All lit up Posted on November 2, 2007

‘Has that always been there?’ asked a quite regular visitor the other day. It self-evidently had, being a shrub of some 20 summers’ growth. I saw exactly what she meant, though. The sun was holding it in an evening halo against a shaded background. It was suddenly the focal point.

Light is always the most important
influence, in planting a garden as in
looking at it. You don’t know when the

clouds will part, shooting a ray of light to earth. You do know where the sun will be in the heavens, and can plan accordingly. It’s not just a question of the plant’s preferring sun or shade, but of you preferring a plant well-lit, and which window you will looking out of when it is.

Our bathroom window faces southeast. When I opened the curtain this morning the vine leaves that assault it at this time of year were like art deco glass, a Lalique lampshade sparkling green, amber and gold. At tea time they merely block the view of the trees beyond bathed in afternoon sun.

Back-lighting is one of the strongest effects a gardener has at his disposal. Name me a plant that doesn’t look its best outlined against streaming sunlight. We were at Beth Chatto’s the other day, marvelling at her dry garden (and her wet one too). The grasses (again; it’s that time of year) were golden filigree: no jeweller could deck his window like this. But not all the beauties were deliberate. A glimpse of water through willow and bamboo was aethereally beautiful in a way not even Beth could have planned. What she had orchestrated to perfection, though, was the self-lighting touches where pale colours seem spot-lit in pre-ordained gloom. White Japanese anemones in her oak wood, for example. But lit from any angle there is no end to the beauty and usefulness of this paragon plant.

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