Climbing the walls

G Magazine

Using nature to heat/cool your home is eco-friendly and attractive.


Credit: iStockphoto

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The Italians got it right hundreds of years ago when they used vine-shaded courtyards to provide welcome respite from summer heat.

Surrounding your abode with plants has more than just carbon-capturing and aesthetic benefits; it's also a low-cost way of buffering your home from temperature extremes.

You can save between 25 and 75 per cent on your household energy costs by planting trees and vines around your home.

Supporting growth

A vine-covered arbour is a romantic but also practical way to cover an outdoor eating area.

You need to start with a sturdy framework on which to grow your vine. Plant a vine at each corner and train it up the post, removing all side branches until it reaches the top, when you can let it branch out.

Wisteria, which is native to East Asia, climbs by twining its stems around available supports and bursting into bold lilac flowers each spring and summer. If wisteria isn't to your taste, the crimson glory vine (Vitis coignetiae) is great for this purpose - as a bonus it also fruits grapes.

Insulate walls

Vines can also be planted to cover a wall.

This will stop the wall heating up so much in summer and help keep the heat inside during winter. You need to build a strong framework that keeps the vine off the wall - it's the layer of air trapped between the vine and the wall that acts as the insulating layer.

Make sure the vines don't penetrate brickwork or timber, as this can lead to building decay. Chinese star jasmine (Trachelospermum jasminoides) is currently a very popular choice.

Tree delights

Plant trees on the border of your garden to insulate your property from noise and create your own green sanctuary.

Deciduous trees with a high crown and clear trunk planted on the north side of your house will shade your home in summer, reducing indoor temperatures by as much as 11ºC. They'll also allow the low winter sun to sneak through and warm the walls and windows when they lose their leaves in the cooler months.

The Chinese elm (Ulmus parvifolia) or Manchurian pear (Pyrus ussuriensis) are great medium-sized trees for this.

Shrubbed up

Evergreen shrubs planted close to the walls of your house create a layer of relatively still air that reduces the transfer of heat. These shrubs are best planted on the side of the house that faces the prevailing winter winds.

Whatever you do, don't plant evergreen trees to the north of your home! Young trees might not be a problem, but when they grow tall they might obscure the warming sunlight.

Lawn lessons

Hard surfaces reflect a lot of heat during summer, raising the temperature in and around the home. Lawns and ground covers can lower the surface temperature by up to 6ºC; their water requirements might be less eco-friendly, but they'll make your backyard temperature-friendly. And it's worth remembering that native grass lawns need very little water over summer.