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"Made in the Shade" on a hot summer's day

Does this sound good to you right now? You are outside on a pleasant summer's day. You can hear the chirp and twitter of various birds, and maybe the distant drone of a faraway tractor or mower. You trace a fingertip through the droplets of condensation forming on your frosty-cold beverage mug. You look up through a high canopy of green as a gentle breeze lazily rustles the leaves above your head. You are lying back in your hammock strung between two majestic trees, enjoying temperatures that are a pleasant 15 or 20 degrees lower than surrounding unshaded areas. Ah! This is the life!

Shade. On a day like this, nothing beats some R and R in the shade.

Take a look outside at your landscape. Do you have a special shady area, created solely by Mother Nature or with some help from a previous landowner?

If you do, I have some ideas for enhancing your cool and quiet area. If you don't, I have five suggestions for fast-growing shade trees that you can plant now and enjoy in just a very few summers from now.

Let's start with my list of recommended shade trees. I've selected these varieties based on two criteria: they will provide delightful shade and they grow relatively quickly. Here they are (in no particular order):

1. The Quick Shade "Red Baron" Willow Hybrid. This tree is named for its reddish tinged branches that you'll see from fall all the way though the winter months. It grows six feet per year, and provides an abundance of cool shade for summer.

2. Tulip Poplar (Lirodendroan tulipifera). The Tulip Poplar certainly qualifies as a fast growing large shade tree. It can grow 15 to 20' over a 6 to 8 year period. As a specimen tree on a large property it has great beauty and in fall can be spectacular.

3. Imperial Carolina. This is another "quick shade" variety. The fast growing Imperial Carolina is a relatively new variety that is creating quite a buzz. Drop me an e-mail if you're having trouble locating this one which grows about six feet per year.

4. Sycamore (Platanus occidentalis). or sycamore is a fast-growing, large shade tree with a massive trunk and a wide-spreading open crown of imposing crooked branches. Don't worry if you notice the smooth bark flaking off in places. It's a natural phenomenon that creates a really interesting look.

5. Thornless Honeylocust (Gleditsia triacanthos). I'll bet you hadn't thought of this one! However, for something a little different, I think it's worth investigating. It's fast growing as a young tree and will grow 2' or more a year over a 10 year period. A great tree for filtered shade.

What if you can't wait a few years for your shade trees to reach "hammock height?"

You might want to build some kind of structure that will let you sit comfortably in man-made shade while you watch you trees grow. What would suit your landscape? An arbor? A pergola? A gazebo?

I found some easy-to-follow instructions for building an arbor, written by David Beaulieu, host of landscaping.about.com. You can find that article at http://landscaping.about.com/cs/accentpieces/a/garden_arbor.htm or go to my web site www.landsteward.org and find this column under the "Plant Man" heading and simply click on a direct link.

A word of caution about arbors: Be sure that the structure is sturdy enough to support the weight of the plants that you'll probably want to train up the sides and over the top of your arbor. For example, wisteria can become heavy enough to collapse a flimsy structure!

A Gazebo is – literally – a place to sit and "gaze" out over the beauty of your landscape. It is also a very pleasant place to entertain guests on summer evenings. You can find a number of kits to choose from that you can assemble yourself. Add a couple of wicker chairs and a small table, and start gazing!

This is the first of a two-part article. In my next column I'll have suggestions for vines and other plants that you can train around your arbor or gazebo. I'll also have some ideas for plants that can enhance an area that already provides you with a shady "getaway".

In the meantime, picture yourself in that swaying hammock, cool drink in hand, gazing up through the leafy boughs of your private shade garden...

The Plant Man is here to help. Send your questions about trees, shrubs and landscaping to [email protected] and for resources and additional information, including archived columns, visit www.landsteward.org often.

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