Design Class: shade

Plan now to beat the heat next summer.

If this summer has left you more hot and bothered than hot and happenin’, then don’t despair.

As the season officially draws to a close it’s a good time to make some observations so you can plan ahead and be prepared for next summer.

While the sun is still high and the days are long, take a good look around the garden and bear in mind the following three questions:

Question 1: what time of day do you plan to use the garden space in question?

Seems obvious huh – the day time. But you mightn’t actually need shade throughout the whole garden from sunup to sundown.

If you’re an early riser who enjoys having your first cuppa and breakfast out in the garden, then it might be most important for you that there is shade then.

If you have young kids at home you’ll also be an early riser (!), but it might be more important that you have some consistent shade throughout the day. That way there’s always somewhere sheltered available for running around, playing with the hose and splashing paint about.

Maybe you have dogs, and you’re out at work all day. It’s also important that they have access to somewhere shady through the hottest part of the day and year.

But if you dream of having sunset drinks without burning out your retinas, then some late afternoon shade might be what is required.

Anyone for Pimms?

Anyone for Pimms?

Question 2: what type of shade do you want?

Again, this might seem obvious, but there are many different types of shade.

Think of the huge fig trees you see around Brisbane. They create a pool of shade that is deep, dark and noticeably cooler (left below).

Other tree species have a more open canopy and form, and consequently they cast a shadow that is lighter and more fragmented (right below).

Deciduous trees, of course, seasonally change the amount and type of shadow they create. They can be a good choice if you're after summer shade and winter sunlight.

Remember that shadows also change with the seasons. In summer, the sun is higher overhead, so shadows are smaller and closer to the object casting the shadow (left below). In winter the sun is lower in the sky, resulting in shadows that stretch out a long way away from the source (right below). Your neighbour’s palm shadows for example, are close to the trunk in summer, but could be falling over your garden in winter.

Try and think about what type of shadow you’re after, and then consider the ways that could be achieved.

Question 3: how patient are you?

This might seem like a personal question, but it pays to be honest with yourself in order to get a result that fits. The two ways we can create garden shade are through live elements – trees, shrubs, climbers trained over arbors and trellises; and built elements – rooves, shelters, screens and the like.

Unless you can afford to import a mature tree, all plant material will require time to establish in your garden and grow. This is true even if you select the right species for your area and provide optimum growing conditions.

Until the plantings are doing their job, you might have to rely on some temporary shade solutions – maybe some cool umbrellas.

If the thought of waiting 5, 10, or even more years until the vines clamber over the pergola or the tree reaches full height fills you with anxiety, you might need to consider a built solution.

As well as the benefit of shade without the wait, this allows you to complement the architectural detailing of your house. You have to consider all the seasons carefully though, as there aren’t too many deciduous rooves around if you also need winter sun. And of course, structures require maintenance, just like the rest of your house and garden.

Often, a combination of built and growing shade solutions can be tailored to meet your exact conditions and requirements.

Pergola structure with newly planted climbers (left), temporary shading (centre) and fully grown (right).

Pergola structure with newly planted climbers (left), temporary shading (centre) and fully grown (right).

Now it’s over to you.

Did this help you consider some of your garden shade options differently? Feel free to confess if you suspect you’re an ‘instant shade’ person or not, and how you might plan your attack in response.

If you think someone else might benefit from this article, please share it with them. If you liked it, then hit us with a big heart below.

Thanks for reading, and see you soon for more garden, landscape and design stories.

Design Class: 5 more site conditions to look for before designing

In our last Design Class we introduced  5 things to be on the lookout for in your garden or landscape: Orientation, Noise, Privacy, Drainage, and Access and Movement.  Observing how these things work gives a solid foundation to begin design work. This week we're going to add 5 additional things that are helpful to understand.

6.  Gradients and slopes

You’ll know if your block or your garden is sloping.  It’s also useful to know which direction it slopes, where the high points are, and if the slope is even or varied.  

