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Aspects of Design : Light and Shade


Black is not a colour; it is the absence of light. Without light, we cannot see colours; they all appear black. When light is low, colours appear darker than they are normally. Lack of light makes it difficult for the eye to discern the depth of a pool of shade.

Dark coloured objects recede; they appear further away even though they can only be the same distance as objects of bright colour. This trick of light and shade can be used to give the garden a greater sense of depth, useful for a short garden. Alternating pools of light and shade accentuate this effect by creating a pattern.

Light falling into the garden forms patterns of light and shade, most marked when the light is strongest, adding a very attractive extra dimension to the garden. Not only does the pattern of shadows bring movement to the garden but it varies quite a bit in its quality. On a dull day, the pattern will be soft and ill-defined; on a bright one, it will be dark and sharp.

The quality of light varies between the seasons, and from climate to climate. The spring light is clear and slightly blue, autumn has a yellow quality. The light in dry sunny countries is sharp and more harshly white. In damp climates, the light is softened and diffused by the moisture in the air. Even a single day, the quality of light changes and can bring interesting effects to the garden.


Plants greatly influence the pattern and quality of shade. Some cast deep shade because of their heavy canopies; others are light. All plants cast distinct patterns according to their shape and the arrangement of their foliage.

Planting for shade is rarely considered in cooler climates; any shade pattern that might come about is incidental to other planting considerations. But, it can be very beautiful in its effect and might be given more consideration. Pattern is best seen on a flat surface such as lawn or paving. Plants of any kind, even low ground-cover, tend to dominate the pattern of shade and spoil it.


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