Shade-makers provide protection, give refuge from the elements, and create a sense of place. Here are just a few of our favorites.
A Forest Canopy
The temperature is so much cooler as soon as you walk into a forest. You also get a sense of protection with your back towards the forest while looking out into the open space. Nature does shade the best!
A Pergola with an Open Habit
I love to plant and see deciduous vines planted along that type of structure. This allows you to have shade in the summer months, and sunlight during the early spring and winter. I’ve also planted deciduous vines along fences, deck stair rails, and lattice. One of my favorite vines to use is grapes. The foliage provides excellent dense cover, and they are easy to grow! It’s lots of fun to harvest some of the colorful fruit throughout the summer months! No specific variety of grapes are needed, other than hardy mid-west selections.
Multi-Purpose Trees & Vines
My favorite shade makers are multi-purpose trees and vines! I love sitting under my apple trees while having a snack of fresh apple during the heat of the summer! The grape vines growing over our arbor provide very nice shade while peeking at the ripening grapes. Sweet produce while resting in the shade is the best!
Old Bur Oak Tree
Oh man, I do love working in the shade. My favorite shade maker is an old bur oak tree. Bur oaks have a branching habit with twists and turns, making a gnarly appearance. I enjoy the structure of the tree best in the winter time. The leaves have shed and the framework is left to admire.
Wisteria on an Arbor
If trained right, wisteria provides a deep shade in the summer, purplish-white raceme flowers that are very fragrant, plus they are really fun to train and manipulate where you want the tendrils to go.
I love the shade from trees because each tree can engage the senses. Lindens provide an energizing scent. Cottonwood intrigue with the sound of rustling leaves. Swamp White Oaks offer a visual contrast from dark glossy green on top of the leaf to white on the bottom. Mulberry provides a tasty little snack. Catalpas yield a colossal leaf fun to touch.
A few notable beasts come to mind when I think about the great shade makers. Two very large, middle-aged silver maples tower over my backyard. I know silver maples don’t have the best reputation. They are ostracized in the plant community for broken branches after storms, dropping seed helicopters, and shallow roots that run through the turf. My maples, at least for now are perfect. These trees shade my entire backyard, my patio, and some of my house. I have a hammock tucked next to one of massive trunks, making it a perfect place to nap. There are bird feeders hanging from some of the lower branches, and I am happy to watch birds and squirrels eat year round. The tables and chairs on my patio are saved from the sun, almost encouraging me to eat dinner al fresco. These maples make me learn about and appreciate shade-loving plants, because there is no way a sunny perennial will grow in my backyard. I look at them and see the perfect tree fort and jungle gym. I see piles of leaves to jump in… I see a living monument ready to brave the weather and encourage outdoor adventures.
Kentucky Coffeetree Gymnocladus dioicus
This is a wonderful, underutilized Midwestern native. Its exotic leaves create beautiful, filtered shade and wonderful shadow play, creating a perfect lath-like ceiling Since sunlight is allowed to filter through the tree, adequate light reaches the ground beneath, giving other appropriate plants an opportunity to grow beneath its protective canopy. The bark and branching habit of the tree takes on a rugged, distinctiveness in the winter.
Cottonwood Populus deltoides
It is the king of the prairie and is quintessentially summer. This tree may not be the first to come to mind when selecting a new front yard tree, but it sure casts a long shadow when the late afternoon July heat becomes too much. The sound of rain from the leaves while watching the seeds blow on a light breeze makes me want a lemonade.
Need to add a shady place you can enjoy in your garden? We’d love to help. Contact one of our designers today!
Corey Brabec, Head of Horticulture
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