“I’ll be waiting for you in the shade of the old apple tree,” wrote Harry Williams in the 1905 song that evokes images of a peaceful setting for relaxing, enjoying the beauty of the surroundings and meeting that special someone. After all, gardens are not just for cultivating and displaying prized plantings; they also provide privacy, a place to sit and read a book, have a picnic, and enjoy a quiet conversation.
As the heat of the summer bears down upon us, however, our gardens can be uncomfortable in the blazing sun. A planned shady spot can come in mighty handy.
There are several ways to create shade. You can plant trees, or you can construct a shady area of your own using a garden structure such as a pergola, arbor, gazebo, tent or awning. Even a large umbrella over a picnic table may be just enough. Depending upon the garden and your needs, one of these options can not only accomplish the task but also add a visual destination to your garden.
In the summer, there is no doubt that a shady garden provides a special haven where a hammock or bench beckons us to come on over and take a seat. Pine, hemlock, and some deciduous trees including beech, maple and oak produce intense shade. However, grass will not grow in such dense shade. Choose trees like the honey-locust or Cleveland pear that produce filtered shade and allow enough sunlight to promote healthy lawn growth.
Jimmy Henderson of A-Plus Lawn Care suggests grouping several trees together. “One tree won’t give you much shade,” he says. While bigger trees may cost more initially, they will produce shade much sooner. Remember that it is a slow process to grow a tree, and it may take several years to achieve the desired effect.
Always consider the foliage and form first and flowers last in your garden plans. Be sure to position permanent plantings carefully because there may be more shade than planned. Mature trees can block out the sun entirely.
Arbors, Pergolas and Gazebos
The trend today is to create a backyard retreat. Homeowners are opting to include garden structures in their landscape design because these can provide instant shade. Not only do they help block the sun, but they also act as an effective oasis in a garden, along a path, incorporated in a patio or deck setting, or near a pool. If your plans include a large structure, check with your county or city planning office. In some areas, a building permit may be required.
Garden arbors, pergolas and gazebos are traditional features in formal gardens and can easily be adapted to small or less formal areas. They create special effects and make interesting accents.
Just as a well-equipped porch can be an outdoor living area, arbors, gazebos and pergolas can provide this type of living space while adding character to the design. These structures also offer a permanent presence and a way to interact with plants since they often support vines. Plant these at the base of the structure and let them climb up and over the top. A louvered lighting effect can be attained as the vines create a soft, filtered light. Here weigelia, climbing hydrangea, wisteria and clematis do well.
An arbor is a small freestanding arched structure. Arbors work best at the beginning or end of a pathway, marking where the walk meets a set of steps, a doorway, or the entrance to an enclosed garden. Placed over a path, an arbor provides a shady nook on a garden walkway. It can define an entrance, frame a special view, or call attention to a garden statue. An arbor is a destination in itself, providing a shady bower for sitting or dining.
A pergola can be an elongated passageway from one spot to another, or a pavilion-like structure with no sides and an open lattice-worked roof designed so vines can intertwine and create a natural roof. A pergola offers an excellent way to exhibit prized plantings and create shady areas. It can be attached to the side of a home and offer both shade and a sense of enclosure.
Gazebos evolved from the British aristocracy in the 1700s and came to the United States in the 19th century as ornately built open-air rooms. Gazebos tend to be much bigger structures, providing an outdoor shelter in your garden. They come in many sizes and shapes; variations include those with built-in benches, screens, floors, electricity, ceiling fans and even plumbing. Some elaborate gazebos even have complete kitchen areas with both preparation and serving spaces. Designed as a gathering spot, set near a pool, in a patch of woods, or up on a hill, a gazebo offers another room alternative for entertaining or relaxing.
Choose your location with care. Jason Nuckols of The Vinyl Porch Rail Co., who installs garden structures in Central Virginia, suggests making it a focal point. “Find a location that will take you through the garden to a destination,” he suggests.
Laurice Jennings of Jennings Works, Inc., has some advice for installing a garden structure. “Consider the lay of the land. You do not want to do a lot of excavating,” he advises. The location should make sense and have a purpose or meaning. Do you want a hideaway or something user-friendly designed for high traffic? Jennings points out the importance of creating an area and landscaping around it to set a mood. Tuck it back in a woodsy area and landscape around it. Place it where it can be seen from an important vantage point.
Construction is very important. Make it sturdy enough to last and withstand wind, rain and snow. It must be strong enough to bear the weight of woody vines. Various building products include yellow pine (treated), cedar, vinyl, and metal. Rodney Seay of Southern Porch Co. builds arbors, pergolas and gazebos. Since his work is custom, he sees a variety of preferences in what his clients choose. Seay says that while cedar is expensive, some people like the way it looks and choose it over pressure-treated pine. Vinyl-covered wood is maintenance-free and is also a popular choice.
Cost varies considerably depending upon your design. Arbors range from a few hundred to several thousand dollars. Pergolas can begin at $1,000 and can run as high as $10,000, while gazebos start around $3,000 and go up from there, depending upon how elaborate the design.
If you are adding a structure to the garden, make sure it’s compatible with the style of the home and the landscape. For example, homeowners with more formal homes might want to feature a structure of a classical-style design. If wrought-iron gates and fencing surround the garden, be sure to use it in the garden structure. Consider the scale of the garden; do not let the structure overwhelm the garden.
Make sure that the structure has enough height so a person can comfortably walk under it. Build it wide enough so two people can walk hand-in-hand through it. You never know when your garden will be used for a wedding! Also, be sure that lawn equipment, such as mowers and spreaders, can fit through.
Tents And Awnings
Elegant tent-like structures and awnings are other options. Sunnyside Awning Company’s Dennis Wicks explains that awnings come in both aluminum and canvas. While aluminum is much more expensive, it lasts longer. “Canvas must be replaced every 8 to 10 years,” says Wicks. His company is responsible for the large canvas awnings on the D-Day Memorial in Bedford. Such tents and awnings are also perfect options for large spaces by pools and over patios.
Wicks points out that there are benefits to canvas, however. It does not conduct heat and comes in a myriad of colors, including stripes. Wicks asks homeowners to imagine: which is prettier to the eye—a sailboat with sails billowing, skimming over the water, or a motor boat speeding by? His company both installs and maintains awnings. While cost varies depending upon the size and design, an average tent or pavilion runs about $12 per square foot.
Shade For Your Pets
Just as we enjoy the comfort of a shady spot, our pets look for a cool area to rest during the summer months. A small grove of trees, or an awning, arbor or gazebo works just as well for pets as it does for us. Marilynn Foss of Valley Structures in Lynchburg points out that when homeowners are gone for the entire day, they sometimes leave their pets outside. It is important that they have a sheltered area to escape inclement weather and the summer sun. The plastic dog house, while it offers some protection from the rain and snow, does little to keep your pet cool since plastic tends to retain heat. Valley Structures carries wooden barn-style dog houses that start at $80. With the proper landscaping, these can add a certain charm to a garden area while providing important shade for your pet.
Whether it is a grove of trees or a garden structure strategically placed in your landscape, providing a shady spot creates a whole new aspect of living space where a family and their pets can spend quality time together.