A south-facing garden can make it difficult to grow vegetables or fruit trees, yet in the hot Australian climate; the gentle coolness of a southern aspect can be a true blessing.
In Australia, the sun is usually in the northern part of the sky and moves even farther north in winter. On the southern side of a house, tree or other structure, plants can miss out on strong, direct sunlight, especially during winter. Sometimes these plants will need to survive cold, dark months in the depths of winter when they receive no direct sunlight at all. Usually the only time plants on the southern side will see the sun will be during the summer, in the mornings or afternoons. This makes it a challenge to grow many types of plants in the part of your garden that faces south.
As tempting as it may be, you should not attempt to grow true sun loving plants such as roses and pelargoniums in long-term shady areas — it will only end in pests, diseases and disappointment. Fortunately there are many beautiful plants that are able not only to survive, but can flourish in these conditions.
Shrubs that require some degree of protection from the heat and direct light of the sun such as hydrangea, mist flower (Bartlettina sordida) (Syn. Eupatorium megalophyllum), vireya rhododendron, azalea and abutilon (Chinese lanterns) simply relish a southern aspect.
I love the southern part of my garden as it allows me to indulge in hardy, warm climate bulbs such as habranthus (rain lily), scadoxus (blood lily) and the golden spider lily (Lycoris aurea). These delightful plants bear their colourful blooms at different times of year and all seem to shine in a southern environment. Because of the gentle light, the flowers seem to last longer and don’t get scorched or bleached by the sun.
The soil on the southern side of your house can remain wetter for longer periods. This can mean it needs less artificial watering and that you can select plants that enjoy more moist conditions. Mass plantings of native violet (Viola hederacea) or plectranthus species are quick growing ground covers that will enjoy the extra moisture.
Indoor plants on vacation…
Indoor pot plants like philodendrons, fuchsias or bromeliads can benefit from an occasional spell outdoors in a south-facing position. Here, they can enjoy natural outdoor elements like rain, the cool night air and gentle breezes without being stressed or burned by the sun. Indoor plants that refuse to bloom can even be coaxed into flowering with this treatment before being brought back indoors.
Indoor plants can of course, become permanent outdoor plants in a south-facing position and if you keep them in their pots they can be moved around to capture just the right amount of sunlight.
A cool retreat
The southern side of the garden can be the perfect place for entertaining during hot weather, so enhance it with paving, a gazebo or pergola.
Of climbing plants, deciduous varieties such as wisteria, ornamental grape or clematis can be good choices as they will make the most of the pleasing, indirect winter sunlight. Although beautiful, evergreen species can make a southerly aspect cold, dark and unwelcoming during the depths of winter.
Shady areas are less susceptible to being colonised by weeds, but there are still some culprits. In cooler regions, even much-loved plants like forget-me- not and honesty can become weedy, out-competing more delicate plants such as true snowdrops (Galanthus sp.) or woodland species like trillium.
During winter, many types of moss will make an appearance in areas facing south, especially on compacted soil in lawns. Moss can be treated by adding small amounts of Searles Iron Chelate and watering it into the soil. Aerating the soil by digging in a large garden fork can help promote the growth of lawn as it allows oxygen to get down to the roots of the grass.
Lawns in the shade
Many fine-textured lawns can struggle in these shadier sites, so choose a broad-leafed variety that can cope with shade, such as Searles Sun & Shade Lawn Seed. Sow it during warmer weather so it is established by the time winter arrives.
If you can’t grow a lawn of any kind in these areas, consider a lawn substitute such as Dichondra repens (kidney weed), pennyroyal mint (Mentha pulegium), Viola odorata (English Violet) or even blue bugle (Ajuga repens).
Every garden comes with its own assortment of challenges and benefits. It’s up to us to make stronger observations on the environment in which to garden and find out from your local trusted nursery and horticulturist what choices will work best for you in your region.
Noel Burdette is a highly respected Local horticulturist and plantsman in Se Qld and is well known for his love of naturalistic and softer style gardens . Apart from having his own Private garden consultancy service , Noel can be regularly heard on 1116 4bc talking gardening each Saturday morning and is a contributor to many local garden magazines such as Subtropical gardening , About the Garden and Queensland Smart Farmer (Rural Press) . He is also a regular presenter on the locally produced television programme Blooming in Brisbane” which airs each week on Digital 31. Noel holds a flag highly for healthy backyard ecologies and is often heard at many garden events, clubs and Societies throughout south East Queensland. On request, Noel also offers a private garden consultation and design service. Whenever Noel has the opportunity, he can be found eagerly tending to his own garden “Wildside” which is highly focused on healthy ecology and plant diversity. Visit Noel’s blog http://noel-burdette.com.