Something which, even after 35 years plus of gardening together, the DH and I are still fine tuning is the issue of where to put stuff to grow, keeping in mind the path of the sun versus the orientation of our garden beds. In the picture above, taken this morning at about 11:30, you see your dear Aunty, standing outside (in the rather windy 16 degrees F, I might add – the things I do for you guys..) in one of the garden beds, in the snow, holding up a door.
Now, if you look at the shadow, flaring off toward the bottom center of the photograph, you will be reminded of the fact that this is mid-February and at 11:30 a.m., the sun is actually rather low in the sky. If this were May or June, by 11:30 a.m., that sun would be pretty close to right over my head (and I would not be standing out in the garden wearing my heavy coat, hat and gloves, either). My pose is not a re-enactment of Horace Greeley’s famous phrase (and I am pointing rather Northwest rather than directly west); I am pointing in the direction of the path of the sun in the summer. Because of the way our property is situated and the orientation of the garden beds, we get a rather oblique angle on the sun’s path here.
But this is merely an introduction to the issue of the door (what other insane person would stand out in the winter with a door to demonstrate this? I ask you). This is NOT a door (well, actually it IS a door). This is, you will have to imagine, a row of sunflowers, or corn, or something else rather tall. And all of which begins it’s life as a row of something rather short but which becomes something extremely tall and dense before half the summer is over. It literally becomes something LIKE a door. Dense, dark, and solid.
And which casts an extremely wide and long shadow over anything that is planted to either side of it.
Last summer, in one of those last moment fits of gardening madness, the DH decided he wanted to put sunflowers into the garden. Because we’d already planted nearly every other bed, we were left with one of the beds at the eastern end of the arrangement. To say those sunflowers dominated that garden last year is to put it mildly. On one side of the sunflowers was a brand new bed we put in last year which had tomatoes in it. Once the day was past noon, those tomatoes were basically trying to grow in the dark. Disaster. The plants crouched on the ground as if waiting to be attacked. It was like we were re-playing “Day of the Triffids” in the garden. On the other side of the sunflowers were potatoes and some cabbage family plants, which suffered in the early morning (when the sun is not terribly effective in any case up here), but which ended up doing fine because they had all the sun from noon through 8:30 when the sun dropped down behind the hill. That end of the garden did..just..fine.
So, lesson learned.
First: plan out your garden on paper. Depending on the path of the sun at YOUR house (and all other forms of shade from trees, out buildings and so on), put the tall things where they will cast their shade at the end of the day. In our case, if the DH wants to grow corn or sunflowers again, we will reserve the farthest west garden bed for him. And we will mulch and compost accordingly because corn is very greedy in that way.
Second: Start the planting according to the path of the sun — that is, plant the beds or side closest to where the sun comes up, and move in the direction of the path of the sun as it moves through the day. That way, you will end up at the end that if you want to put something tall in, or change your mind, or discover something else that is tall that you want to do (climbing beans, cucumbers on a trellis, etc.), you’ll be able to do that without shading out anything else.
Third: Stick with the plan. I cannot tell you how many times we have ended up sticking odd stuff in little out of the way spots because someone decided “Oh, joy – I have a wizard idea – let’s plant this!!” Think the whole thing through – now is as good a time as any – and stick to the plan. Much better in the long run.