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Follow the Shade
by Sue Speichert - posted 10/21/13

Now that the hot summer weather is behind us, this is a good time to make a promise to yourself: no more working in the heat. Ever. Again. The saying “work smarter, not harder” applies — here is a great idea to avoid broiling in the sun next year.

My late husband grew up in northern Minnesota. He had strawberry blond hair and a light complexion. For him, the heat and sunlight of high summer made gardening in full sun an almost deadly combination.

He had a simple solution. He developed his gardening duties so that he was always in a part of the garden that wasn’t in the sun. Many years later, I still adhere to his sound advice to “follow the shade” in the middle of summer. I especially avoid working in a part of the garden that bakes in the hot afternoon sun. This means that before noon I work in the back garden where the trees create shade from the midday sun. In the afternoon, I concentrate on the garden along the front of the house that’s shaded by the tall trees and house itself. I have become better at gauging which part of the garden will have a cool afternoon breeze and which one will have at least filtered sunlight.


Sunny flower border.

Shaded flower border.

I was surprised the first time I realized how much cooler it was in the shade, even in the hottest part of the afternoon. Weeding was no longer a chore. Watering was something I actually looked forward to doing. Even digging a hole to plant a 5-gallon potted shrub was tolerable.

Back in the day when we had our garden plant store, we would take his advice one step further. If there wasn’t shade in an area where we had to work, we created our own shade. One year, we bought a small square canopy with a light-colored shade cloth material. We moved it all over the gardens all summer long. When it was at the hottest in mid-August, we even added a mister to the hose, so that we could walk through a light spray of water when we felt like we were overheating.

We never did anything so extravagant as buy a full-sized pool. We did have kiddie pools for the water plants though, and I’ll admit that there were times I purposely waded into the pool to get a plant just to cool off my feet, even for just a few minutes.

I have garden friends who are convinced that the best garden is one that’s always in full sun. Surely there are many perennials and shrubs that grow best with lots of sunlight, but even my hardiest perennials can benefit from at least a few hours of shade, especially during those few hot weeks in August that we always seem to have. I consider myself fortunate that there are so many parts of the current garden that have some shade every day, and that there are other parts that are shaded almost all day long.


Rose garden in the shade.

I think if I had an area in the garden now that was always in full sun, I would probably buy one of those wonderful market umbrellas with a stand, and simply move it about as I needed it for protection from the hot summer sun. I might try to figure out how to put it on wheels to make it easier to move around. You’d probably see me tying old sheets to poles stuck in the ground so that I could have my own temporary canopy. I would also probably plant a tree, or two or three, so that the shade would eventually be there throughout the summer, even if I might no longer be in the garden by the time the tree was large enough to provide ample shade.

It strikes me that this advice to follow the shade is a sound one for life just as it is for gardening. I remember all too well the times I got the proverbial sunburn from standing out too long in a situation when I should have stepped back into the shade. This does not mean to follow the path of least resistance or to shrink away from adversity. Rather it means to candidly assess the situation and acknowledge the path and direction that will allow us to sow the most good in life without undue or unnecessary pain or suffering, either for ourselves or others. It means that we should always remember that there are days when we need to give ourselves, and each other, the benefit of cool, quiet shade, especially during those times that seem the hottest and the hardest in our lives.

Photos courtesy of Sue Speichert

 


Sue Speichert owns Gertrude’s GardenFarm, an eclectic farm-inspired garden center in Bloomington.