Getting to know your garden is an important challenge for any gardener. Wherever you live in the UK, which way your garden is facing will have a large impact on the benefits and challenges you encounter, and the plants you are able to grow. While a sunny, sheltered garden facing south may be the dream for many, south facing gardens can also have their challenges, and gardens facing east, west and even north can be beautiful and productive too.
First Tunnels polytunnels can work well in many locations, no matter which way your garden is facing. But using one effectively does require an understanding of the strengths and limitations of the space at your disposal. In this article, we will take a look at how to tell which direction your garden is facing before looking in depth at each type of garden.
Determining Which Way Your Garden is Facing
When we talk about a ‘south facing’ or ‘north facing’ garden, we are talking about the aspect of your garden – the direction that it faces. One way to work out the aspect of your garden is to stand by the back wall of your house with a compass. If, with your back to the wall at the rear of your home, south is directly ahead of you, then you have a south facing garden.
Even without a compass, you can get a fairly good idea of the aspect of your garden by monitoring the position of the sun, and the shade cast, throughout each day and over the course of the year. Remember, broadly speaking, the sun rises in the east and sets in the west.
The aspect of your garden will affect how much sun your garden gets, and how much shade is cast, and when. However, while it is important to work out which way your garden faces, other elements can also have a large bearing on these matters. For example, it is important to note what other surrounding trees or structures will cast shade throughout the day and at different times of year.
While areas of shade can be a challenge, it is also important to remember that shade gardening can also open up a range of different opportunities.
Tips for a Garden Facing South
A south facing garden will be sunny, with less shade than gardens with other aspects. In the absence of other shading factors, a south facing garden will generally have lots of sunshine on the rear of the house. The back area of your garden, furthest from the house, in an enclosed garden, will usually be in shade most of the day. With your back to your house, the right hand boundary will be east-facing, with morning sun, and the left side will be west facing, with afternoon and evening sun.
Positioning a Polytunnel in a South Facing Garden
In a south facing garden, a polytunnel should ideally not be pushed to the back of the space, far from the house, but should be given pride of place closer to the south-facing back wall of your home, where you can take full advantage of the light light levels. Pay attention to the shade cast by the garden boundaries, and make sure that you do not place your polytunnel too close to a fence, wall or hedge that could cut down on the light levels at some point during the day.
A south facing, sunny garden will be ideal for growing a wide range of fruits and vegetables in your polytunnel. However, with the high levels of sunlight, things in your polytunnel will quickly warm up and it can be a challenge to keep things cool during the summer months.
Plants for a South Facing Garden
For the sunniest areas of a south facing garden, you will want to consider growing plants suited to a warmer, drier spot, such as Mediterranean herbs, and sun-loving flowers such as verbena bonariensis and bearded irises. Arid climate plants will be perfect for a sunny south-facing polytunnel garden. A polytunnel positioned in a particularly warm and sunny spot will be ideal for growing a wide range of exotic or warm-climate plants not usually ideally suited to a garden in the UK.
Tips for a Garden Facing North
Most of a north facing garden is usually in shade for much of the day, as your home will stand between the sun and the garden throughout many of the daylight hours. Between May and October in the UK, however, north-facing surfaces like the back of your home will get reasonable early morning and evening sun.
Positioning a Polytunnel in a North Facing Garden
A north facing garden may not always be the ideal space for a polytunnel. However, generally speaking, you will find that the area towards the back of your garden, furthest from your home, will have the highest light levels and will be the best place for the polytunnel structure.
While high levels of shade can be a challenge for those growing their own food, there are still plenty of shade-tolerant edibles that you can grow in a polytunnel in shady conditions. You could even consider choosing a shade polytunnel and specialising in growing mushrooms, or plants ideally suited to shady conditions. If you do wish to grow a range of traditional annual fruit and vegetable crops, keeping the polytunnel warm in winter is likely to be a pressing concern in a north facing garden.
Plants for a North Facing Garden
Mimicking the conditions of a woodland can be ideal for a north-facing polytunnel garden. Hellebores, snowdrops and pumonaria are all ideal for areas that only get early morning sun. There are also a wide range of interesting edible perennials that could be an alternative to annual crops for lower light areas.
Tips for a Garden Facing West
A west facing garden will be mostly in shade during the morning and will get plenty of sun during the afternoon and evening. Plants in a west facing garden must be able to withstand the strong afternoon sun during the summer months and yet also tolerate (or enjoy) the morning shade.
Positioning a Polytunnel in a West Facing Garden
If you can avoid placing your polytunnel in the shade cast by your home during the morning hours, this is positive. However, even in a small west-facing garden, you can find the best spot for your polytunnel by thinking carefully about things that cast shade and placing your polytunnel in the spot that gets the most light – perhaps towards the southern side of the space.
Like in a sunny polytunnel placed in a garden with a south facing aspect, the challenge with a polytunnel in a garden facing west is keeping things cool and ventilated during hot, sunny afternoons. Lack of morning sun will not usually be too much of a challenge for most polytunnel crops, though crops bolting in hot weather could be a problem.
Plants for a West Facing Garden
While you will be able to grow a wide range of edibles in a west-facing garden, you will have to pay attention to the companion planting for shade within the polytunnel over the summer months. Attractive ornamentals for a west facing garden include magnolias and camelias, which enjoy the morning shade, and perennials such as sedums and fuchsias.
Tips for an Garden Facing East
An east facing garden will mostly get morning sun, and will be in shade during hottest part of the day, the afternoon and evening. Such a garden should be populated with plants which like partial shade and require shelter from strong sunlight. The shade in the afternoon means that plants will be protected from scorch during the summer months, and the evening shade can enhance the impact of white flowers and attract pollinating moths and other beneficial wildlife.
Positioning a Polytunnel in an East Facing Garden
When placing a polytunnel in an east facing garden, it is best to try to place it beyond the shade cast by your home in the evening. Even where this is not possible, however, you can still make sure that you get as much light as possible by taking careful note of shade and sunlight throughout each day and throughout the year in order to find the best and sunniest spot.
Since a polytunnel in an east facing garden may be lacking in light during the warmest part of the day, it is best to grow shade tolerant plants in your polytunnel. As in a north facing garden, a polytunnel in a garden facing east may be perfect for growing mushrooms or shade-tolerant or shade loving plants.
Plants for an East Facing Garden
Even in a polytunnel in shade for much of the afternoon and evening, you can still grow a range of leafy crops and other shade tolerant edibles. Attractive plants that can cope with the morning sun and cool conditions in an east facing garden include honeysuckle and berberis. White flowered plants like Nicotiana sylvestris are lovely for adding scent on shady evenings.
All gardens have their strengths and weaknesses. The key is to make sure that you understand the conditions where you live, and work with nature rather than against it to achieve your goals, choosing the right plants for the right places and working within the restrictions of your space. Share your own hints or tips for different aspects or share the challenges of a garden facing in a certain direction in the comments below.
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.