Nothing beats relaxing in the shade with a cool drink on a hot summer afternoon, or entertaining friends around the barbecue on a balmy evening. A badly designed garden though, can become very hot and uncomfortable, both for relaxing and working in, so now is the time to look at how you can change your gardening habits, and perhaps even redesign your garden to be a more summer-friendly area.
The trend towards smaller, low maintenance backyards means that the summers can seem even hotter and longer than they used to. We have fewer large shady trees, we’ve replaced lawns with low maintenance paving, and enclosed entertaining areas with small designer-style walled courtyards.
To help you keep you garden nice and cool during the heat of summer there a numerous things to remember when redesigning or simply renovating your garden.
The BIG NO-NO’s
Too much open exposed areas of paving – increased temperatures from absorbed and reflected heat can be considerable.
Not enough shade.
Blocking off the breeze - this is a common problem in small walled courtyards.
Dark surfaces which absorb and retain heat.
Excessively white painted walls which become garish and uncomfortable to sit in the courtyard during sunny days.
Metal furniture in full sun - it can look great, but inadvisable to sit on while you’re wearing swimmers or thin shorts!
An outdoor living area downwind of the bbq.
Things to do to help avoid getting hot
Time your activities in the garden to suit the weather:
Do all your weeding and heavy gardening early in the day, or better still, wait until there is a cool change in the weather.
Water plants in the early morning. While it’s nice to stand out in the garden with a hose in the evening, it’s not good for the plants, nor is it an efficient way of watering. The leaves stay wet overnight, encouraging the spread of fungal diseases, and much of the water runs off the surface before the roots get a chance absorb it. A thorough watering every 2-3 days allows the water to penetrate deep into the soil. A drip irrigation system can be very effective, as it saves you the effort of having to water the plants, and it does it more efficiently than hand watering and sprinklers.
Entertain late in the day (or early, depending on the climate - on the Gold Coast, it’s cooler later in the day, in Melbourne it is hotter in the evening).
When working or entertaining outdoors remember to drink lots of water, wear a broad-brimmed hat, a long-sleeved shirt with a collar, and sun screen, and take plenty of breaks.
Making the Garden Cooler
Depending on the size of the garden, your lifestyle and budget, some of the choices are:
Temporary shade. The simplest way to create a shaded area is to put up a large umbrella. A cabana – an open-sided tent – is useful for temporarily shading a small area of lawn, sandpit or wading pool.
One or more shade wings can be erected to shelter larger areas, such as verandas, barbecue areas, children’s play areas. These might be attached permanently in position, or only temporarily during the warmer months, and then removed during cooler seasons to allow more light and warmth to penetrate into the garden. Depending on your preferences you can choose coloured shade wings that merge into the garden so that they are not so obvious, or you might choose bright-coloured ones to make a statement, or to create a focal point.
Other permanent shade structures include arbours (small pergola-like structure framing a seat), pergolas and gazebos. Think carefully about the style of the house and garden before you build or buy a permanent shade structure, because they will have a significant visual impact on the garden.
Trees, climbers and shrubs. All gardens benefit from the inclusion of plants, especially when they’re placed along the western boundary to cast shade in the afternoon. If you have a small garden, consider using tall, narrow plants such as Pencil Pine (Cupressus sempervirens). Large potted plants can be used to filter wind and to cast some shade in courtyards and around swimming pools. These can be moved around if desired as the seasons change.
Lattice screens. These can be used instead of solid walls which block off breezes in the garden. Grow climbing plants up the screen to give more shade and privacy.
Water. You don’t need a full size swimming pool to enjoy the cooling effect of water. A lap pool takes up considerably less space (about 16m x 5m), while a plunge pool can be fitted into most small gardens. Even a small water feature, such as a fountain, water barrel or pond, will make the garden feel cooler.
Problems and Solutions
Q. What can you do when paving gets too much sun?
A. Put up a shade wing. Put out lots of large potted plants. Plant small trees around the courtyard or garden.
Q. What can you do when garden furniture gets too hot?
A. Put up a large market umbrella. Use vinyl or cloth cushions on metal chairs. Move furniture to a more shady place.
Q. What to do if a children's play area gets too much sun?
A. Put a cabana (open-sided tent) or a pergola (for more permanent shelter).
Q. What to do if lawn does not get enough sun?
Carefully prune overhanging trees. Change turf variety for a shade loving type.
Q. What to do if an area becomes hot and stuffy?
A. Encourage air flow by fencing with an open material -eg picket fence with gaps; or rendered concrete walls with ‘gaps’ made in the wall.
Q. What to do if an area is too glary?
A. Repaint walls. Provide shade structures. Position more potted plants around the paved area.