I’ll never look at my garden the same way again.
Only a few pages into Sue Reed’s Energy-Wise Landscape Design: A New Approach for your Home and Garden (New Society Press, 2010) I started glancing around my yard with a new eye. How well did our trees funnel summer breezes and block winter ones? Were deciduous trees and conifers planted in the optimal places?
Well, I already knew the answer to that one: no. I’ve got five large spruce grouped on the east and south-east side of the house, and while they do a marvelous job of keeping us cool during heat waves (like the one last week), they do an equally good job of blocking winter sunlight and preventing passive solar warming of the house. And by large, I mean fifty or sixty feet tall–much, much taller than our two-story house.
You can see the relative size in the photo above. This is the east side of our house –or it would be if you could see it behind the spruce. Note the other evergreens in the background. We’re surrounded!
So I have long wished that the pine beetles (which do take out the occasional spruce) would adopt one or two of the five (preferably those on the south-east corner of the property) thus relieving me of both the guilt and responsibility that would assail me should I ever screw up the courage to remove them myself.
But then, a bit further into the book (Remember the book? I was reading a book–) I happened to be looking at the only one of these trees that’s in full view from the patio outside our south-facing back door. The tree stands directly south of the house’s eastern end, and I just wish it weren’t so beautiful; how can I contemplate taking out something so lovely? (It also gives our next-door neighbors access to their roof. No doubt the house’s owner would prefer that his college renters not party on the roof, but as a long-time frequenter of roofs myself, I’m loath to deprive them of this access.)
Anyway, I was staring at this tree, which sits squarely in the rather narrow side yard, effectively filling it. It’s a gorgeous thing to look at from the patio, especially around sunset, much prettier than the more scraggly ones we’d see if it were removed, and far prettier than the street would be if we removed both it and the one beyond. But I also realized, quite suddenly and entirely thanks to Sue, that it serves an important function in blocking winds.
While our prevailing winds follow the continental lead and come from the west, some of our strongest storm winds are easterly. And that tree—along with its fellows—effectively blocks them. If it and the other east of it were removed, we’d create a channel between our house and the one next door, and winds would just rip through there. Not just east winds; west ones too. Which would make the patio a much breezier place—too breezy, much of the time.
As it is, we can use our protected patio quite early in the spring, and when it grows too hot, we just shift to the dense shade of the back yard. Sure, we could plant deciduous trees there, and this is high on my wish list: trees on the south-east that would drop their leaves come autumn, letting winter sun reach the house.
But how long would it be before replacement trees trees grew to a height that let them block winds or shade houses? And how uncomfortable would our patio and house be in the meantime?
One thing’s for sure: taking out both trees on the SW would be a major mistake. If we do decide to remove them, we should do it one at a time, so that a replacement could have a chance to grow and bulk up a bit before we asked it to take on the wind-blocking function so aptly performed by those mighty spruce.