Garden Designers Roundtable: Seeking Shade

If a man walks in the woods for love of them half of each day, he is in danger of being regarded as a loafer.  But if he spends his days as a speculator, shearing off those woods and making the earth bald before her time, he is deemed an industrious and enterprising citizen.

~Henry David Thoreau

Dancing trees

I am a loafer. I spent the summer afternoons of my youth in two places…with my nose in a book and in the woods–sometimes I did both.


For me, our wood’s magic wasn’t rooted in botany or its perfect lifecycle of renewal.  It was the cool darkness with dancing light and magic that drew me in.

Magical patterns of light

As an adult their influence is still a major factor in my design practices as well as in life.  I prefer shade.

Woodland Garden

Shade by itself  creates an emotive response that never fails.  In our gardens we naturally seek shade on porches…under umbrellas and pergolas…on in a woodland garden.  For me, shade is an opportunity to design with magic.

Shade combo in my home garden

For other thoughts on shade, please visit our guest blogger this month–Margaret Roach from A Way To Garden and the rest of the GDRT blogging designers below.

Andrew Keys : Garden Smackdown : Boston, MA

Christina Salwitz : Personal Garden Coach : Renton, WA

Debbie Roberts : A Garden of Possibilities : Stamford, CT

Douglas Owens-Pike : Energyscapes : Minneapolis, MN

Genevieve Schmidt : North Coast Gardening : Arcata, CA

Lesley Hegarty & Robert Webber : Hegarty Webber Partnership : Bristol, UK

Pam Penick : Digging : Austin, TX

13 thoughts on “Garden Designers Roundtable: Seeking Shade

  1. Susan, I agree, shady spots are much more interesting than sunny ones. As a kid, I grew up across the street from a area where all the vegetation had been removed to make room for the town basketball courts, baseball fields, pool, playground and golfcourse. But, next door to our property was a wooded, undeveloped area that held much more fascination for me and my friends than the ‘typical’ play areas. We’d spend hours climbing trees and digging for buried treasures. For me, shade gardens are so interesting because they seem much more natural and less contrived than many of their sunny counterparts.

    The biggest adventures I had as a kid were in those woods behind our house. I didn’t value that experience then as much as I do now though.–s

  2. I have acres of wild woods, but no shade in the garden to speak of. Alas. Cool serenity. How beautiful.

    Shade is incredibly underrated in the garden. As I understand it, about 45% of all plants prefer some shade…that’s a lot of plants!–s

  3. Appreciate your comments…love your Thoreau relevant today…

    Amazing that those words, written hundreds of years ago still ring true. Have we made any real progress???–s

  4. Susan,
    Cool elegance is the order of the day. I’ll take two of your prescriptions and call you in August. 🙂 Thank you for the lovely inspiration!

    That means a lot coming from our Seattle GDRT member! I will see just how much shade you have next month!–s

  5. Light/shadow play is magic, indeed – an ever-changing source of positive and negative imagery. I agree that light and shadow can greatly influence both the physical and psychological aspects of a garden/landscape. Thank you, Susan, I’m feeling cooler and calmer already!

    I’m so happy I could help, lol!–s

  6. I’m with you, Susan–I prefer shade. It’s lush and green and cool–and not seen or created often enough in our Zone 8 area. Beautiful.

    Is there less shade because there are fewer trees or because sun is ‘king’? Having never been to Austin I have no way to judge.–s

  7. To answer your question to Jenny P., in my opinion there is a lot of natural shade in Austin. Our trees are not as tall or broad as those in your region, but there are lots of them, especially live oaks. Shade is a necessity for enjoying the garden in summer in our region, whether from trees or man-made structures (interesting that no one wrote about that, eh?).

  8. Susan, I love your soothing words. Reading this post put me in that languid, shady state! Love that “shade is an opportunity to design with magic”. Beautiful.

  9. Hi Susan,
    Great posting of a subject we often take for granted. Here’s one for you… Happiness is sharing a bowl of cherries and a book of poetry with a shade tree. He doesn’t eat much and doesn’t read much, but listens well and is a most gracious host. ~Astrid Alauda
    Don’t you wish all men were shade trees… I’m a loafer, count me in!
    Allen Quay
    Landscape Design Advisor

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