Shade is often seen as a negative attribute in gardens. But shade can be a benefit as well as a potential challenge to overcome. Beneficial shade is something we often want in our outside space.
As we work to create a garden of any kind, wherever we live, we should not be seeking to soak in the sun at all times. As in life, in a garden we need the light and the shade. Finding the perfect blend between the two is the key to creating a productive, beautiful and effective space.
Why is Garden Shade Important?
Sunlight and shade need to be in balance in a garden space. Of course, plants need sunshine for photosynthesis – and some need a lot more than others. But shade tones down the heat that comes with that light, creating cooler spaces which can be beneficial to both people and plants.
Reducing the heat through creating areas of shade within the space creates a more comfortable environment for people during the warm summer months.
Creating garden shade, cast at the right times and to the right degree, can help you boost biodiversity in your garden by creating optimal growing conditions for a broader range of plants.
Of course, creating areas of shade can also help reduce water use in a garden – reducing the rate of evaporation and moisture loss from soil and growing media. Reducing heat through shade can also reduce the transpiration rate – the rate at water moves through and is evaporated from the leaves, stems and flowers of plants.
So in lower-water areas, shade can be particularly beneficial to reduce water use and make your gardening efforts as sustainable and eco-friendly as possible.
Through creating areas of shade, dappled light and full sun in your garden, where possible, you can have the best of all worlds. You can create a garden that works for you, as many different plants, and as much different wildlife as possible.
When and Where Garden Shade Can Be Beneficial
Garden Shade can indeed be extremely beneficial. But of course it is very important to consider carefully precisely when and where shade is cast, and the quality of that shade.
It can be helpful to think about shade by categorising it into three types: full shade, partial shade, and light, dappled shade. All three can be wonderful things in a garden, but it is important to think about when the shade is cast.
An area that is in full shade can be in shade for most or all of the time. In a north facing garden, the part of the garden closest to the home, shaded by the structure, falls into this category, receiving little light as the sun rises in the east and tracks across the south to set in the west. It might also include the area below dense evergreen trees, or other zones that receive little direct sunlight.
An area that is in partial shade will still receive some direct sun each day. But it might be fully shaded in the morning, or for a period later in the day. There are obviously varying degrees of partial shade and it is useful to think about how much sun a location gets, and when it gets it.
An area that is in dappled shade or light shade is an area where the light that reaches it is filtered through a tree canopy or other plants, which create some shade below or behind them.
Full garden shade might seem a disadvantage, and it is likely that you would prefer not have this over the entirety of your space. But having some full shade can create particularly cool places to escape from the heat of the summer. And it can allow you to embrace plants which thrive in this environment.
Partial garden shade can be beneficial in order to create a series of micro-climate conditions ideally suited to the growth of different plants. Some will love to bask in the morning sun, but may not thrive in the baking heat of an afternoon. Others will do best if shielded from early sun and gain from sunny conditions later in the day.
Dappled garden shade is perhaps the most useful type of shade to create in your garden. It is the halfway house which involves creating lightly shaded conditions but still allowing plenty of light to shine through.
Think about sitting in a woodland glade and you will soon see the benefits of a seating area or other recreational space in dappled shade. For people, It may be beneficial to have a seating area shielded from the sun during the hottest part of the day.
The Best Garden Shade Ideas
In any garden, when trying to create beneficial shade, the first step should always be to think about how this can be achieved using plants. Plants placed in the correct locations and utilised in the right ways will create areas with differing amounts of shade that can be useful in the ways described above.
Natural Tree Cover
The first, and perhaps the most obvious way to create beneficial garden shade is to plant standard trees within the space.
Anyone who has spent time in a woodland or forest on a hot day will understand how much cooler things can be under the tree canopy.
Even in a small garden, smaller trees positioned in an appropriate locations can create large areas of dappled shade. If you wish, in many gardens, you can create a native woodland space, with a sunny glade surrounded by shady spots, or a food-producing forest garden.
Of course, in some cases you will want to make sure that as well as having areas of beneficial garden shade, you also have areas which get more sunlight.
It can be useful to remember that as well as being grown in standard form, you can also shape trees to fit them into the space, and can create smaller shaded spots without reducing sunlight levels in your garden to an excessive degree.
You can espalier trees, use cordon or fan-shaped specimens, or create rows of pleached trees, for example.
Shrubs & Canes
As well as using trees to create beneficial garden shade, you might also consider using smaller shrubs and cane plants – like bamboo, or raspberries, for example. Even creating small areas of shade can be very useful in a garden, allowing you to create the conditions to grow a wider range of plants.
Such plants can also create partitions within a space, creating cooler and secluded seating areas surrounded by dense planting. Taller shrubs and canes can block sunlight in the evening or early in the day when placed in appropriate locations.
A Climber Clad Pergola or Other Garden Structure
To create beneficial garden shade during the height of the day for a seating area or other outdoors recreation area, you might like to add a physical man-made structure to your garden. But if you create a pergola, arbour or other such structure, the shade does not have to be provided by the structure itself.
You can consider cladding that structure with plants rather than creating a fully covered area, to create a lovely area of dappled shade below. You can use evergreen perennial climbers for some shade year round. Or use annual climbers for shade only during the summer months.
Taller Annuals in a Vegetable Garden
One final thing to remember when thinking about creating beneficial shade in a garden is that shaded areas do not have to be permanent. Nor do you necessarily need extremely tall trees, shrubs or climbers to create some shade. Even much smaller plants, in a vegetable garden for example, can provide shade to those growing below or beside them.
Taller annuals like peas or beans on trellis or other supports, corn, amaranth, sunflowers etc.. even tomatoes… can create shade for plants nearby. By thinking about where the sun comes from throughout each day and throughout the year, you can consider shade when creating the perfect layout for your kitchen garden.
A Shade Tunnel
Considering plants is always the best place to begin when trying to create beneficial shade in a garden. But there are also man-made structures to consider which can be useful for creating shade in certain cases.
You might, for example, create a polytunnel with a full shade cover for a shaded seating area, for garden storage, for mushroom cultivation or for livestock, for example.
You might also use a green polytunnel cover that mimics light levels in the shade of a forest floor. Or a white polytunnel cover that reduces light transmission and helps with sun scorch and temperature reduction. Or a netting cover for hardier plants which like some protection and a little shade.
Sails or Parasols
In a garden, you might also use sails or parasols or other fabric covers to create shade for seating areas. While using plants is often the best option where possible, these options can be attractive and useful. And if you are trying to be as eco-friendly as possible, there are plenty of reclaimed materials that you might use.
Elizabeth Waddington is a writer and green living consultant living in Scotland. Permaculture and sustainability are at the heart of everything she does, from designing gardens and farms around the world, to inspiring and facilitating positive change for small companies and individuals.
She also works on her own property, where she grows fruit and vegetables, keeps chickens and is working on the eco-renovation of an old stone barn.
To get in touch, visit https://ewspconsultancy.com.