7.  Existing vegetation

What is already there, where is it, and what condition is it in?  You can do this exercise for all vegetation, including trees, shrubs, groundcovers and climbers. Are there plants that change with the seasons, or have distinctive form, foliage, colour, scent, texture or flowers? 

8. Soil conditions

Even without carrying out a pH test you’ll have some idea about the condition of your site soil based on what’s growing successfully in your garden and nearby.  Similarly, looking at building sites or excavations in the area, and chatting to neighbours, is a good way of understanding the basic local geology before your engineer orders a geotechnical investigation. 

9. Services and utilities

Apart from overhead power lines, you mightn’t know exactly where service lines occur, but there are often tell-tale clues to their existence.  Manhole covers in the street or footpath outside your property are a clue to the presence of underground services.  Drains and pits often signify underground stormwater or sewer services.

10.  Special highlights

Are there any treasured parts of the garden that either work really well now, or have great personal value, such as a plant grown from one in your mother’s garden, a beautiful architectural element, or a favourite piece of sculpture?  

In future posts we will start looking at different ways you could respond to the findings of your site analysis. This is where it gets interesting, as two people might agree that a site has the same characteristics, but feel that different responses are required. That's where design comes in!

Now it’s over to you.

Has this exercise encouraged you to look at familiar scenes in a new way? It's only natural that if you find delight in chasing sunny spots in your garden, you may not have even noticed that some of the access points are a bit awkward, or that some garden areas don't drain very well.

Let me know in the comments section.

Of course, if you found this interesting and useful, why not double the fun and share it with a friend. 

Design Class: make analysis your friend

Have you ever had a designer ask if you’ve done any analysis?

Has it given you pause for concern, wondering if the headscarf and Jackie O sunnies you’ve been wearing to your therapy appointments are not proving such a great disguise after all? 

Fear not.

The type of analysis we’re talking about will leave your darkest thoughts blissfully unprodded, whilst helping you clearly and methodically understand what’s going on in your own back yard.

Site Analysis

A site analysis is best undertaken before starting any design work. Your designer should carry out her own analysis, based on research and observations on site.

You’re carrying out your own site analysis when you notice things that occur at different parts of the garden, at different times of day or year.  All of these observations can be compiled onto one or more site analysis diagrams.  We'll start with a simple plan that shows the location of your house on its site: 

Here are 5 things to consider when analysing your site: 

1.  Orientation

We’ve discussed Orientation in an earlier Design 101 post, so check in here to learn why it’s important to know where the sun rises and sets in relation to your place. 

2.  Noise

Whether it’s the teenage drum champion next door or the birdsong from the trees up the road, it’s useful to understand the source of both welcome and unwelcome sounds. 

3.  Views and Privacy

Who can see you, and who can you see from different parts of your property?  Where are there great views? 

4.  Drainage

What happened in the last big downpour? Where did the water go? Did it flow freely and soak away quickly, or did it pond in one place for ages? 


5.  Access and movement

Are there some parts of your garden you never use (or maintain) because it’s just too hard to get there? What about the connections between important destinations, like the house or street?  Where do different types of movement intersect: vehicles, pedestrians, bicycles? How about fencing: are there fences and gates, and who or what are they protecting - kids in? cars out? pets in?

In our next Design 101 we will complete our Top 10 things to analyse on your site before starting design. We will spend more time in future posts looking at different ways you could respond to your findings. Everyone’s response will be different, but the important thing is to start with a clear understanding of what physical conditions you have to work with on your particular site.

Now it’s over to you.

Look at your garden (or house, or room, or park) again with fresh eyes, and quickly run through these first 5 points of analysis.  How many of these items are things you’ve always been aware of, without describing what you were doing as a site analysis?  How many other things have you just noticed, even though they were there all along.

Let me know in the comments section.

Of course, if you found this interesting and useful, why not double the fun and share it with a friend.