Thin and thick shades
Published on: Sunday, October 18, 2020
By: Eskay Ong
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ON countless occasions, shade has been the subject of many a long and windy discourse, some intellectual, some uncouth, while others may be plain casual banter.  

This is normal among gardening enthusiasts, plant lovers or haters.  It also provides much fodder for gossip mills that grind on subjects like what or whose plants or trees give a thicker and cooler shade. Most would profess that their plants provide much needed environmentally friendly shades, as opposed to the kind of shade provided by concrete structures.

Of course, when one grows a tree or shrub, one would expect to derive maximum benefits out of it, which means to say that one wants the cake as well as eat it. Well, this certainly is a rare phenomenon, but nevertheless, it is quite possible when cultivating plants for shade, shape or sale.  

The task is easy. Just go for the luxuriantly foliaged types with thick solid crowns that bloom regularly.  On the other hand, plants that bear beautifully coloured and variegated leaves on thick crowns are also not difficult to find either.  

And for those who just want the green and the shade, it is possible to choose those varieties that yield a thick head with abundant, rich green foliage, of which the varieties available in the market are plentiful. Of course, the ideal situation is where shade, shape, fruits, flowers, etc. are all available.

Many years ago, the angsana, or Pterocarpus indicus, was the darling of the landscape in the city.  No one can fault anyone for growing such trees as they provide one of the loveliest and coolest shades that one can think of.  Apparently, the shade is thickest during the period prior to blooming.  

Besides, apart from the dense shade, growers are regularly rewarded with massive clusters of golden yellow flowers which sometimes cover the entire tree.

Unfortunately, the tree was much maligned when some big mouths and smart alecs started to bark and croak about the large amount of foliar abscission and an occasional branch or twig snapping off in the face of a tropical typhoon.  These normally happen to young trees, but then all trees of all varieties suffer from leaf falls too.  

All trees suffer to varying degrees when faced with an onslaught of storms of category three and above, the winds of which are very, very much faster than the fastest bicyclist, unless the two wheeler can reach in excess of 200km per hour. Sadly, trees facing the sea have to bear the brunt of the onslaught.

But fortunately, older trees are very much tougher, and in Sabah, most trees do not topple unless they are materially and physically weak due perhaps to disease or pest attacks, or violated by humans. In fact, there are many old angsana trees in Singapore, Penang and states like Johor and Selangor that were planted during the colonial era where their trunk diameter are now more than 1.5 metres. These old icons will not even budge an inch under the strongest of winds.

These are iconic structural trees and there are harsh laws penalising culprits who hurt or chop down such heritage trees. They are generally greatly treasured and protected as can be seen by public utilities such as drains and roads that have to be adjusted to accommodate such trees.  

The same situation ever happened in KK city some time ago when several old rain trees were saved by a loud, conscious and pro-environment public. “Syabas” to KK city folks, with thanks to DBKK.

Generally, growing trees for shade and ornamental purposes is an enjoyable experience.  Selected trees not only look good, but can be used to enhance the design, economic and functional value of any garden or green space.  If it is for avenue or line planting, just keep it that way till the end of the line.  If it is designed like a ro-jak, or jumbled up like a jak-ro, then the whole aesthetics and professionalism becomes washed down the drain.  

This has happened in many locations in KK city where an avenue of single-variety trees, in particular lines of angsana trees, suddenly become a ro-jak where there are kangkung, taugeh, pineapple, etc., literally speaking.  It is suspected that the planners and implementers were feeling neither here nor there being totally unsure, much like a tortoise head that is neither out nor in, when it came to replacing dead trees or filling up gaps.  

Planners must be bold, creative and singular in objective. There are no two ways about it. If there is a row of mature angsanas with several dead or missing ones, the replacement is very straight-forward. Just transplant some fairly large ones, plant them back in, take care of them, and they should be able to catch up with the rest of the trees in the same row.  

Don’t jumble them up by filling the vacant spots with andiras, lagerstroemias or tanjung trees, among others, and in the process making the entire avenue look awful. This is because such a method may only result in degradation of aesthetic value as well as a great loss in the visual impact which good landscapes are known for.  And never forget that good landscapes bring in megabucks.

