We are in for another very hot summer in Melbourne at least (if the rain stops!) and it is time to make sure that your house is protected from the heat and glare. Even on the hottest days I find air-conditioning annoying and noisy and I also feel some resentment for the massive addition to my carbon footprint. I realize that all over the world, people are opting for the pebble and cactus Jamie Durie style garden but this does little or nothing for the environment. You’d be amazed at how well trees will created their own watering systems and attract an entire eco system.

There is nothing like the solar passive house, mixed with some judiciously placed deciduous trees for a cool house. As well, the design of the house can be beneficial – such as a hacienda style with an interior courtyard and all rooms arranged around this, with the house’s thickest walls on the extremities, shutters over deep set windows.

But if you have a house that has already been placed the wrong way on a block, you need to plant some trees that grow fast in order to shade it in the heat of the day in summer, (north, east and west with no trees south). For every 10 degrees Fahrenheit (which is around 5 degrees Celsius) saved, you will save at least $100 in cooling costs, to say nothing of the peripheral savings on window coverings and carpets. Film added to windows will save you quite a lot depending on the strength of the material. It puts sunglasses on your house! I did an experiment while my neighbour was having film applied to her window and felt the floor: the carpet not protected by the film was quite hot while the film kept the rest of the place comparatively cool. There was no loss of visibility.

Thus, planting deciduous trees is a far better idea. Trees that will provide food for birds (filberts, acorns, fruit trees) are excellent, but make sure you don’t plant anything over the water pipes or at the foundations and remember that the tree will take several years to provide your protection. It is advisable to put in a trellis or pergola, grow passionfruit or grape vine up it and remove it as the trees mature. (Note that grapes do attract wasps and bees).

Best deciduous trees are:

  • Oak
  • Ash
  • Golden elm if you have room
  • Apricot (Don’t prune the middle out)
  • Apples
  • Filbert
  • Pomegranate (then use the fruit to make vodka infused with the fruit!).

Burnley Horticultural College and Diggers’ Seeds will help you decide the best thing for a Melbourne garden if you are stuck for ideas (or visit a great nursery such as The Greenery in Bulleen where the staff are all graduates and garden crazy!).

Have a nice cool summer!

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