Garden aspects are a key consideration when designing and planting a garden. Choosing the right plants for the aspect is key to a successful design. It can be confusing when trying to understand what this means for your garden. The aspect is the position you face when looking out at your garden. Here is a short article to help you understand the UK's aspects and how the shade will generally lie in your garden.

A gardens aspect is one of the first things I do when I’m working on a new garden design. If you ignore it you will struggle to find the correct plants, choose the best seating areas, plan paths that aren’t for example shady, damp and slippy. When designing and planting, you can accommodate virtually any aspect if you understand it.  Most people are aware of the ‘South facing’ garden and how this is the holy grail for horticulturists.  It’s not the be all and end all though.

Working out the aspect of your garden is essential

NB:  Please note that the shade will move throughout the day as the sun arcs over your property.  These guides are to give you an idea of where the shade will predominantly lie.  This means that the shaded areas will be colder and receive less light than the non-shaded areas. It is also affected by neighbouring properties, trees, fences and other obstructions.

The sun rises in the East and sets in the West.  This is because the Earth spins with a rotation towards the east.  The diagrams below are for Gardens in the Northern Hemisphere, Southern Hemisphere aspects need to be switched.

Garden Aspects Explained

South facing gardens

  • Receive more sunlight and are usually brighter.
  • Tend to be hotter and warm up earlier in the season.
  • May require more watering as they tend to have drier soils.
  • Can require more planning for shady seating areas they can get super warm!

Aspect Plan South

North facing gardens

  • Receive less sunlight or dappled shade.
  • Tend to be cooler and only warm up later in the season.
  • Has fewer high and low extremes of temperature.
  • Longer gardens may be less affected as they could get light pockets at the far end

Aspect Plan North

East facing gardens

  • Will receive more sunlight in the morning, perfect for breakfast on the patio!
  • Will be darker in the afternoon and evening.
  • Include garden lighting in your design, maybe a fire pit if you’re a night owl that wants to entertain in the evening

Aspect Plan East

West facing gardens

  • Will receive more sunlight in the afternoon and evening. Perfect for the party house!
  • Will be darker in the morning, with shade nearest the house.

Aspect Plan West

Another helpful tip is to see what plants and trees are flourishing in your next door neighbours gardens to each side.  This can be a good trick to work out what kind of plants work well in your aspect. Take your time when planning your garden, really work out where the sun moves to and from. Think about your garden design and where you would like to sit, eat, relax and sunbathe. The same goes for your plant choices, a few carefully considered planting groups will work much better than a ‘pick and mix’ have a go planting scheme.

Plants for a South Facing Garden

Chose plants that enjoy full sun and warm temperatures.  A few examples to get you started would be

  • Echinacea
  • Asteraceae family (Daisies)
  • Lillies
  • Iris
  • Erysimum cheiri (Wallflowers)
  • Eryngium
  • Salvia
  • Verbascum

Echinacea and Heleniums love hot south facing gardens

Plants for a North Facing Garden

Any plant that thrives in shade or cooler conditions will love a North Facing Garden. A selection of popular examples are

  • Hostas
  • Ferns
  • Dicentra
  • Vinca major
  • Viburnum
  • Erythronium (Dog tooth violet)
  • Begonia
  • Primula vulgaris
  • Aquilegia vulgaris

Shady Hostas in their glory!

East and West Facing Garden Plants

Now for East and West, it’s not quite as critical as you are going to get a mix of light and shade. So the advice here would be to choose plants carefully for parts of the garden that feature more heavily in shade or full sun. You really have the best of both worlds! Don’t forget also that any structures will create shade even in a South facing garden.

Shady woodland border

Choosing the right plant for the right place is the most sensible approach to garden design planting. As hard as you try you are not going to get a shade loving plant to thrive in full sun or vice versa. The RHS website is an excellent resource for locating pants for aspects and soil types. It’s also essential if you’re designing your own garden to work out a consistent theme or feel for the garden. The best place to start is by working out if you prefer a formal or informal garden design. Then the sky is the limit, let your creative juices flow!

Summary

Ignoring the aspect of your garden is often at your peril. As much as you may want that Fig tree to fill your garden with Mediterranean summery sunshine, if your plots a damp North facing garden then you may need to readjust your planting requirements!That’s not to say you can’t have an incredible garden; it just needs a more selective plant approach.

Need more help with your garden?  Why not get in touch on social media or use Garden Ninjas garden design service?

6 thoughts on “Garden aspects explained

  1. Jill Walker says:

    Thanks Garden Ninja, I never understood aspects before and used to get so confused on what garden aspects actually referred to!

    I love Hostas but have a very open south east facing garden, can I plant them in full sun?

    Jill.

    1. lee says:

      Hi Jill, Thanks for the feedback on my garden design blog! I’m glad my garden aspects post has helped you to understand the positioning of your garden correctly.

      You can plant hostas in sun but you may find you need to water them more regularly and they may turn slightly yellow if in real heat and sun. Garden Ninjas advice would be to plant them under a tree or somewhere with at least some shade then you can get the best out of them. It also adds a nice foliage rich texture to shady areas! Or plant it in a pot and see how it does in the sun one year before committing it to the ground!

      All the best

      Lee

  2. Nicky says:

    I’m thinking of buying a house with a north/west garden, as a keen gardener and sun lover is this going to be a big no no? I keep looking at your fab aspect guides but I’m still confused! Help!

    1. lee says:

      Hi Nicky, No of course it isn’t! It’s all about the right plant for the right place. Unless you really want to grow flowers and plants that will only survive in full sun then I wouldn’t be put off a North / West garden. You need to balance off the right house and right garden. There’s a huge selection of plants you could use. However, if you’re tick list of must-haves is all day sun (when we get it in the UK) then maybe you do need to consider a different property! All the best with your new house hunt! Lee

  3. Rebecca says:

    Hi.
    Your website is fab. Trying to understand if I buy a south east garden lined by large trees at the bottom inc. One with a tpo and what looks like young silver birches planted along the remainder. How much sun I would get? Are these silver birch type trees fast growing. This is 10m from back of house.
    I love gardening and being out doors do nervous!! Currently live in a west facing garden which I love and has no blockage from trees etc close by.

    Any advice would be much appreciated. Thanks 🙂

    1. lee says:

      Hi Rebecca,

      Great to hear from you and I’m really glad you like the site!

      If you’re going to buy a house with large trees the best way to see how much sunlight you would get is to book a viewing both in the morning and the early evening before the sun sets. That’s the best way to truly see where the shade lies. Birch are not mega fast growing and are usually chose by designers as they don’t cast huge amounts of shade. Birch (Betulas) canopies are usually quite thin when compared to say a large leafed variety tree such as Horse Chesnut (Aesculus hippocastanum).

      Defo go and have a nosey around during those times. Other than that I’d say also think about how much time you spend outside vs inside too. You can always find a sunny spot in most gardens. Don’t give up on your dream house just because of the aspect. There’s plenty of plants for shade! Hope that helps! Lee

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