Considering the Aesthetics of Light in the Garden

When most people talk about light in the garden, they are talking about the light requirements of a particular plant. Does it grow best in full sun, part sun or shade? While giving your plants the appropriate amount of light during the day is one of the key elements to gardening success, I tend to also think of light in the garden in more aesthetic terms. How is a plant going to look in the light that hits it during the day?

I particularly ask this question of the plants in the beds and containers that surround the gazebo, deck and patio on the back side of the house. It is a western exposure where the sun is blindingly bright in the early evenings of late spring and summer — the time of day when I am most likely to see the gardens on this side of the house.

Plants in this area need to be bold in their color to resist being completely washed out by the bright light.

Deep greens and reds like those found in Caladium ‘Buck’ are good choices to standout in the evening light.

Folage that looks interesting when backlit — like this Colocasia sp. (Elephant Ear) simply glows as the sun gets lower in the sky.

Bold foliage like Musa ‘Little Prince’ (Banana) shine at this time of day, both when backlit and from the front.

Yellow and burgundy flowers like these pansies seem to get richer as the tone of the sun’s light get’s warmer.

Flower forms that hold up to high contrast light, like the tight buds of Lantana, are also good choices for strong evening light.

Orange and red stone fruit, like this ‘North Star’ cherry, both glimmer and provide a warm tone to the early evening garden.

Plants like ‘Trailing Dark Heart’ Coleus can change appearance drastically depending on the light conditions. In my evening garden, the lime green edging and fuschia veining stand out more dramatically.

Big, bold flowers like Gazania ‘Big Kiss Yellow Flame’ are also great choices for warm evening sunlight.

As a photographer, I may consider the aesthetics of light more than the average gardener. But considering how light makes plants look can do more than make a pretty picture. It can truly change how your garden looks through our built-in lenses.

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