Moving the shade house

We have an old shade house that had been overgrown by a mulberry tree in the old food forest. It was too shaded for even weeds to grow, but fortunately easy to deconstruct and move. Now the the ‘Midlevels’ garden has become the main kitchen garden, we have been busy moving the shade house for the second time to what I hope is its permanent position.

Why have a shade house?

Shade house made from steel mesh

The freshly re-assembled shade house, sitting above a greenhouse at the midlevels

You probably can’t have too many ‘houses’ in the garden, each with a special microclimate. A shade house is best for providing a cool, moist microclimate. There are also plenty of shady spots under trees, and our climate is relatively mild, but the shade house has uniform shade from 50 % shade cloth and a little more shelter from the wind.

It is the best spot for many of our orchids and ferns, but the real practical use for it is for propagation. Seeds and cuttings do well in the even temperature and constant moisture.

Moving the shade house; the design

shade house roof

Detail of the design, showing mesh, bent to make a corner, roof made of mesh panels with folded edges, and a metal pipe acting as a roof bearer.

I was impressed with the simple design and construction of this shade house, not the least when I have had to move it. The frame is four pieces of heavy gauge steel mesh, like thin rebar, which are bent at right angles to form the corners.  When bound together, the four corner pieces support each other as a rigid rectangle. The dimensions are roughly two metres by four metres, and about 1.8 metres high.

The roof is four pieces of mesh which have been folded back along each long side, which makes them rigid lengthways. They sit as four panels on the walls, and are also supported by three metal pipes which span across the top of the walls at the ends and middle.

Shade house interior

A view inside, showing the mesh benches supported by bamboo poles

The shelving is the same mesh, with the front edge folded for rigidity, and the other edge cut rough so the free mesh ends can interlock with the walls, providing support right along their backs.

The construction is wrapped in shade cloth, which I sewed onto the frame using fishing line and a big needle.

The whole thing is secured with tall steel star pickets driven in at the corners and midpoints. After mucking around with wire last time, this time I used plastic cable ties to tie everything together; they are fast and seem to last.

The construction meant moving the shade house twice wasn’t so difficult, as there are relatively few points that have to be uncoupled and re-tied, and the whole lot fitted like an ungainly flatpack in the trailer for transport.

The new site

I’ve moved the shade house to the Midlevels kitchen garden as it will bring seed raising and growing activities together. Now I will be able to sow into seed trays, water, and transplant all in the same area.

The original site of the shade house had long ago become overgrown, and I actually had to cut thick mulberry branches away to get at it. Flat space here is limited, so I moved it near our water tanks at the top of the hill, where it was partly shaded by some huge locust trees, but it was a bit out of the way there, and watering was difficult as it was at tank level (all our water is gravity feed).

Shade house external corner

The Southeast corner doesn’t need shade cloth. The corners are secured with star pickets, and the door is framed with bamboo.

I’ve been steadily improving the midlevels garden, and now that I’ve put in a water tank there it made sense to take the shade house down to join the greenhouses. The site used to be a mess of lantana and vines, underneath a couple of big Lophostemon box trees, but we got in with the tractor and saw, and cleaned it up. The box trees are tall but not too spreading, so they provide afternoon shade, and more in Summer than in Winter as the site is open to the North.


Now that the shade house and greenhouse are next to each other, seed raising should be easier. The greenhouse is great for raising seeds in Winter, but too hot in the other seasons, when the shade house provides a nice cool and airy climate.

Cuttings also do well under the shade cloth, particularly on the floor where the humidity is higher. The idea with cuttings is to give them as little stress as possible as they establish, meaning light shade, a little air movement, and good humidity. After they have formed roots and are putting on new leaves you can move them to a more exposed spot.

Orchids and ferns

Finally the shade house is the perfect spot for ferns and some of my orchids. Orchids that like constant shade like Phalaenopsis, Sarcochilus, and the Oncidium types do well, and usually get enough watering just from the rain.