Saturday, February 20, 2010

The Light Of Day: Novice Garden Planning

With a few exceptions, I have the enviable (or non enviable?) task of starting a garden from scratch, and it is going to start in just a few days really, as the last frost date here slowly creeps toward me.   

Garden planning and space design is something I've been thinking about since October.   I want it all, but I can't have it all.  I am limited by sun and by space.  I will never be able to create the wonderous corridors and pathways that my Mom's gardens have, because with a square fenced in space with stone patio already set, the design of the space as far as hardscape is pretty inescapable.    I also have my neighbors monolithic garage extending through the south side of my backyard. Yes, the worst exposure I know.  Where was the infamous Charleston Board of Architectural Review when this thing got built?   This has a bifold effect on a third of my garden space in the back: I have shade, and I had a very large brown featureless wall to contend with, i.e. hide, in that shade.
"The Great Brown Way"

The lighting factor is a tricky one, at least in my back yard.  My front raised bed, which faces ENE gets morning sun and afternoon shade.  Pretty simple.  The back yard though, due to the southern exposure having this 2.5 story garage on it, blocks the entire garden of direct sunlight during the deepest days of winter (Dec and Jan), as the low trajectory of the sun never clears the garage. The come Feb, March, and November the fence opposite my neighbors property goes from no direct sun, to partial sun, to full sun (or vice versa) in short order as the trajectory of the sun rises, and the days lengthen dramatically through those months.   By April, basically through early October, I BELIEVE (having never seen it myself), at least half of the garden is going to be full sun.  Or maybe only a quarter.  Maybe 3 quarters.    And you see, whatever is in the sun is going to be in that southern full sun which renders many a full sun plant actually part shade.  Whatever doesn't make it over the shadow cast by the garage is going to be in the full shade. Its like a razor edge.

Shade is something I've been thinking about too.   Exactly how much shade is my shade?  Even in the deepest of shade underneath the shadow of the garage and the palm tree, was it really deep shade?  The sun being so bright, and the reflective light off of my house and the white fences it doesn't seem very ferns and moss shady back there.

So what does all this mean?  I have a feeling, the same as anything else, it will have to be trial and error.  Not just for what looks good together and against the steep 'walls' that frame my garden (which is a whole other blog post) but also what kind of sun I'm really going to be dealing with.   My likely very expensive plan, unless one of my new blog friends can think of something else, is to have a full sun section against the one fence line, a large section of partial sun plants where I'm not sure the sun will extend to (and just hope that if they do end up in mostly sun they don't scorch to death), and then I don't know what type of shade plants by the garage but hopefully they are both narrow and tall!  I also cringe at the fact that such a small garden space might have to have two different looks to it, given the fact that there is no way to visually separate the two halves due to the existing design and small size.  I am very aware of visual continuity in spaces, be they indoor or out, and I am very much hoping to create a well designed 'room' out of my back garden.


  1. Trial and error is true for everyone, I think. Even the pros have to fiddle with things along the way. Very exciting to be just starting with a new space!

  2. Yes, we're all pros at trial and error. Love your description of the shaded space as being the great brown way...Don't stress, though, you'll do just fine at figuring out what to plant where. You can always move, add, or subtract if you're not pleased.

  3. I have the opposite problem it seems, too much blazing sun. I have no close neighbours, and the only trees I have are tiny. No fence either. I have only a few spots where I can plant shade plants. Because my north side is too dark for anything flowering.

    I hope you find your happy place lol. I'm not good with advice, I'm bad with figuring out my own garden design :P

  4. So trial and error it is. Hopefully my guesswork will be decent so I am not spending a fortune getting plants. Fortunately, my small seedling collection is coming up fine, save for 4 o'clocks.

    GA -it is exciting... I'm ready!
    Jodi - thanks, I'm glad someone gets my humor!
    Kyna - I don't envy you your totally sun all the time gardening. I'm not sure the difference in our sun levels, but here many many plants die back in June if they are in the full sun. All thats left is the tropicals until September.

  5. I'm jealous of your being able to plan a whole garden, even with the issues. But, yeah, trial and error is inevitable. I made a rule a while ago that if I kill a plant three times, I'm not allowed to try it again until I have a fundamental change in conditions. So that's a lot of trial and error. :)

  6. CF - lol. thats a whole lot of trial and error indeed. I think after twice I might get suspicious.