This is the third in a series of articles on Landscape Design Principles and Elements of Composition (click here for the first entry on Color and here for the second entry on Texture). Today we want to talk about light and shadow in the landscape. Light and shadow could be simplified into sun and shade but light and shadow are about so much more than that. Light and shadow are about depth and dimension.
There are different types of shade. When talking about plants in particular, there is light, partial, full and deep shade. There can be a total blocking of light, like from a solid roof or dense shade tree, or dappled or intermittent shade, like from a lace canopied shade tree or pergola. Shade is great for sitting and dining areas where you’d like prolonged shade and cooler temperatures. Mature shade trees are worth their weight in gold. Think twice when locating a new pool. You can easily cut down a tree, but it can take decades for a newly planted tree to offer enough shade for a large area. Most people want their pool and pool patio to be in a sunny area. The sun offers natural warming of the water, but even with warm water, swimming in the shade can be chilly. A pool patio with some umbrellas for sun protection is perfect for keeping the area nice and warm while cooling off in the pool.
There are different types of plants for sun or shade and they run the gamut from full sun all day long to full shade and anywhere in between. Pay attention to flower colors for different lighting scenarios. In deep shade, white, apricot, pale yellow, pastels of pink and lavender, and other light colors really pop and brighten up a shadowy area. In bright sun, vibrant and saturated colors stand out more than their paler counterparts. Deep reds, corals, purples, yellows, oranges and blues stand up to the sun’s dramatic rays.
Just as shadows can be functional in the day, they are also useful at night. Use shadows for dramatic effect when it is dark out. Pergolas that cast filtered shade during the day can also act as a dramatic filter for light at night. Lighting angled up or down through a pergola sets the scene for an intimate gathering. Using lights in the garden can highlight more than the architectural elements like pergolas and stone walls. Utilize spotlights to display specimen trees. Moonlighting in a mature shade tree is more than functional; it creates a fun nighttime atmosphere. Moonlighting involves placing downward facing light fixtures 30 feet up inside of a tree’s canopy. With the right lighting scheme, not only can a property be used day or night, it can also enhance the beauty of both man and Mother Nature’s architecture.
Aesthetically, light and shadow play a huge part in the drama of our gardens. Functionally, you need a varying palette of height, spread and depth from your plantings to create a harmonized space. Hierarchy is king in our next piece on scale in the garden!
Written by Ashley Palko Haugsjaa