I’ve been meaning to write this post all summer, and of course now it’s fall and here in the northeast, shade doesn’t seem as important anymore. But plenty of the country is still baking (if not on fire), and half of the world is just now headed into summer. I asked the TLN Facebook group to rate the importance of shade, on a scale of 1-10 (10 being the most important). Two people responded “11,” and one member, from TX, responded with 15. So here we go:
The importance of shade in the healing garden
I’m so tired of seeing “healing gardens” with no shade, or too little shade. I’ve seen many designs that are successful except for this one crucial element. I don’t know about you, but on a hot, bright day in August, the last place I want to be is outside in the sun, sweating and squinting. It’s gotten to the point where lack of shade doesn’t just make me sad, it makes me angry. Because while it’s a nice amenity in any public space, in the healthcare setting, shade truly is a matter of health.
Why provide shade?
1. Sun protection, from UV exposure and glare
For burn patients; the elderly; people with cancer; AIDS; traumatic brain injuries (TBI); psychiatric illnesses which require medications that increase photosensitivity (sensitivity to the sun); and other conditions where direct sun (UV) exposure is hazardous, shade is paramount. In addition, colored concrete is often recommended for outdoor healthcare environments because it reduces glare. This is one of the reasons why we have embraced Scofield as a Wonderful Sponsor.
2. Heat mitigation
Shade provides a cooling effect, thus facilitating use of outdoor space for as much of the year as possible. This is particularly important in regions where high temperatures discourage people from venturing outdoors.
3. Protection from rain
Many shade structures, including trees with thick canopies, have the added benefit of offering shelter from rain, encouraging people to use and enjoy the outdoors even in inclement weather.
4. Choice and control of environment
Providing people with choice and a sense of control over their environment has been shown to reduce stress and facilitate health and well-being. Giving people the choice of sun or shade is an excellent way to afford choice and a sense of control. The provision of both also allows more than one type of user to be in and enjoy an outdoor space at the same time (e.g., a staff member taking a 10-minute break in the sun while a cancer patient visits with a family member in the shade).
5. Shady spots create space and a feeling of protection and enclosure
There’s something about being under cover and looking out that feels good to us. Jay Appleton called this “prospect-refuge,” our innate need to be protected and yet have a good vantage point from which to look out and observe.
It’s official: The adoption of language in the Green Guide for Healthcare and LEED for Healthcare recommending a combination of sun and shade options is very encouraging.
Green Guide for Healthcare, www.gghc.org/SS-9.1, Connection to the Natural World: Outdoor Places of Respite:
vi. “Provide shade or indirect sun options for seating areas including, but not limited to, shade structures, a trellis or tree-shaded wheelchair accessible seating areas at a minimum of 1 space/ 200 sf of garden area with 1 wheelchair space per 5 seating spaces.”
LEED for Healthcare, www.usgbc.org/LEED-HC, SS-9.1, Connection to the Natural World: Places of Respite:
xvi. “Provide options for shade or indirect sun at a minimum of 1 seating space/ 200 sf of garden area with 1 wheelchair space per 5 seating spaces. Examples of qualifying shade structures include trellises and tree‐shaded wheelchair accessible seating areas.”
Similar language is being suggested for the 2014 Federal Guidelines for Design and Construction of Healthcare Facilities.
Ways to provide shade:
1. Trees – I don’t have to go into great detail about this wonderful design element, but I will say that sitting under the dappled shade of a leafy green canopy on a hot day, listening to the birds and the wind tickling the leaves is just about as close to heaven as I can get. For more on trees, see “If you can only plant one thing, plant a tree.”
One caveat: If you include trees in your design, make sure they are big enough when they go in to provide shade right away, or that other shade provisions are available until the trees do grow in. Someone visiting a sick loved one is not going to be consoled by the fact that in 5-10 years time, the tree he or she wants to sit under will finally be big enough to do its job.
2. Pergolas, arbors, gazebos – These can come in many forms, and can be beautiful sculptural elements and focal points.
a. It may be a while until the shade-providing plant material grows up and over the structure. Some companies actually sell integrated awnings that go over the top of arbors and can be controlled either by hand or remote control. Be prepared to put something up, even something as simple as netting, to tide you over until those vines clamber up to the top.
b. “Cliffing” is a term for the the perception, often experienced in older adults, of strong contrasting dark shadows on light pavement as changes in grade – steps up or down, which can lead to anxiety and even, in some cases, falls.
3. Shade sails, awnings, umbrellas, and other fabricated structures – These can be permanent or temporary, large- or small-scale, and – like pergolas, arbors, and gazebos – can be interesting design elements and focal points in and of themselves.
4. Porches, portals, and other covered areas connected to the building – These have the added benefit of providing a transition point between the building and the outdoor space, which is important for the elderly and people who need to “get a sense” of the space before venturing out into it. Also great for providing cover in inclement weather and allowing people too frail to go very far outdoors to still be outdoors. Finally, a screened-in porch provides protection from mosquitoes, flies, yellowjackets and other unwanted garden visitors.
5. The building shadow itself – I visited an Alzheimer’s care home in July, and about 10 residents were gathered in the solid shade of the one-story building, around a large table in comfortable chairs, where they played a question-and-answer game and then were read to by one of the caretakers. It would have been way too hot to sit in the sun, but near the building and with a slight breeze, being outside was lovely.
So please, I beg you: If you are a designer or if you have any say on the design team, campaign for shade! It really is one of the most important parts of a healing garden, and
As a parting thought, I’ll ask you this: Where would you rather have your kids play?
For more about these two spaces, see this post, Schoolyards Should Have Trees and Other Living Things.