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Living Umbrellas Bring Patios to Life

Living Umbrellas Bring Patios to Life

By Delilah Onofrey, Suntory Flowers
Photographs courtesy of Suntory Flowers

Imagine relaxing in your yard on a hot summer afternoon in the cooling shade of a canopy of colorful tropical flowers. You don’t need to build a pergola or other structure, or wait years for vines to mature. You can create the ultimate staycation and bring the resort to your home with a Living Umbrella®. It’s a beautiful way to beat the heat with a canopy of gorgeous vining flowers like Sun Parasol Giant mandevillas.

A Living Umbrella is a structure similar to a patio umbrella, but instead of canvas, planters of cool greenery and luscious flowers provide shade, reducing the temperature underneath lower than fabric can. Strikingly beautiful and more visually interesting than a patio umbrella, it’s a fun and unique choice for gardeners who don’t have the space for a permanent shade structure, or who want to try a different way of growing vines.

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The Living Umbrella® was invented by Living Canopies, Ltd., a company founded by ecological designers and engineers from the University of Maryland. The idea bloomed when professor Dave Tilley and his family were vacationing in Las Vegas and sunning on a very hot pool deck. There was little shade and people were huddled around shrubs in planter boxes to stay cool. He realized he could use the natural cooling power of plants to make urban spaces more comfortable and beautiful.

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Tilley returned to the university and developed the concept with three graduate students. They interviewed more than 100 people in the restaurant, hotel and green building industries and used their feedback to design a product to meet the public’s needs. A standalone SmartSolar watering system reduces plant maintenance and a steel base ensures a sturdy and safe structure so high winds can not topple the umbrella. The irrigation system delivers water directly to the soil, making it easy to maintain moisture levels.

They’ve found Sun Parasol Giant mandevillas to be the perfect fit to create the umbrella canopy. The vining, tropical beauties produce large flowers and leaves to provide coverage all summer. Blooms come in shades of red, white and pink.

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Mandevilla Planting and Care Tips 

  • To achieve a full, beautiful canopy quickly, purchase fully grown, staked mandevillas that are about 48 inches tall. These are widely available May through July at major garden retailers.
  • Soil volume may need to be reduced to fit into the Living Umbrella® pots, unless the plants are supplied by Living Canopies®. These are Sun Parasol Giant mandevillas in 3-gallon pots that are 9 inches in diameter.
  • Remove the stakes supporting the vining plants before replanting into the umbrella pots.
  • Once planted in the pots, wrap the vines on the supporting trellis cables.
  • Place in a sunny location.
  • Do not over water. This is a common problem caring for mandevillas. Yellowing leaves are a telltale sign. Mandevillas prefer soil to be drier than typical bedding plant annuals. This shouldn’t be a problem in the Living Umbrella® apparatus. Models are available with and without irrigation. Options include attaching the umbrella to a hose or solar powered/automated watering system with a 5-gallon tank.
  • Blooms should last until temperatures dip into the 40s.

For more information on the Living Umbrella®, visit

For more information about Sun Parasol Giant mandevillas, visit Suntory flowers.

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GardenSMART Featured Article

By Delilah Onofrey, Suntory Flowers
Photographs courtesy of Suntory Flowers

Now is the time to shop for annuals that will go the distance all summer. Suntory Flowers has a portfolio of gorgeous varieties that thrive in the heat. To learn more, click here for an interesting article.

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