The Importance of Light

Light is the most important consideration in gardening. Everything else – soil, water, fertilizer – you can supply, but without adequate light, you are limited.

Light determines what you can grow and where. My problem was that all of my favorite plants needed full sun. Before I moved to the Atlanta area, I had grown roses, zinnias, cosmos, portulaca, and marigolds – both large and small. The vegetable garden alone, at 18×18 feet, had been almost as big as my condo’s entire back yard. All of it requiring full sun.

I can grow some of the sun-loving plants in the two narrow beds in the front of the condo, but there isn’t room for much. The backyard measured 16×27 ft. Not much, but better than the front. The problem was, despite repeated attempts, I just could not get vegetables or sun-loving annuals to grow back there. The problem was light.

I tried for years to grow roses. We’d buy one at the nursery, plant it, watch it struggle for a couple of years, and then put it out of its misery.  (No, we didn’t throw it away. We gave it to one of our neighbors. She had a long-time boyfriend who had a house with an actual yard. For a time, we kept him supplied with roses.)

A few years ago, my wife planted a tomato in the bed on the edge of the patio. To our surprise, it bore fruit…not many, and they were small, but we actually got tomatoes! The next year I planted two tomatoes but the plants grew long and spindely and produced no fruit.

The back yard was toying with us.

Finally, I broke down and bought a garden book specifically for shade gardening. Reading through it gave me ideas of what could grow in the more shaded parts of our yard (ferns, hostas, etc). Unfortunately, very few of them were flowering plants.

The back yard is solidly shaded by the condo itself until 11-12:00. Then it gets full, mid-day sun until 2-3:00 when the shadow of the trees and building behind us covers the yard. This blast of sun during the hottest part of the day wilts almost everything we plant. It’s as if the roots can’t pump water to the leaves fast enough to keep up.

Reluctantly, I decided that, if I was going to grow anything back there, it was probably going to be purely ornamental. I knew azaleas would do in mixed sun and shade, so we planted four Encore azaleas across the back of the yard against the retaining wall. In the center of that row, we planted a hydrangea (Nikko Blue). These survived and grew into attractive shrubbery.

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