The Cold Side of the Garden

It was only during a few days of particularly cold weather that the garden revealed a significant difference in seasonal micro-climates created by the low winter sun and the thick beech hedge that runs the length of one edge. The long shadow cast by the hedge reaches a third-way up the width of the garden and neatly divides it in two. The warmer “half” – where there will be the “exotics” border and the large herbaceous border – is bathed in yellow winter sunlight for a fair amount of the day while the colder “half” – containing Fruit Avenue, Judas Rise and some of Magnolia Hill – remains shaded and misses out on the suns weak but warming rays.

Winter Frosting Half the Garden

The line between the two is clear and distinct and any particular plant in this garden has it’s feet surrounded by frost or warming soil. In future, I will refer back to this image that vividly shows the two extremes and the position of the dividing line when I’m thinking of placing plants that may be border-line hardy for our conditions. Hardier plants will have to go on the right, more tender ones to the left. Terracotta pots should also end up on the left, plants that prefer cooler conditions to the right. When it comes to Fruit Avenue, being placed in the cold helps with dormancy for the fruit trees and bushes but may be a risk with lingering or late frost on early blossom.

Though these are two distinct parts of the garden, I don’t see one as better or worse than the other. They both have their advantages (and disadvantages) and choosing the side that’s suited best for a particular plant is the important bit. Along with this micro-climate created by the hedge will be numerous others created by other factors such as soil height, drainage, water table, slope, wind exposure and so on. As the borders mature, the trees, larger shrubs and indeed plant collections will all create their own micro-climate zones too and there will be micro climates within microclimates to the point where you can start to imagine a fascinating and intricate web of micro-climate inter-dependencies where the flutter of a passing butterfly’s wings might just stop the clematis from dying (again).

15 Comments


  1. That is a super photo – and very useful. It is so important to be aware of frost pockets in the garden. I have one area – just a metre by a metre and a half, which stays frosty for days. Fortunately I spotted it before I planted, so like you, I was able to adapt my plant choices accordingly. It certainly pays to observe your garden!

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    1. Hello Sarah, it is a pretty large frost pocket caused by the hedge but there’s not much that can be done about it. As the borders are mounded up and shaped, the north side of the borders can also stay frozen because they remain in shade, while the south side warms and thaws. I’m taking time to observe where the sun and shadows fall in winter as the surrounding trees create a constantly shifting sunny/dappled/deep shade that moves across the garden with the sun. The patio remains the warmest and sunniest place though.

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  2. You seem to be on top of things Sunil. It is a good approach to know your local conditions.

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    1. Hello Alain, thank you, there’s still going to be a lot of trial an error, especially when it comes to areas of the garden that are wind funnels and areas that take a long time to drain. Water retention (lack of drainage) is a big “problem” in the garden that I’m hoping to turn into a feature and plan and plant for accordingly.

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  3. If British butterflies can keep a clematis alive, send them to me! The drastic differences in your garden are really interesting. I love how analytical you are about your garden. It makes the planning so much easier. 🙂

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    1. Hello Tammy, I wish they could keep Clematis alive! If clematis grew that badly in the wild, they would have gone extinct a very long time ago. It’s strange to have other people refer to me as being analytical in the garden where it feels as though all I have is a rough plan, a picture in my mind and a kind of vague impression of the “atmosphere” I want to create. I think that while the borders are sparse, my ideas are still fluid and shifting. As the plants grow and the borders fill out, those ideas crystallise out and take form (and I just have to hope it’s a good one).

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  4. That’s an amazing difference. And I imagine you will refer back to this photo frequently as you choose the right plant for the right place.

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    1. Hello Jean, I certainly will when it comes to spring bulb planting and deciding where to put more tender plants. As the days grow longer, I can see that the shadow cast by the hedge is retreating and it has actually reduced by a few feet already. It will be interesting to see how late it will be before the sun is high enough to warm the soil on Fruit Avenue.

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  5. That’s fascinating….. we are at the top of a hill, so it does get hit by frost, but as the sun moves, certainly some areas become frost-free before others. However, thinking into the future, what a gift that two climate garden may become! If you plant (say) tulips on both sides of the garden, will the frost hold back half of them so that you get two shows?

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    1. Hello Mrs Mac, I didn’t think of that – the colder side of the garden will delay the flowering of the same plants and we’ll get an extended show – especially for spring bulbs where the sunny side will warm up much earlier than the shaded side. That, Mrs Mac, is a stroke of genius!

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  6. Sunil, I’ve seen your name in comments on other garden blogs I read and today finally found the time to look at yours. “Transforming a large garden, one border at a time” — that’s as clear a statement of purpose as I’ve ever read. And the line separating the two halves of your garden, warm and cool, is the same. I look forward to reading more of your blog, as the weeks go on.

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    1. Hello Pat, thanks for commenting. I hope this blog and the garden’s inexorable march to becoming a very special place – one border at a time – keeps you entertained in the future.

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  7. I’m impressed that you’ve come to know the varying microclimates of your new garden so fast.

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    1. Hello Jason, no doubt there will be be many more and they will change as the plants grow. I think mastering the micro-climates in the garden lets you grow a much larger range of plants than you would otherwise normally imagine.

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