Cool It!

Is The Heat Turning Your Late-summer Garden Into A Sweltering Desert?

August 04, 2002|By Story by Marianne Auerweck | Story by Marianne Auerweck,Special to the Sun

When sizzling summer hues combine with sweltering temperatures, the garden can be about as inviting as a blast furnace.

The same vibrant reds, yellows and oranges that beckoned visitors with a sense of warmth to the spring garden can seem stifling in the heat and humidity that inevitably settle on the area in August.

Turning down the visual heat and creating an illusion of coolness can refresh your wilting spirit and instill an element of serenity to a garden.

A "cool" retreat often begins with a softer palette of durable plants that will hold up well in the heat without constant care.

"It has an effect on the psyche when you see plants fading in the heat," said Doug Sheredos, a landscape architect at Maxalea Inc. of Baltimore. "Use the right plants in the right places. If they need shade, don't plant them in a sunny location where they'll show signs of stress. If you keep plants well-watered and in good health, the garden can look cooler."

Keep in mind that the region's drought has only worsened through the summer, and outdoor water-use restrictions have been imposed in many counties. Mulch well to preserve ground moisture.

Regardless of the size of your garden -- even if it's limited to a patio or deck -- a refuge is within reach if you incorporate elements that help to counteract summer's extremes. Here are five ways to cool the garden down.

1. Create pockets of shade.

If there are no nearby trees to provide some shade from the late-summer sun, make your own. Pergolas, arbors, tall trellises or other open-sided structures that filter the sun's rays without blocking air flow can serve as a focal point and support climbing plants. Flowering trees or tall shrubs with small leaves and an airy growth habit can provide dappled shade for a cooling effect. On decks or patios, use umbrellas and tall plants in oversized, cool-hued containers to create shade.

White or pale pink climbing roses or clematis, potted in a blue-glazed jardiniere and trained onto a firmly-anchored support can have a powerful cooling effect in a patio or deck. Several similar containers in varying sizes and shapes, overflowing with cool-colored blooms, can be grouped together for greater effect.

2. Go for H2O.

The sound and sight of water creates an effect of coolness in the garden. Though water-use restrictions in some counties ban the use of ornamental fountains, residents are allowed to maintain fish ponds with fountains that serve to filter and oxygenate the pond water. In some areas, small fountains that recirculate a few gallons of water may be acceptable. To minimize evaporation, avoid those that spew water and choose designs that let water spill or cascade into a collection basin.

Water features don't need to dominate your landscape to provide a sense of coolness, says Joe Lattanzi, a landscape designer and president of Lattanzi Landscapes in Perry Hall. A trickle of water washing over smooth stones or a single rock can be as effective as an elaborate in-ground pond, he said.

3. Chill with color.

Blooms in shades of blue, purple and white will give your garden a cooler appearance, along with pastel or midrange hues that gravitate toward the cool-color spectrum. While neon pink can be overpowering en masse, a stand of mauvey coneflower is right at home in the cool garden.

Double the effect by pairing it with the lacey pale green foliage and tiny lavender-blue bloom spikes of Russian sage (Perovskia).

From ground covers to climbers, plants that can add a visual chill to the summer garden are abundant. Experiment with different combinations to get the effect that suits you. There is, after all, an almost endless range of possibilities for tailoring a look that reflects your taste and evokes a sense of coolness from your mind's eye.

And don't forget containers or ornaments. A cobalt blue pot or museum-white statue can be an ideal way to help psychologically lower the temperature.

4. Turn a new leaf.

Blooms come and go, but foliage makes a statement throughout the season and plays a major role in the visual temperature of your garden. Green, of course, is a cool color, but not all greens are created equal. Dark green, gray-green and blue-green foliage pack more cooling power than bright or yellow-green leaves. White variegation adds to the effect.

Maroon or bronze foliage may seem intense, but these versatile hues are like chameleons. Paired with reds or bright yellows, they ratchet up the visual heat; but combined with shades of purple, pink or cream, they project coolness. Dark-leaved cannas or the 'Brunette' and 'Hillside Black Beauty' cultivars of Cimicifuga will flourish in dappled shade.

5. Catch a breeze.

Finely textured plants that can be jostled by a light breeze can have a cooling effect, at least psychologically, by demonstrating that there is indeed still oxygen in the atmosphere.

"Wispy-looking, graceful plants like ornamental grasses that move and make a rustling sound will accentuate a breeze," said Sheredos of Maxalea.

Choose ornamental grasses carefully, as they can be invasive, and tall varieties can be flattened by wind or rain.

Small ornamental grasses -- such as Festuca 'Elijah Blue', Calamagrostis and black fountain grass ( Pennisetum ) -- are more suitable to the small garden.

Such perennials as Japanese anemones (windflower) and Gaura (wand flower) bloom on tall, wiry stems that are set in motion by the slightest breeze.

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