Wonders of shade

July 11, 2010|By CELESTE MAIORANA / Special to The Herald-Mail
  • This northern red oak is owned by Kevin and Jackie Hemphill who live near Clear Spring. This tree, which was recently certified as a Big Tree from the Maryland Big Tree Program, takes more than one lifetime to grow a tree this big.
Photo by Celeste Maiorana,

We've been having a pretty hot summer.

As you have emerged from air-conditioned buildings and trudged through hot asphalt parking lots to get into your very hot car, you might have wished for a bit of shade along the way.

And if you're lucky enough to have some nice shade trees where you live, you have probably sighed with relief as you exited your car and entered your home.

As we have built our civilization, we often have considered efficiency only in the short term and without counting the costs of what is lost.

We build large hot parking lots because it is the cheaper way, even though this practice destroys a lot of habitat, retains excess heat from the sun and contributes to polluted water run-off.


In much less space, one could build a parking garage with a green living roof that could absorb rain, retain much less heat, and provide habitat, food, fiber and fuel. Though it might cost more in the short term, it would yield many benefits in the long term.

With our lawns, streets and open public spaces, we often avoid trees because they make it harder to mow and they shed leaves and twigs on a regular basis.

But trees provide cooling shade for humans and the ground below them. Their shade reduces the cost of cooling houses in summer and reduces the heat-island effect in cities and towns. Properly placed and grouped, they provide windbreaks, which reduce heating costs in winter.

Sunny open spaces are necessary for growing our annual food crops and for certain recreational activities. But because trees are so essential to a healthy planet, we should incorporate them into our lives as much as we can.

We can also look back into our past for a path into the future. "Before they became farmers, our ancestors hunted and gathered what nature provided. While we are unlikely to ever return fully to such a time, we can incorporate some of those elements into the design of our gardens.

Trees provide much more than a cool shady space. They may provide edible fruits and nuts, they enrich the soil, remove carbon dioxide from the air and store it, they enable water to soak into the ground, and help to purify our water systems.

While they need space to spread their branches under the sun, they are content to live with a vibrant understory of shrubs, vines and herbaceous ground covers, which also provide food for the taking. Sun-loving flowers and vegetables can be grown on the sunny edges of these "forest gardens."

Please consider planting trees in your yard and community. A healthy planet calls for trees to shade all the spaces where they can grow and full sun is not required.

Provided below are links for urban and community forestry and to articles about forest gardening. The Forestry Board's website has articles and links for planting and caring for trees.

Celeste Maiorana is a member of the Washington County Forest Conservancy District Board, which promotes forest conservation in Washington County. For more information, please visit the Board's website at

Helpful links

oUssery, Harvey, "Plant an edible forest garden":

oTunstall, Jill, "The garden of the future?":

oUrban & Community Forestry:

oMaryland Urban and Community Forestry Program:

oChesapeake Bay Trust Mini-grants:

oLandscaping for a healthy planet.

oNative Plants for wildlife habitat and conservation landscaping:

Marylanders Plant Trees:

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