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Design for Garden Light & Shade


The amount of light you receive in your garden and home will depend greatly on the design of both, as well as the relationship between them. We all realise, for example, that a house with lots of windows will allow plenty of light indoors, but what happens if we plant tall dense canopy trees all around the house…the light doesn’t get past the trees. Likewise, the walls of houses, garages and sheds can block light to parts of your garden, creating shaded areas.

The challenge for most home owners is to ensure that their home receives plenty of light in those areas where they want it, while providing shade to those parts of the house that may get to much light, or get very hot. Good garden design and plant selection can help achieve this, and at the same time create a garden that makes the most of the different light conditions available.

Increasing Light To Your Home

Increasing the amount of natural light received within your home, garage or shed will often entail some construction work. Common methods include the installation of skylights, installing new or larger windows, removing adjacent pergolas, and roofing over verandas that cause excessive shade, or the replacement of panels from metal rooved verandas, garages or sheds (e.g. galvanised iron) and replacing them with a transparent roofing material such as polycarbonate sheets.

Removal of plants that provide shade can result in dramatic changes to the amount of light received through windows, but be careful that you don’t go from one extreme to the other, and suddenly have too much light and heat entering the house. If there are a number of plants you wish to remove, try it in stages removing one or two plants at a time to see what results you get. It is much easier (& cheaper) to take out an extra plant or two later than it is to have to provide some means of re-establishing shade to your house.

Reducing The Amount Of Light Received

Sometimes you home receives too much light, and you might wish to create shaded conditions. This can be achieved fairly quickly by the installation of blinds or shutters to windows, which can be readily raised or lowered as required. Good quality shutters can have the added advantage of increasing security in your home. The main disadvantage of these methods is their initial cost.

Another common method is to construct a pergola or similar structure adjacent to your home. The pergola can be rooved with materials that restrict light such as coloured polycarbonate sheeting, or shade cloth, or plants can be grown over it, providing cool, living shade, that allows breezes to penetrate freely. Temporary shade can be provided by the use of shade wings or umbrellas which can be removed/lowered as required.

Plants can also be used to provide shade to parts of the house that receive excessive light, or get very hot, such as facing the hot afternoon sun in summer. Choose your plants carefully – often lightly or open foliaged plants are best. Dense foliaged plants may cut out too much light. Deciduous plants can be utilised to provide summer shade, while letting through plenty of light during winter.

Placement of your plants is also very important. Look for the parts of your house, and the times of the day, that receive the most light. Place your plants to block out the worst of the sunlight. Make sure, however, that you consider changes that will occur as the plants grow. They may provide suitable protection when young, but as they grow larger begin to block out too much light. Understanding how big the plants you choose will grow, and how quickly they grow is very important.

Working With Shade

Shade can be seen as both good & bad (depending on your perspective).

Good Bad

It stops glare It makes things hard to see (e.g. if you are reading)

It keeps the environment cooler It keeps a garden moist (slime/algae can grow)

It conserves water around plant roots It makes a building moist (mould can grow)

It can protect you from wind It often reduces ventilation, which may encourage

It provides protection against skin plant diseases

cancer Many plants will struggle, or may not flower well in

It may provide frost protection shaded conditions.

Some plants thrive in shaded conditions

If you do have shaded areas in your garden you have two main options, either reduce the amount of shade, or use it. Reducing the amount of shade is often difficult, particularly if it is being created by large, permanent structures such as walls, fences or large trees. Sometimes selective removal of some plants may significantly open up a garden allowing more light to penetrate. The second option of using the shade is often far easier, and with careful plant selection can be very rewarding.

Many plants thrive in shaded conditions. Some good examples are:

Clivia miniata


Aucuba japonica cultivars

Rhododendron cultivars (including azaleas)

Ferns (of many different shapes, sizes and appearance)

Aspidistra elatior

Boronia species (need good drainage)

Daphne odora

Dichondra repens

Hydrangea macrophylla cultivars

Palms (many species)

Pieris japonica (Andromeda)

Plectranthus oertendahlii, P. eckloni

Viola betonicifolia, V. hederacea, V. odorata

Adding Light To Your Garden

The addition of lights to a garden can create a whole new feel to your garden at night. Dark, hidden or forbidding spots can be turned into delightful new features.

Lighting can be permanent (fixed in position) or temporary. Portable lighting can be moved as desired. Both 240 volt systems plugged directly into power points, or low voltage systems (e.g. 24 volt) are readily available.

Permanent lighting is most often used for entertainment areas such as back patios, verandas or decking. These systems are generally permanently wired into the homes mains system (240 volt) – this type of electrical work should only be done by a qualified tradesperson. While the location of the lights are fixed, often the angle at which the light points can be altered. The types of lights can also vary considerably, including flood for broad area illumination, spots to illuminate specific areas, and florescent tubes for diffuse lighting.

Some lights can be switched on to provide light when entertaining, and can also be set to turn on when movement is sensed to provide security, or to provide light when you move into the range of the light’s sensor without the need for you to turn the light on.

Low voltage units are commonly used in garden areas. These are usually 12 or 24 volt systems for safety purposes. They usually plug into a transformer that is plugged into a mains (240volt) system. These low voltage systems are designed to be weatherproof. The lights will often be mounted on a spike that can be pushed into the ground to anchor the light. They can also be mounted on walls, trees or even draped amongst plants.

Care should be taken to ensure that the low voltage cables are not damaged during gardening, chewed up by pets, or played with by children. It is a good idea where possible, when these lights are placed in a permanent or semi-permanent position to bury the cables. Ideally they should be protected, when buried, by plastic electrical conduit, or as a cheaper alternative (but not as strong) by black 19mm irrigation poly pipe. Alternatively run the cables along the back of sleeper or stonework walls so they have some protection.

Garden lights are commonly used to illuminate water features, to spot light sculptures or feature plants, to show the way along pathways or drives, to provide broader illumination of garden beds, flowers displays, to create displays amongst the foliage of trees and large shrubs (as with Christmas lights), and to provide light in structures such as pergolas or gazebos. The possibilities are just about endless.

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