Discover Garden Light!
An Important Design Tool



Garden Light and Garden Design


Garden light changes during different parts of the year. Days are longer during the summer than in the winter.

The angle of the sun is different at different times of year, and the light weaker during the winter months. 

Keeping levels of light in mind as you design can even promote a healthier garden ecosystem.

In some locations such as extreme north portions of the world, plants may not receive significant light for as much as 20 hours in a day during the winter, and will receive little but light for just as long in the summer.


sunlight through the fall leaves

There are design opportunities to be seized by gaining an understanding of these variations on the site you are going to be designing.


firey orange fall leaves

Variations in light and the availability of light are tools you can use to create a garden full of magic. When you truly appreciate the light variations during the day you can preserve these magic moments.

It would be a shame to miss these unmatched garden pictures by rushing into the design process, destroying opportunities before we even know we have them!  

Location is a part of defining these moments. Sunny Phoenix, Arizona and soggy London, England have very little in common on the subjects of weather patterns and moisture levels.

To design in such a way as to meld with the environment, while highlighting the environments' most outstanding features, is a mark of the best designers.

Learn to Appreciate the Light Cycle

Improving soil, grading land,and fixing drainage issues are the foundation of the garden. Discovering the nature of your garden light and preserving its finest qualities is the beginning of building a magnificent garden design.

Of great importance to a designer who wants to make the most of a garden site design opportunity is how the light levels change during the period of one day.


sun rays in the forest

The sun comes up early in the morning, and is often magical for short periods of time. There is nothing more enchanting in the world than the sun’s rays slanting over the tops of trees and creating glowing embers of light on the ground and in the trees. Speckles of dust float in the air, and are caught dancing in joy at the coming of morning.


fall leaves in the evening light

Twilight creates a similar effect, the light diffused and long in the tooth. It lies along the ground like a crouching tiger, waiting to pounce upon the night sky. The crest of a hill causes light to focus on a narrow band of ground, whispering its intent to steal away.


sunset in the garden

Even the night has its fleeting glory in regard to garden light. Watch as the sun stretches its long arms. Pay attention to those lingering, precious moments as it steals sorrowfully away and then suddenly vanishes in haste.

These beautiful moments will be missed by the careless garden designer. Stop for a moment, for nature's long year of moments, and capture the glory of your property. Once you know the garden light intimately, it is then the time to begin imposing your will on the garden.

Then you will understand its essence and you will be able to leverage the garden light that nature has already provided you as you design your garden. Only through the wisdom of waiting can you obtain the heights of garden glory.

An old Maori Proverb asserts:

“Turn your face to the sun and the shadows fall behind you.”

I love that saying because it captures the essence of life. It also captures the essence of designing with light. Garden light is a powerful tool in the armory when it comes to exceptional garden design. Designing with garden light in mind takes your property from mild to wild when creating a dynamic and special spot in the world.


Sunlight Supply

Just about everyone loves the sun! When the sun comes out, everyone perks up. We emerge from our winter hibernation to play, sit, and lay in the sun. We work in our gardens, and we learn to sweat gracefully! There is something about the sun that causes us to venerate it.

The Greek tale of Clytie captures this feeling so beautifully, and is a testament to the power of the sun over our emotions. "Clytie was a mermaid who wore beautiful green gowns made of seaweed.

sunflower photo

She became enamored with the sun, and climbed out onto the shore and gazed happily into the sun all day long.



When she finally turned at the end of the day toward the water and saw herself reflected in the sea, she found that her golden tresses had turned into golden sunflower petals, her green gown had turned into beautiful, wide leaves and her tiny feet had rooted into the soil.

She had become a sunflower! And until this very day, she turns her face happily toward the sun, tracing it as it travels across the sky!"

Doesn’t that capture our sun worshipping spirits? Truly, the shadows do fall behind when we face the sun.

The plants in our gardens are just like Clytie!

They absorb the sun rays, turning their myriad faces into the sun, and the process of photosynthesis begins.

Life begins in the garden! The suns’ energy is captured by plants, and causes the flora of the earth to thrive.

Strong, healthy, thriving plants manufacture sugars out of the suns' energy, which in turn provide life to all manner of man and animals.

However, all sunlight is not created equal in our garden habitats. The quality of garden light in those habitats is often variable, and in some places is nearly absent. Trees, buildings, mountains, and the modern amenities of our world such as large signs, telephone poles and bridges create shadows in our world.

The garden light available to our plants is therefore different from place to place, creating varied growing conditions. This variation of place makes for exciting planting opportunities! Such diversity creates an incredible palette of garden light to work with!

Garden Light Types

The Full Sun Garden

Gardens that have anywhere from 6 to 8 hours of sunlight in a day are considered full sun gardens. Garden light is freely available to feed the energy hungry plants in these gardens. By far the largest majority of plants prefer a range of light from full sun to part sun/part shade. Part Sun/Part Shade gardens are nearly ideal for the majority of plants. The sun helps keep the garden disease free, and the shade can help keep plants from burning in the hot sun rays.

full sun garden

Full sun gardens are often hot, and sometimes dry, depending upon the heat generated by the sun and upon the garden location. Plants that live in these conditions need copious water, or must be of a plant species that has adapted well to dry, hot conditions. These gardens are often wide open to the elements, with little in the way of overhead canopies created by nearby trees and therefore little protection from the punishing rays of the sun.


Part Sun/Part Shade Gardens

The main difference between a full sun garden area and a part sun/part shade garden area is the fact that there are elements nearby or within the garden that create shade.

Reduced garden light creates a cooler, more hospitable environment for most plants. Part Sun/Part Shade gardens are nearly ideal for the majority of plants. The sun helps keep the garden disease free, and the shade can help keep plants from burning in the hot sun rays.

Part Sun/Part Shade Garden

Areas that have part sun/part shade are often found along heavily wooded areas or near buildings large enough to block light.


Light Shade Gardens

The garden light available in lightly shaded gardens may be similar in its effect upon plants to that available in part sun/part shade gardens. The main difference between these two is that a lightly shaded garden will remain softly shaded most of the day; with garden light available to the plants primarily through indirect or dappled light.


Light Shade garden

A Part Sun/Part Shade garden may have portions of the garden that are fully shaded a good portion of the day, that then receive full sun during the afternoon, or vice versa. A lightly shaded garden will stay shaded most of the day.

This kind of garden light is often found under the canopies of high, open branched trees.


Medium shade is almost always found under canopies of trees, or perhaps under manmade trellises or in outdoor rooms.

Medium shade begins to reduce the range of plants that will grow easily in its gentle grip, but also opens up a host of plant possibilities which will not grow in full sun or direct sun conditions.


Medium shade garden

Plants that grow under these more shaded conditions largely prefer moister soils and may burn easily if placed where they receive too much sun.


Deep Shade Gardens

Deep shade is often a difficult environment for plants. There are however, some spectacular plants that will grow well under these conditions. Most are water loving or love having moist soils.

Deep shade environments can be more difficult to design, but can create a most enchanting garden environment once established.

deep shade garden

So just wait awhile! Understand the light that surrounds your property. Waiting can be one of the hardest things to do in garden design, yet it nets the greatest reward over time.

We are so eager to create something new and wonderful that we often destroy the beauty already inherent in our properties. Be different! Learn first from Mother Nature, and then emulate her wisdom.




› Garden Light



Some photos used under CC License from the following contributors:

brighton oedipusphinx vincalongi clairity powi seyyed_mostafa_zamani

shandilee hortulus_aptus cthulhuwho1 themarmot eddi 07



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