The garden’s aspect affects the growing conditions
of everything that is planted within it.

By aspect we mean the way the sun lights the garden on its daily traversal. Which parts of the garden are lit at which times of the day, and which are predominantly shady, will determine what uses you can make of it and what will be the most suitable plants to grow.

Why is aspect so important?

The aspect, or orientation, of a 
garden determines when the sun hits it and for how long. It also affects at what times of day the house and any other surrounding buildings will cast shade over the garden. A garden that is filled with light all day, or from 
late-morning to midday onwards, 
will be warm. Conversely, a garden that receives direct sunlight for only a 
few hours in the day or late evening will be cold.

How does aspect affect the garden design?

Knowing which parts of the garden will be in sun and in shade at particular times of year will help you to decide where to site patios and lawns as well as whether to build pergolas or plant trees to cast welcome shade in summer. A garden that is sunlit all day favours sun-loving plants, whereas a garden that receives only a few hours of sunlight has an aspect that favours cool-loving plants, most of which are grown for their foliage. Knowing how much sunlight gets into the garden will help you choose an appropriate garden style – Mediterranean and sun-baked, for instance – as well as select the most appropriate plants.

Does the direction in which the garden lies affect what will grow?

Gardens that face east will be lit by the morning sun, then be shaded from midday onwards, when the sun is at its hottest. Such gardens will be predominantly cool. A west-facing garden is lit from midday onwards, and will be warmer – increasing the number of plants that will thrive there.

In a cool, sheltered, shady garden, ferns can provide
a lush, even 
subtropical, feel.

What are the best plants for a cool garden?

North-facing gardens are cool and shady. If they are enclosed, they may receive no direct sunlight at all, or maybe just a few hours in summer when the sun is directly overhead. Shade-loving or woodland plants do well here – hostas, ferns, Japanese maples (Acer japonicum and 
A. palmatum) and some of the grasses and bamboos. If the garden is paved – as many courtyard gardens are – many of these can be grown successfully in containers. Variegated plants will not do well – they need some sun to bring out the variegation in the foliage. (In summer, bring your houseplants outdoors – many are rainforest plants that are adapted to low light levels and cool ambient temperatures. Be sure to bring them back under cover as temperatures drop in autumn.)

What are the best plants for a hot garden?

South-facing gardens that are hot and dry are ideal if you want to grow plants that are found in scrubland or desert in the wild. This category includes most of the woody herbs – lavender, rosemary, sage and artemisia – as well as the associated flora. Brooms will do well. Cacti can also be grown in containers if you experience wet or cold winters, when they should be brought indoors. Some cacti will withstand a few degrees of frost. Plants with soft, delicate leaves will not do well in a hot garden. Most shrubs will bask in sunlight for some of the day, but will need watering in prolonged hot spells.

Are there any problems associated with a garden that gets sun early in the morning?

East-facing gardens are delightful first thing in the morning, when they are drenched with sunlight – even, occasionally, during short winter days. But they are predominantly cold, particularly if they are small as the sun’s rays are not sufficiently strong to warm the ground, even though the air may feel warm.

How can I create shade?

Damp and dark gardens shaded with a dense tree
canopy can be lightened by removing the lower tree

In a hot summer, we all crave shade when we’re outdoors. If you already have a mature deciduous tree in the garden, this is the time of year when it will be in full leaf and casting its heaviest shade. Tall hedges also create shade along certain boundaries, depending on the time of day. You can also create shade in a garden with canopies and sails – which can be moved around the garden as required.

How can I lighten a shady area?

White reflects available light, so paint walls with white masonry paint to lighten a dark area. Terracotta pots can also be painted. Grow white-flowered plants in containers. If they need sun to flower, place them in sun until the buds begin to open, then move them into the shade.

How do I deal with a dry, shady area?

Without doubt, these are the least hospitable conditions for the majority of plants – most will fail to flourish and be reluctant to flower. Ivies will do well, however, especially if the soil is alkaline. Hardy cyclamen also thrive in these conditions. Hostas will grow, though the soil should be improved first. They will not produce such lush growth as they would in moist ground.

What is the solution for a damp, dark garden?

Many town gardens are enclosed and receive little direct light, if at all. These conditions suit many woodland plants, especially those that grow beside streams. Ferns and hostas are ideal, as well as other groundcover perennials such as bugles (Ajuga) and many hardy geraniums. Flowering plants may be reluctant to flower prolifically with no direct sunlight for part of the day. Aim for a tropical look. It is usually impractical to create a lawn in these conditions. Mosses and lichens appear in shady, dark places, so treat these with moss killer. Plant a spring-flowering garden.

The garden is in full sun but the soil is always damp. What should I grow?

Bog plants will thrive here – Rheum palmatum, Rodgersia, Aruncus and, if space allows, Gunnera. Bog plants are always vigorous, as there is a constant supply of moisture to the roots.