Monday, June 21, 2010

Designing Trends - Shade

With spring ending and summer just around the corner, most homeowners have one thing on their mind in regards to their yard –SHADE!!! Yes we do live in the desert and gosh darn-it, it gets hot in the summer. One of the most common requests we get from clients is to have shade in their yard. There are 3 main ways to achieve shade in the residential landscape -- the use of shade trees, the use of shade structures and using existing structures for shade. Here in the summer, even the best designed outdoor rooms will be unused and uninviting if the element of shade is not addressed.

Using shade trees for shade can be very rewarding, successful and frustrating at the same time. Shade trees will have an organic feel with interesting shadow patterns as well as adding a possible habitat for wild life. Shade trees will change every year (grow, flower color, fall color….etc) and provide year round interest, but for a shade tree to be effective you will usually have to wait 4-7 years to get substantial shade. A south west facing entry can be very hot and uninviting but with a few shade trees and some time (5 years for the pictures here) it can become an old world, shady oasis.


A shade structure will give your yard instant shade and an architectural focal point, but will be substantially more expensive than a shade tree. There are several different kinds of materials and styles that could be used (wood vs. synthetics, solid vs. lattice, column accents, seat walls, built-in outdoor kitchens, fireplaces, etc.) to create the outdoor room of your dreams.

The easiest and most cost effective way to have your outdoor room in shade in the afternoon is to have an east facing back yard and take advantage of the existing residence to provide shade late in the day. If you are lucky enough to have this situation, a well designed outdoor space will not require additional shade late in the afternoon, but if you wish to have shade in the morning thru mid afternoon, the use of shade trees or a shade structure might be required.

When the summer heat hits, the use of a properly designed outdoor room will improve the living quality of the space and will add year round interest. Contact us to see how we can add shade to your yard now.

Hardscape? Oh that's Hardscape! - Shade Structures

A touch of Shade
 A shade structure will give you instant shade and architectural interest but there are several elements that must be considered before installing your shade structure. How much maintenance do you want to do? What style will best suit your house and lifestyle? How much shade is needed? Do you want to attach the structure to the house or have it freestanding? Do you want solid or lattice type structure?

When maintenance is the main key in regards to a shade structure there are two main material choices – real wood or Alumawood (or other maintenance ‘free’ materials). Real wood will give you the most natural looking structure but will require the most maintenance to keep it looking new. You will need to stain/seal it every year to every couple of years (depends upon type of wood, sealer/stain used and the exposure to the elements) unless you like the grey, weathered look. Alumawood is a maintenance ‘free’ shade structure material that comes in 6 colors and has a wood grain look.  

When it comes to style, post size and treatment will have the biggest impact. 8” rough cut timber posts will give you a more naturalist and substantial look over a more formal looking 6” stucco column. Stone bases can be added to the bottom of the post to tie materials together and to give the post a more solid look. End cap details (such as beveled, mitered, corbel or scallop ends) can add an extra dimension to the shade structure.

The amount of shade that a lattice type shade structure produces depends upon its location, orientation and spacing of the overhead members. Solid roof structures can be designed to keep the patio area dry during poor weather, but the solid structure will not allow in filtered light like the lattice type. New Louvered remote control roof systems can have the best of both worlds with a touch of a button. It can be open to allow in filtered sun or be closed for a full shade and dry environment.

 If you need a shade structure and are overwhelmed by all the options, contact us to discuss the possibilities.

Focus on Plants - Hosta

In the shade garden, there is no other shade plant that has such a large variety of cultivars as the Hosta. For leaf size you can go from the gigantic 20”x15” leaf on the Sum and Substance Hosta all the way down to the tiny 3”x3” leaf on the Blue Mouse Ears Hosta. Sum and Substance will have a mature size of 36” tall and 60” wide, while Blue Mouse Ears will only get 6” tall and 10” wide. When it comes to colors, there are almost endless combinations of solid and variegated colors. For solid colors, Hostas can come in shades of blue-green, yellow-gold and several shades of green. For the variegated Hosta, color combination can involve shades of green, blue-green, yellow or white.

Hostas will first poke out of the ground in mid to late spring, depending upon the variety. The lush leaves will unfold and add a tropical feel to the shade garden. In summer, flower stalks will appear above the foliage. Flower colors tend to be lavender to white, but not particularly showy, some varieties having a slight fragrance. In fall , after a couple of heavy frosts, the plant will die back to the ground, you can remove the spent foliage and wait until spring for the Hosta to add rich color and texture to your shade garden next year.

Designers Toolbox


Did you ever wonder what a particular plant would look like in front of your house without buying the plant? With photo imaging it is possible to take a picture of your house with no landscaping and have a 2D photo done showing you all the plants before you get your shovel out! Photo imaging is awesome to show how different plants go together in a photo realistic environment, but it does have its limitations. Photo imaging is not ideal for designing complex hardscape items (multi-level patios, decks, shade structures….) because it is only a 2D software and hardscape items might tend to look artificial and out of scale. To design complex hardscape items I recommend using a true 3D software (see my Blog on SketchUp) to build the hardscape items, then export a 2D image and insert the plants on that image.

If you have an area in your yard and you want to see what it could look like before you grab a shovel, contact us to see what we can do you.

Yard Tips - Summer Maintenance

It is time to get the yard ready for the dog days of summer. Most of your spring bulbs should have finished flowering and are mostly spent foliage. It is now safe for you to remove the foliage as the bulb has collected the energy from the foliage for next years spring display. Summer is one of the lower maintenance times of the year, besides mowing the grass (which should be growing slower than it did in spring) and removing the odd weed, the most I do in the yard in the summer time is start up the grill, have a beverage and enjoy the sunny summer weather with my family. ENJOY!


Newsletter - Summer 2010

I hope you enjoyed our summer 2010 newsletter. I would like to thank our partners for their help to make this newsletter possible. Please see their web sites to review their products and services.

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