintenance garden. I practically live outside. I hope you’ll look me up if you come to Philly.

  4. What beautiful and inviting grounds you’ve created! This post is so artfully elaborate and enticing! You should be published! Your blogs are works of pure and masterful art! ❤

    • Thanks so much Sue! It means so much to hear from a devoted reader. Do you realize we grew up in gardening zone 1a???? OMG. I live in zone 6 now. It’s a wonder I learned to garden at all. Please come and visit! Such a short ride from NYC on the bus or train. We’d have a blast. I have a ton of room with the boys mostly flown the coop. Loved your PreK graduation picture. Pulled at my heartstrings. Happy Canada Day tomorrow. Xoxo

  5. Such a lovely post Johanne…each space looks amazing. I use my sun room everyday and have used bamboo blinds for the sun, it adds so much ambiance. I love the solar umbrella and will look for it for our patio. Your home looks incredible….enjoy your summer and thanks for the great ideas!

    • Thanks so much Zeba! I’ve had screened in porches and a sun room in other homes and loved them so much as well. I hope you can find a similar off set umbrella with the cool solar lights. They turn on from a little toggle switch that hangs from the rim. This is our 3rd year using ours and it still looks like new. Best purchase ever! Happy summer!!

  6. I really enjoyed reading this blog and the photos of your charming garden and table settings were so beautifully done and inviting. Yes, I am one of those people that would always be out in the sun but now since I am older, I look forward to just sitting in a shaded spot to read, bird watch or dine outdoors. Thank you for sharing your garden ideas with us. Once again, I am inspired by your ideas and style of decorating. P.S. I want some of that iced tea on your front porch, right now! Eileen

    • Hi Eileen! Glad you enjoyed the post. Thank you for your kind words. Please do come down for a glass of iced tea on the porch. I am always so happy we met on the AGTS mural arts bus. We seem to have so much in common, including our love of gardens!

      Johanne Lamarche


  7. Johanne this is all so lovely and inviting. We love out backyard as well and have a number of small sitting areas with tables and chairs and umbrellas and even a white “sail”. I will choose the outside over the inside most days. Thanks for sharing your yard and ideas. Just stunning. Happy 4th of July my blogging friend.

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