Are you making the most of sunlight in your garden? One key thing that all gardeners should ask themselves is whether they have really taken the time to appreciate all that our sun provides.
Though it may not always shine here in the UK, the sun is so important. Not only does it allow for all life on earth, it also helps us develop new, more sustainable ways to live in our times.
You may have heard the old adage: ‘make hay while the sun shines’. This is a saying we should all be living by – quite literally. As a gardener or commercial grower, you should always make sure that you are always making the most of all natural and renewable resources – including the sunlight that graces your garden.
While the sun shines, here are some of the things you should think about doing to make sure you really are making the most of the energy our sun provides.
Boost Photosynthesis – Layer Plants in Space and Time
One of the key ways that we make use of the sun’s energy in a garden is, of course, by making sure that we have planted plenty of plants which use the sunlight through photosynthesis.
We should all take steps to maximise the photosynthesis that is taking place in our outdoors spaces, and in our polytunnels and other growing areas.
This means making sure that we layer plants in space – placing herbaceous plants below shrubs, below trees, with climbers ascending through the system. Complex layered, ecologically functioning, diverse systems are the very best way to make the most of sunlight in your garden.
We should also make sure that we layer plants in time, creating planting and sowing schedules that allow us to make the most of every inch of space, all the time, and not just over the warmest summer months. Remember, with a polytunnel, you can grow year-round.
And making the most of sunlight also means making sure that you make full use of all the food and other plant yields that you obtain.
Catch and Store the Sun’s Energy in Other Ways
We can’t only make use of the sun’s energy by placing as many plants as possible in our gardens. We can also catch and store the sun’s energy in the materials we use around our gardens, and in our polytunnels.
During the day, materials with good thermal mass like stone, brick, clay, water and earth are excellent at absorbing the heat from the sun. They absorb that heat during the day, then release it slowly when temperatures fall.
We can make use of these materials with good thermal mass to keep a polytunnel cool in the heat of summer, and also to keep it frost-free over the winter months. Outside in the garden too, such materials can be useful. They can keep the environment around them a little warmer when there is a chill in the air. This is why, for example, fruit trees often like to be placed against a south-facing wall.
Catching and Using the Sun’s Energy for Electricity or Water Heating
Of course, you might also consider installing photo-voltaic panels, not only on your home but also potentially on sheds or other garden buildings.
You might also use solar on a smaller scale, to power outside lighting, or a solar pump for a water feature, for example.
Solar energy can also be used to pre-heat hot water, either for your home, or to pass through pipes to keep a polytunnel or other growing area warm in winter.
Create a Seating Area for Sun-Seekers
We should, of course, be looking at sun exposure in terms of what it can offer us, and wildlife, as well as what it can offer for the plants in our gardens.
Thermal mass can also be beneficial around a seating area for those who love to bask in the sun. And wildlife like butterflies and lizards will love being able to bask on a sun-drenched rock.
A sunny seating area, whether for people or wildlife, can be carefully planned to provide the optimal light levels at the right times.
By mapping sunlight in our gardens throughout each day and throughout the year, we can not only determine the best plants to choose and where to place them. We can also work out the best layout for recreational spaces, wildlife features, and other elements in our gardens.
Tricks With Reflection and Colour for Outside Spaces
We should design our gardens to try to maximise solar gain, and place features appropriately to make use of the sun where it naturally falls.
But in small gardens, especially in towns and cities, a lot of shade can be cast by your home and other surrounding buildings.
One interesting thing to consider is how you might be able to bring more light into the space. For example, a with a well placed mirror, or other reflective surface, for example. Bright, white painted walls and other such features can also help to bounce the light around.
We might also consider painting surfaces black, or a dark colour, so more heat is absorbed.
These sorts of design choices can make quite a difference when it comes to making the most of sunshine when it reaches the space.
Cook Outdoors With a Solar Oven
Another interesting thing to consider for your garden living areas is that a barbecue is not the only way to cook outdoors.
Of course, when you burn wood in a firepit or charcoal on a barbecue, the energy you are using also ultimately derives from the sun.
But you might also decide to invest in or make a solar oven, to cook outdoors in an eco-friendly and sustainable way.
By thinking about all the many ways we can make full use of the sun while it shines in our gardens, we can make sure that we really are making hay while the sun shines and using our garden and its resources to the fullest.
Elizabeth Waddington is a writer and green living consultant living in Scotland. Permaculture and sustainability are at the heart of everything she does, from designing gardens and farms around the world, to inspiring and facilitating positive change for small companies and individuals.
She also works on her own property, where she grows fruit and vegetables, keeps chickens and is working on the eco-renovation of an old stone barn.
To get in touch, visit https://ewspconsultancy.com.