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Patio Season Starts Earlier in My Yard

An elegant sun catch at an outdoor café. An elegant sun catch at an outdoor café. Photo by Robert Brown.

After a long cold winter it can feel wonderful to get outside and enjoy some spring weather. Want spring to arrive a little earlier in your backyard? The secret is to think about how your yard affects heat flowing to and from your body. If you’re in a location where you’re losing more energy than you’re receiving you’ll feel cold. But there are ways to design your backyard so that it provides a balance of the incoming and outgoing energy. There are three ways to add heat to your body when you’re outdoors—work harder to warm up from the inside, move into the sun, or move near a warm surface. There are also three ways to lose heat—move into the wind, wet your skin, or move near a cool surface.
Island Press Figure 1 A windbreak in a naturalistic garden. Photo by Robert Brown.

In early spring you’ll want to maximize the additions and minimize the losses. There are many ways that this can be done but as an example think about a sunny but breezy spring day when the air temperature is hovering near freezing. It might look beautiful outside, but in reality it would feel very cold. But not if you have a sun-catch. It’s easy to design—start by selecting a place that is open to the south so the sun can stream in during the middle of the day. Next put a windbreak on the westerly side of the space. Your local conditions might vary somewhat, but across much of the U.S. and Canada the winds on sunny spring days blow from the westerly directions. Slow this wind and reduce the cooling. And finally, try to add a dark-colored south-facing wall on the north side of the space so that it can become heated by the sun. A bench set against this wall will be a wonderful warm place to sit on cool spring days.
Island Press Figure 2 A modern style garden's windbreak. Photo by Robert Brown.

All the details can be selected to match your design style as long as the basic pattern is met. I call this the critical component design approach in my book Design with Microclimate. For example, in a naturalistic garden, like that pictured above, you could use vegetation or your house as the windbreak and a wooden fence as the south-facing wall. And in a modern style garden, like the one pictured here, the walls could be covered in vines. The same principles can be applied to a larger area as well. The elegantly simple design of the outdoor café in the picture at the top of this post creates a very pleasant sun catch in which to linger and sip a leisurely espresso. You’ll enjoy the warmth of your sun-catch every spring and as a bonus it’ll also provide a warm retreat on cool fall days.