Our old south-west facing garden enjoyed full sun most of the day, and we planted taller screening trees on the western boundary to provide shade during the evening 

We are often asked what makes the best position, or aspect, for a garden. Choosing the right orientation for you and your garden is an important decision, especially if you are deciding to buy a new home.

In the past, we have been asked to help our clients choose between two new-build plots – basing their decision on which aspect provided the most sun in the garden.

But not everyone wants full sun all day, and other factors have an effect – such as the shadows cast by surrounding buildings and trees.

So how important is which way your garden faces? And how do you make the best of a garden where you don’t have the choice of aspect?

It’s impossible to lift your house and put it down somewhere else. But you can make sure you get the most out of the outdoor space you have by understanding the lighting conditions and the positions of sun and shade that track across the garden at different times of day throughout the year.

Know Your Direction: North, South, East or West?

Your garden’s cardinal direction (North, South, East, or West) not only impacts the overall aesthetic but also influences your daily activities. Let’s explore how to make the most of your garden’s orientation, regardless of your preference for sun or shade.

North-facing gardens receive the least light and may tend to be cool and damp. On the flip side, south-facing gardens can be dry, basking in an abundance of sunlight. East-facing gardens are graced with morning light while west-facing gardens enjoy the warmth of the late afternoon and evening sun.

To understand where north and south are in relation to the back of your house, open your phone’s compass app or, if you’re old-school, use a handheld compass. Stand with your back to the rear wall of your house, looking out into the garden. Wherever the compass is pointing straight ahead is your aspect – i.e. if it says north, then you have a north-facing garden.

Match Your Garden Habits with Sunlight

What are your daily routines in the garden? Are you an early riser, seeking the morning sun for activities like yoga? Or do you prefer evenings, with a view of the sunset, for your outdoor gatherings? If you grow your own fruit and veg, they will require plenty of sunlight throughout the day. Your preferences will play a pivotal role in garden planning.

Strategic Sitting Areas: Sun and Shade

Position your sitting areas based on your habits and needs. Full sun may not be ideal for a dining space unless you can incorporate some shade, but the evening sun can be gentler and perfect for dining or relaxation.

Think about flexible designs that allow you to move your sitting spots throughout the day. Just because your patio or terrace is placed near the house doesn’t mean it has to stay there. If you prefer to sit somewhere else at different times of day, think about a change to the garden’s design to facilitate that.

Now, let’s take each garden aspect in turn, as we will have different approaches for each. 

A shaded north-facing garden

Dealing with a North-Facing Garden

Sometimes, when we visit a client for the first time, they bemoan the fact that their garden is ‘north facing’ (i.e. the back of the house faces north). North-facing gardens may lack direct sunlight and be shaded by the house, but they offer cooler conditions.

Most north-facing gardens will have sun in the evening in the top right-hand corner – and morning sun on the left. Designers can create strategic seating areas and beautiful pathways that will allow you to maximise this morning and evening sun.

Being north-facing gives you the opportunity for some lush green leafy planting, with ferns, Hostas and woodland plants loving these conditions. There are even a few plants that will grow without any direct sun at all, so don’t despair.

South Facing Gardens: A Sunny Paradise

You have the opposite situation with a ‘south facing’ garden. A south-facing aspect can mean your garden gets very hot and might need more watering. However, with added shade, they can become a Mediterranean paradise.

Plants such as Olive trees, Lavender, hot-coloured flowers, and silvery green foliage will thrive here and help create a holiday vibe.

The rear house walls in a south-facing garden act like storage heaters, radiating warmth and keeping your patio warm well after sunset during the summer.

South facing garden with mediterranean planting
East facing garden good for the morning sunshine

Embracing East Facing Gardens

East-facing gardens are perfect for early risers who like to enjoy breakfast outside in the gentle morning sun. They will, however, be cooler and more shaded in the afternoon and evening.

In east-facing gardens, you can opt for plants like grasses and daylilies that shine in the rising light. Be cautious, however, about planting sensitive species, such as Camellia that may scorch in the early morning sun. 

West Facing Gardens: Enjoy the Sunset

West-facing gardens offer breathtaking sunset views and evening tranquillity. But the setting sun can be blinding, so consider sheer blinds or pergola sides for reduced glare.

Planting along your garden’s southern and western edges can create natural shade. A west-facing garden is a great space to unwind after a busy day at work, basking in the late glow of the evening.

West facing gardens tend to be used more in the evenings

Urban Gardens: The Shadow Challenge

Whether you are north, south, east or west facing, the challenge in many urban gardens is contending with the shadows cast by tall neighbouring buildings. Strategic seating arrangements can help you enjoy the sun, but you may have a narrower time window to enjoy these spaces.

One benefit of an urban setting is the microclimate effect, which makes these gardens slightly warmer and more sheltered.

Transforming Your Garden

No matter which your garden’s direction, the layout can be changed. Different areas, including the front garden, may offer different light conditions. Sometimes, finding the perfect sitting spot and creating privacy is all it takes to enjoy your garden’s orientation.

By following these tips, you can make the most of your garden, creating a space that suits your lifestyle and preferences, regardless of its aspect.

If you need help to make the most of your outside space, contact us to start your garden transformation today.