Thursday, August 14, 2008

Shade arbor

I still owe you a post about my modified shade screen approach, but to me, this project is more exciting. Partly because it's what I've been working on most recently, but partly because I've wanted to do this for a very long time.

A shade arbor might even have been one of the ideas that kick-started me down this path I'm on. You see, back when we lived in Cincinnati, we had this concrete patio in our back yard. The previous owners had put a hot tub on it, but didn't leave it behind. So we just had this big concrete slab on the sunny west side of our house. It acted like a big baking stone, heating up all afternoon, and so it just wasn't very useful to us.

Somewhere along the way, I got the idea to build a shade structure over that concrete slab. Then I got the idea to grow some pretty climbing vines over it. Wisteria sounded perfect. At least until I read up on it and found that it's very "vigorous", and needs a very sturdy support. Plus it takes ages to flower in many cases.

Then I remembered a road trip I took after college with my good friend & roommate, Keith. One of the places we stopped was Colonial Williamsburg. It was hot and muggy, and we we're in need of a break. We stumbled onto Chowning's Tavern, which had this great patio out back, completely shaded by grapevines. The combination of the shade and a cool Chowning's Ale were just the thing to beat the heat.

So I thought why not a grapevine on our patio? Beautiful shade plus tasty fruit!

Unfortunately, I never got around to it. I'm not especially handy, and I wasn't confident I could do it. Eventually we moved. And while our new house doesn't have a concrete patio, it does have a number of west-facing windows in the back yard. And I'm even more committed to planting an edible landscape, not to mention cutting electricity usage.

So back in April of 2007, I bought some materials, dug some post holes, stuck some posts in the ground and poured some concrete around them. Then life intervened. It was always second priority. Or third or fourth.

Now, with the tractor dead (again), and the garden in shambles, I'm letting the jungle grow for now. The cow is down to one milking a day, the car repairs and bank fraud and sick daughter are mostly behind us. With unseasonably mild weather hanging about, I decided it was time.

I've only completed half of it, but the second half should be slightly easier, now that I've worked out the kinks.
You can see a few things in this photo. First, there's a hammock, and a glimpse of a sky chair. What fun is an arbor if you can't relax under it? Second, you'll notice that part of the arbor is covered. More on that later. Third, you'll see how long and narrow it is. (Fourth, it looks like the post near the right edge of the photo has a huge bend in it. That's just a fish-eye effect from using a wide-angle lens. It's mostly straight...)

One thing you can't see is that a number of the posts have twisted over time. I don't recommend taking a year and a half to complete such a project. Another thing you can't see is all the glaring imperfections. "Due to the handcrafted nature of this project..." Like I said, I'm really not very handy.

The decision to make it narrow was not arbitrary. For one thing, it had to fit between the house and the gate in our fence. Well, it could have stretched far enough to reach beyond the gate, but that would have made it monstrous. For another, I wanted summer shade but winter sun. Too wide and it would have been casting some shade all winter too. We want all the winter sunshine we can get! And given the narrow space, I decided to use cattle panels as the top of the arbor, instead of the traditional wood lattice, or the taut wires often used with grapevines. Happy grapevines will live for decades, and I didn't want to worry about someday replacing rotting strips of wood or tightening wire supports. The reason it's so long is so that it will eventually shade two windows and a sliding glass door. And the reason it's not attached to the house is so that we don't need a building permit, so that we don't create a highway for ants and other bugs to get in, and so that we don't end up with grapevines climbing onto the roof. (We may get those last two anyway, but it should be easier to prune away from the house than if it were attached.)

The covered portion was made from a torn canvas tarp we had on hand. I'm going to cover more of it eventually, though I don't have enough canvas for the whole thing. Once the grapevines get up there, I'll get rid of the canvas, but it will provide some shade in the meantime. Initially, I tried hanging the tarp underneath the cattle panel, but no matter what I did it looked wrinkled and saggy, and would have dumped water in awkward places. So I put it on top instead. It seems to work much better that way.

Here you can see the shadow being cast by that canvas tarp:
This was taken at 6:00pm, about 2 1/2 hours before sunset, and it's still casting a pretty good shadow on that window. In the heat of mid-afternoon, it's almost completely shaded. I'll actually take the tarp off when cool weather arrives so we can get that solar gain. With grapevines of course, the leaves will be off in winter, letting much of the sun through - though over time as the vines thicken, it may amount to a fair amount of shade even then.

If you want to see how much sun or shade you'll get from an arbor, awning, or overhang, this tool is invaluable. You use sliders to set the dimensions of your window, the dimensions of your shade structure, and your latitude and longitude (easily obtained via Google), you see what kind of shadow will be cast at different times of day and year.

August - Late afternoon

December - Late afternoon
Now I just have to get the grapevines to grow. I've got a Concord at one end, and a seedless green Interlaken at the other. Neither one is thrilled with its location at this point. That may take some experimenting.

In any case, it sure is nice to have a structure out there, instead of just some random posts sticking out of the ground.


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At 8/14/2008 12:01 PM, Blogger Bobbi said...

Wow - you're coming right along with the shade arbor! Grapes are typically fast growing, so hopefully you have shade in no time.

At 8/14/2008 8:29 PM, Blogger katecontinued said...

Very fine. I admit to being jealous as my grape growing plans are only 2 years late. Serious slow motion.

Wonderful dappled light . . . I can see it already.

At 8/16/2008 10:11 AM, Blogger Verde said...

Very "cool" project. I think it looks great - the grapes will cover the little imperfections as well (the ones I can't see but you do)!

At 8/31/2008 11:00 PM, Blogger red green said...

If you really want to model accurate sun angles, download Google's "SketchUp" program. There's a free version that will allow you to model what ever you want, and tell SketchUp where you are and the time of day. You can even animate a view so that you can see the sun track from sun rise to sun down. Cool, and FREE!

At 8/14/2010 3:52 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Good luck with this - I put up a trellis and a grapevine... and it DIED. It hated me. It laughed in my face... and then two years later, there's a wild grapevine growing 15 feet from where the trellis was.

Figures. LoL!!



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