How to work with shadows

What a great thing to be asked this week to recommend trees for a project. It might be too early but I’m going to say ‘Trees are back!’ The simplicity of ‘treescapes’ has appeal to owners of gardens who require a low maintenance landscape but what appeals to me is that a simple tree in a lawn can be enough to really start to see the world around us through the eyes of a gardener. A simple tree can have charm and character, elegance and romance. Like all truly beautiful things it is not just about itself it is about how it lives with the world. A tree is beautiful not only because it is green or colourful or strong and slender, but also because it lets the sun throw shadows, the wind play amongst its leaves and people enjoy its shade on a sunny day. I have never seen a tree catalogue that describes the shadows cast or what tempo the wind moves the branches but after fifteen years of looking I am now starting to see.

If you want to work with shadows here are a few tips.

1. Plant in a location so that as the sun moves around the shadows are thrown the way you want.

2. Highly defined shadows are easier to see on a smooth surface; freshly mown grass might be good for this or areas of paving and rendered walls.

3. If you want to throw a shadow a long way then either move the sun or wait for it to be low in the sky! The sun will be low in the morning and evening and low in the long shadow months of autumn, winter and spring. If you want to catch the evening shadows then you will need to plant on the west to have the shadow on the east. To steal a well-used saying from a different business sector it is all about location. Location,Location,Location.


Blobby shadows of Magnolia soulangeana and fine shadows of Melia azaradarach on lawn.


Schinus mollis on old timber


Bougainvillea on corrugated iron