Determine the priority

If shade is the main and only priority in planting shrubs or small trees in the garden then other characteristics of the plant should logically become secondary.

However, most of the time, this is not such a simple act of attending only to one feature. There is always an accompanying problem or two that comes with beautiful shade. For instance, the foliage, despite providing the gorgeous shade that is so much cherished, may drop heavily, thus providing another problem that requires constant sweeping and removal. The degree of leaf fall varies from variety to variety, and from tree to tree.  

Also, some shade-providing trees produce a lot of flower petals, rotten fruits and seeds, and perhaps falling branches and twigs which may mess up with the cleanliness of the surroundings.  Or, the tree may grow its roots thick and strong above and over the soil level or under the concrete fence or driveway which may also bring forth some potential damage in the future.

These problems cause headaches for the grower but it cannot be avoided because for every action caused, there is always a reaction the degree of which may vary accordingly.  The only way to avoid the headaches is to take the necessary measures to reduce the negative effects if any so that such impacts may not be felt or be visible.

The fact remains that one needs to learn something about the characteristics of the tree before setting it on the ground, for once it is growing well or firmly established, they may end up causing more worries than providing pleasure and comfort.  

Moments of agony usually arise when the trees have reached sky high thus swaying dangerously whenever there is a gust of strong wind, or if the mammoth inclines to tower over your neighbour’s property, or if the spread of the canopy is so vast that it simply snuffs the daylight out of your entire neighbourhood. Even the roots can grow to huge sizes and great lengths which may undermine the condition of driveways, concrete fences, drains or even underground ducts and pipes.

Features to look for

A tree is normally grown for various reasons, such as for shade, foliage, flowers, decoration, fruits, or just simply to fill some empty corner.  Nowadays, it is common to see trees being grown specifically as a screen to block off snoopy, prying eyes from furtively seeking a sneak preview of what is happening within the compound next door.  

There are a number of tall, candle-like trees with narrow crowns that make good barriers against surreptitious eyes from penetrating your walls to partake of some juicy happenings.  Such trees when set closely together in a row are very effective against even high powered binoculars or telescopes.

However, in most cases, trees and shrubs are grown simply for what they are, but it would be beneficial to first take into account the size of the crown, the spread of the canopy, strength of stems and branches, size and height of the trunk, littering as a result of excessive leaf and twig fall, potential damages caused by roots, the possible attraction of pests and diseases as a result of the presence of fruits and flowers, strength of anchor of root system, internal decay, etc.

This means having to carry out regular fertilising and manuring, trimming and pruning, and pest and disease control to prevent against decay of stems and branches so as to avert sections from crashing down. Effort must also be expended to check against decay of root system to prevent whole-tree collapse, as well as against the decay of heartwood or vascular core tissues.

All these come under the maintenance of trees and shrubs which must not be relaxed particularly in areas that are frequented by many people. Close supervision and regular maintenance is the best policy to follow to avoid unforeseen disasters.  Although it is best to keep a tree in prime condition at all times, it is nevertheless necessary although painful to take it out when conditions of uncertainty arise.

These features have to be seriously looked into before one embarks upon the joy of cultivating trees for pleasure.  So who is the right guy or department to approach to have a gainful and insightful discussion?  Just visit the relevant government agencies and all issues should fall neatly into place.  There should then be plenty of bright and happy days ahead.

Above: Bucida trees provide good shade but tidiness becomes an issue after every few days or weeks. They require a lot of work just to keep the surroundings clean.




A single short row of mature angsana trees in full bloom. Government planners should try to close their eyes (not to go to sleep, of course) to better visualise long double rows of such trees in more locations within the city boundary.  

An airy shade from a large and colorful plumeria tree. 

An airy shade from a large and colorful plumeria tree. 

Angsanas in wintering phase. New flushes of foliage should be coming out soon, to be followed by being swathed with rich, golden blooms as seen on the left.


An araucaria tree can hardly shade the tiny butt of a toddler.

A cycas can only provide a little prickly shade whereas a large pokok tanjung (above) usually has a thick, compact crown thus giving a very dense shade. 




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