Light is very crucial in the garden, and yet most garden designers devote little attention to the way it falls on plants – the low, warm light of early morning or evening, the sideways light of winter, which can back-light the most humble grass of a lawn beautifully, and the hard light of clear summer days that etches shadows sharp against the ground.
gardenThe different kinds of light can transform the way that plants look, so it makes sense to position those plants to receive the maximum benefit. There are many easy-care plants that will help with the correct lighting that you are trying to get.
The same plant can look different depending on whether it is lit from behind or in front. The individual flowers of Stipa gigantea, for example, shimmer in the light, especially when seen against a darker background, while nearer to the ground, salvias, with their rows of calyces after the flowers have fallen, seem to come alive when lit from behind. A plant can also have a number of different faces if it is illuminated at only specific times of day. Yet these dramatic transformations are often denied the attention of the spectator simply because the plant is poorly positioned.
The flower and seedheads of grasses catch light easily, and look especially beautiful when they are wet and covered in hundreds of beads of moisture. So, you can either plant rows of grasses like molinia and calamagrostis, to catch light in this way, or scatter them throughout a planting to provide highlights. Clumps of miscanthus will glow silver in the winter. Monardas and asters are lightcatchers too, with each individual flower transmitting the light slightly differently, depending on whether the light is coming from in front or from behind.
Light is very transitory. In summer, it can be very harsh and unflattering during the middle of the day, so early morning and evening light tend to produce better effects. It is easier to appreciate the quality of colors in these moderate lights, too, although the two ends of the spectrum behave in very different ways. Blues are very effective under a low light, while reds become darker and darker until they eventually disappear.
Autumn and winter lights are low, illuminating plants from the side. They are also weak and around for only a relatively short period each day. Plant growth is often thinner, however, so this low light has more opportunity to create subtle effects, creeping in among the plants and playing on parts that summer light does not, simply because there is less growth to get in the way.