What's My Garden Exposure?

Knowing which direction your garden faces and how much sun and shade it gets each day will help you better plan your garden design.

By: DK Books - Design Your Garden
Backyard Slide and Playground

Backyard Slide and Playground

To determine the exposure of your yard, stand with your back to the house. This is the direction that your garden faces. Knowing how much sunlight your garden is exposed to will help you in choosing what plants to select.

Photo by: DK - Design Your Garden © 2011 Dorling Kindersley Limited

DK - Design Your Garden, 2011 Dorling Kindersley Limited

Observing the exposure is one of the most important tasks to do to better understand your garden. Exposure simply means the direction in which the garden is facing, and you can determine yours with the aid of a simple compass, or by noting where the sun is at different times of the day—when you stand with your back to the house, you are now looking in the direction your garden faces. The fact that the sun rises in the east and sets in the west should demonstrate which way your yard faces. 

Sunlight is important because, in general, we like to look out on a bright, sunny garden. From the house it becomes a well-lit picture, drawing us out to explore its unfolding stories. The sun makes us feel warm and healthy, too, but the searing heat of a south-facing garden in summer can be oppressive, and you will need to plan areas of shade to create comfortable oases. In yards that face north, seek out the sun at the end of your garden and design seating areas that soak up the precious rays. 

In the plant world, many species we love need a sunny site, but don’t despair if your garden only gets sun for part of the day, or is mostly in shade, since there are plenty of plants that have evolved to flourish in these conditions.

South-facing gardens 

Gardens that face south are very desirable in cooler climates, since they receive the sun all day, and are light and bright. This can be a real bonus in spring and fall when you want to make the most of every warm day, but in the height of summer, a south-facing garden can be unbearably hot. Counter the heat by including shaded areas, using either tall plantings or, for instant results, pergolas, arbors, walls, and screens. 

North-facing gardens 

Sunlight is in short supply in a north-facing garden, and in winter you may get no sun at all. The problem is not so bad in long gardens, since the far end will be sunny because it is beyond the shadow made by the house. In small yards, avoid tall boundaries that cast even more shade; also take note of where the sun falls throughout the day and use these areas for seating.

East-facing gardens

Breakfasting alfresco is one of the joys of life, and on an east-facing patio, sheltered by the house, you can take full advantage of the early-morning sun. Evenings are cool, however, so find a spot for a seat at the far end of the garden that traps the last rays of sun. Also, avoid growing plants that are susceptible to frost damage, such as camellias, in direct morning sun.

West-facing gardens 

You’ll have to find an area at the end of a west-facing garden to drink your morning coffee, but afternoons and evenings will be warm and sunny. A garden that faces west is perfect for party animals, with plenty of scope for a dance floor or dining area drenched in warm evening light. Morning shade is also good for those feeling delicate the day after!

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