Turn Your Garden Into the Perfect Place to Cool Off This Summer

Some strategic planning can transform your garden into a refreshing oasis.

shady backyard view

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In any garden, keeping plants healthy and happy is a major goal. But good garden design not only meets the needs of plants and wildlife; it should also provide an optimal human environment. This applies during all the seasons, but right now, thinking about how a garden can help us stay cool and comfortable during hot summer days is particularly relevant.

As the Earth's climate changes, many people around the world are experiencing heat waves and extreme weather events on an increasing basis. So, here are a few design tips to help turn your garden into the perfect place to cool off this summer.

Vegetate as Much as Possible

Especially in cities, the built environment can create a rise in local air temperatures known as the "heat island effect." Planting trees, shrubs, and other vegetation in built-up areas makes a huge difference, providing atmospheric cooling. 

Many city yards end up almost entirely paved or have lawned areas with only narrow planted borders around the outside. But creating more lush, biodiverse, layered planting over more of your space really can help to keep things cooler and more comfortable.

shady backyard with Adirondack chair

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Bare soil heats up more quickly than soil that is covered and which contains living roots. So, in vegetable plots and other garden areas, using mulches and ground covers makes a difference to the heat that is retained.

When you can sit amid dense, lush green planting, rather than on a parched and baking open area, you will find it easier to stay at a comfortable temperature, even in higher heat.

Learn From Traditional Loggia and Riad Design

Creating shade in a garden helps ensure we don't fry in the heat and that we get respite from the sun during the hottest part of the year. In areas with particularly hot summers, we can learn from their desert and hot climate garden design. 

Traditional covered porticoes, or loggia, are outside spaces that provide shade in a garden. There are plenty of ways that you can make these covered porch areas against your home or a wall in your outside space, with a shaded seating area below.

Traditionally, these were made from solid stone and other dense materials which are very good at catching and storing heat energy during the day and releasing it when temperatures fall. Using materials with high thermal mass like stone, earth, clay, and water in your garden can help to keep temperatures more stable—for you, as well as for your plants. 

Riads are a traditional style of house in Morocco. They feature a type of inner courtyard garden which also takes advantage of the shade provided by the surrounding walls. These gardens have a private and inward-facing feel and form the center of family life. Turning your outside space into such a tranquil haven can make it a wonderful place to keep cool in warmer climates.

Riads often have planting arranged within a courtyard, centered around a water feature, and water is something that can help make any garden feel cooler. Clay tiles—a common feature in such spaces—also have good thermal mass to help regulate temperatures.

Embrace Seasonal Shade

woman reading under a flower-covered pergola

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It is not only structures and buildings that create shade, but also trees and other plants. Carefully positioned trees and shrubs, climbers, vines, and more can provide shade in summer when it is required. Yet those that are deciduous will also prevent the space from feeling too dark in the cooler months.

Perennial shade providers are a staple for any garden. But you might consider shading an outdoor seating area using annuals that provide the shade when it is most needed over the summer months. Growing annual climbers and vines like beans, squash, etc. over a pergola or other structure is just one example.

Make Use of Cooling Summer Breezes

Shade is not the only thing to think about. A good garden design should take into account the wind, as well as other things like sunlight and shade, water, and soil.

By thinking carefully about the layout of features and planting, with reference to the prevailing wind direction, you can take advantage of summer breezes and create cross-breezes through the space to keep it cooler all summer long. 

Consider Natural Swimming Ponds or Pools

natural swimming pool in Mexico

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If the summers are warm enough where you live, then you may be tempted to have a place to take a dip in your backyard. But chlorinated and heated pools are not the most environmentally friendly choice. Instead, consider adding a natural swimming pond or pool to your space, with natural plant filtration and care as to materials use.