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The Value of Shade


By Jenny Indian, Member of NERSA, Landcare and Indigo Shire Environment Advisory Committee

If you look about you can see it happening already – stock packed up tightly under the few remaining paddock trees, parked vehicles jammed in and around trees and people beginning to seek out spots to stand which are out of direct sunlight. 

We seriously underestimate the impact of shade – it cools, calms and softens the light, makes hostile space useable and allows us to embrace the outdoors.

And yet shade seldom rates a mention when people are designing houses or gardens.  As a Landscape Architect I have been called to quite a number of huge, new houses where the owners are both proud of their efforts but also perplexed at how the spaces in and around the house ‘aren’t working’.  This is often simply because they are negative, hostile spaces, open to wind, affording no sense of enclosure and – all too often – relentlessly sunny.

I was asked to help one particular family who had obviously spent a large amount on their house and surroundings yet the children wouldn’t go outside. On meeting them and viewing the property it all fell into place.  A large swimming pool had been located immediately adjacent to the kitchen (good for observation maybe but…) causing harsh, reflected light to play constantly in what was an ‘un-eaved’ building, the garden was trim but afforded no cover and the wind whistled around every corner.  I met the children in the darkened TV room – three little red-heads seeking refuge inside.

Think about the absolute beauty of filtered light – light filtered through leaves or tracery is wonderful.  Areas of uniform lighting create dull, uninteresting spaces with direct light casting strong shadows, resulting in harsh images with strong contrasts.  People automatically reinforce boundaries when looking about which makes the contrast worse.

Think too about the glare around an unprotected window – any view is seen through an unpleasant and harsh environment.  Contrast this with a window you know where the view, however ordinary, is seen through a tracery of filtered light, either due to foliage or the structure of the building.

You don’t have to spend vast amounts of money or wait endless years for trees to grow (though that is always worth it) to establish shade.  Begin to explore the options available – generous pergolas, deep verandahs, good building design and orientation and the wealth of plants and foliage out there.  And also think hard about your electricity use and bills with the air-conditioner….