Create a Garden Sunlight Map Create a Garden Sunlight Map

It's time to take a hard look at your garden and make an honest assessment of the amount of sun your little patch of Eden really gets, as opposed to the amount of sun you would like it get.

The sad fact is that all too often a gardener wanders around the nursery looking at the strong-backed hollyhocks and the puffy peonies, and thinks, in some crazy moment of hopefulness, that her own garden must certainly be able to sustain those sun-lovers. You carefully read the little informational tags on the roses and the snapdragons, and you think, sure, my garden must get full sun.

Standing there in the nursery, you think of your garden in the early morning or the late afternoon and you remember it as flooded with light.

This is similar to the way that, standing in the department store, looking at the tiny polka-dot skirts, you remember yourself as the size 6 slim-hipped sprite of your youth. It's wishful thinking, and now's the time to take a cold, realistic count of your sunlight hours.

To do this, you'll need to spend the day outside in the yard. Not such a bad assignment, is it? Of course, you could break this down into three or four parts over three or four days, but if you want to, you can take this opportunity to really luxuriate for a whole day outside.

What you'll end up with is a map of the sun in your garden, so that you can see how many hours of sunlight each area receives. The reason you need to really observe this and not just guess is that unless you're really watching, you may not take into account a crucial factor, such as the shade cast from the laundry.

Start by making a sketch of the yard. This can be simple, but make sure you include anything that might cast a shadow, and include other factors as well, such as dry or wet conditions. For example, if there's a stream running at the edge of the yard, make a note of this; if your neighbor's dog has a tendency to roam around the northeastern corner of your flower bed, write that down, too, because you may not want to plant your prize roses there.

Now, watch the sun. Every half-hour, make a note of where the sun has touched, and is touching still. For example, the corner of the garden that will get the most sun may light up at 6:30; write "6:30" in that spot, and draw a line to mark the area where the sunlight ends and the shade begins. Next, at 7:00, draw another line, and so on.

Ultimately you'll be able to make another map, writing down the total number of hours each area was basked in golden, flower-producing light. The corner which was lit at 6:30 may be in shade by 10:30, meaning that this section was good for four hours of sun.

Bear in mind that some factors affecting sunlight in the yard will change during the course of the year. That shady maple tree may not cut the sun received in May, but come August it will shade a much larger patch of your garden. And as the angle of the sun changes during the season, so too will the amount of sun your garden gets in different parts.

You can use this to your advantage; for example, you can plant early spring bulbs in a part of the garden that is sunny in early spring but shady later in the summer.

While you're planning the garden, there are many factors to be considered: sun needed, the time of year a flower blooms, the color, and the height of plants. But consider too the times of day that certain flowers will bloom; you can plant morning glories, four-o'clocks and night-blooming jasmine together for a garden that will bloom from dawn past dusk.

Just because a section of your garden doesn't get full sun, that's no reason to ignore it. Next month, we'll talk about plants that thrive in shady areas.

Now that you've got a more realistic view of the sun in your garden, you can go back to daydreaming about the way you'll sprint across the yard in that polka-dot skirt at your next garden party. And what the heck, why not just buy it in a size 20 and wear it with all your gusto?

Reprinted with permission by the Sheffield School of Interior Design.

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