Shade in the garden

We all love the sun, especially in spring or in autumn, when we enjoy its gentle heat. In summer, however, it is often too strong, too intense, too bright for us – making us seek out the shade.

But there are different types of shade. If you didn't know this or don't believe it, try it out for yourself: the shade under an awning feels very different to the shade under a tree. The reason why is quite simple: the thin fabric of the awning does block the direct sunlight, however, the heat builds up beneath it. A tree, on the other hand, consists of thousands of individual shade-giving leaves, with air flowing through the spaces between them. On top of this, these leaves transpire hundreds of litres of water every day, thereby cooling the air within a wide radius. The microclimate in the vicinity of the tree is therefore far and away more comfortable. Unlike an awning, however, it is not possible to "roll up" the shade provided by a tree if we want to sit on the patio without any shade. That's why it's very important to carefully consider the location of trees early on, both in terms of how much a tree will grow and how quickly, and the species.
A more recent addition to the range of sun-blocking solutions is "shade sails"; because they don't have to be attached to the house, they offer better ventilation and therefore cause less heat to build up. Depending on the type (e.g. roll-up or fixed), however, they may also be much more expensive because of the greater design effort involved.

A number of years will pass from when a young tree is planted until it grows to where it can provide shade. Another alternative is to plant a bigger tree, although this can quickly become expensive, not to mention the transport and planting costs that must be taken into consideration. Another point to note is whether the tree can even be moved to its desired location with a justifiable level of effort. One characteristic of good nursery stock is that it will have been "transplanted" a number of times. This is the only way to keep the roots balled and the "transplant shock" relatively low. If the garden is big enough, it is also possible to build two patios: one beside the house with an awning and one under the shade of trees further into the garden.

Deciduous trees usually provide much better shade than coniferous trees because they almost always have a higher crowning height. Their appearance also changes considerably from season to season. Depending on preference, you can choose trees with very dense foliage like linden, sycamore or chestnut species, etc. or trees with a much less dense foliage structure. These include birch, robinia (black locust), Gleditsia triacanthos (honey locust, crown of thorns), Koelreuteria paniculata (golden rain tree) or Paulownia tomentosa, Styphnolobium japonicum (pagoda tree) and many more. Some of the "exotics" from this group have eye-catching blossoms and fruits (Paulownia, Koelreuteria) and also have the advantage that they come into bud later than Central European species, and therefore do not block the as-yet gentle spring sun. All of these species are perfectly hardy in Central Europe. Standard fruit trees like apple or rowan are also well suited to providing shade.

Deciduous and fruit trees near the southern side of a house or grown directly on the wall as an epalier act as a living air conditioning system, if you will: while they stop the wall of the house heating up in summer by providing shade, they allow the sun through in winter, thereby facilitating the desired heating of the wall. A simple and effective method that was practised for hundreds of years, but today has largely been forgotten and replaced by expensive technical systems.

Shade in parts of the garden brings movement and change, and therefore adds a lot of vibrancy to the garden. Contrasts that constantly change with the time of day and year are created between sun-filled and shaded parts. Shade lengthens and shortens, becomes deeper and shallower, and the patterns it creates are constantly moving, even when the wind is just a whisper.

Another quick shade tip: evergreen deciduous trees like rhododendron grow much better and stronger if they are in at least semi-shade, particularly during cold winters. The reason for this is obvious: the winter sun heats the leaves so intensely that they start to transpire, but the water in the ground is frozen and is not available to the plant. The plants dry out, which is why experts call this phenomenon "frost drought". The amateur gardener, however, might think the plants are "frozen". Winter shade helps rhododendron trees immensely.

Many bushes also love shady spots in summer – although not lawns, as I have already described!

Prof. Karl E. Schönthaler
VIKING garden expert