Harnessing the power of sun and shadows in the landscape

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Updated Apr 21, 2023

sun shining on blades of grassWhen considering the design elements of a landscape, two of the most overlooked and underestimated elements are the most obvious ones: sunlight and shadow.

These two elements are present in every landscape, and in every region, and they work hand in hand to create an atmosphere that’s subtle but impactful.

Knowing exactly how to use them to your advantage can help your customer’s yard go from good to great; check out a few suggestions to help you better harness the power of sun and shadows.

Follow the sun

When plotting out the design of your customer’s yard, be sure to always keep in mind where the sun will be throughout the day.

By plotting out different designs for each part of the day, your customers will be able to make use of their landscape no matter what time of day they decide to venture out.

Keep in mind that a little bit of shade is always a good idea since not every customer will enjoy direct sun exposure. Adding in a few trees and shaded benches can help clients enjoy the overall warmth of the sun without having to slather on sunscreen beforehand.

Contouring and incorporating accents

With many landscapes, there are bound to be changes in levels, terraces, walls, berms, and more. Don’t shy away from these hills and valleys; embrace them and use them to your advantage.

By finding ways to angle the way sunlight hits a particular level of the yard will help add a bit of flare and a dramatic look to the landscape as a whole. This proves especially effective at the end of the day when the sun begins to set.

Along with remembering the importance of contours comes the idea of bringing in plants to act as accents. Grasses are one of the best accents in many areas.

Try positioning the grasses so they are able to catch low light in the evening which will make them glow and add extra dimension to their translucent seed heads. This will cause them to sort of shimmer and move with the rays of the sun.

Grasses with prominent seed heads and foliage grasses can be very effective with this idea as autumn sets in and colors begin to change.

Add light dimension and create patterns

Low morning or evening sunlight can really bring topiaries to life because of the way the light plays and intermingles with the various shapes.

It helps showcase the contrast between shadows and lights because without light they could potentially appear flat and unappealing. With the light gently cascading across them in the evening, it almost gives off a magical and fairy tale vibe.

Certain plants have very unique and distinctive leaves that could really be emphasized with a bit of soft backlighting. Low light can help project the outline and leaf shape of the plant onto a nearby wall or even a screen, which can offer a sort of kaleidoscope feel with shapes changing and moving with the waning sun.

Even in areas where there’s a fair amount of shade, positioning accent plants around to catch some light can make it appear as if the plants have their very own spotlight.

This can also be used to place the focus on statues and other notable features in the landscape.

For customers with fences, screens or awnings around, take advantage of the shadows these fixtures will naturally cast. By taking just a little extra planning time and experimentation, these fixtures can be used to catch both the morning and evening sun and project shapes across the lawn and sidewalks.

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