The garden by night in the subtropics
As we approach the tropics day length varies less. We have shorter summer days and longer winter days than our southern neighbours (sunset at 6.45 midsummer, 5.30 midwinter). Dawn and Dusk are brief.
Unfortunately Queensland still does not have daylight saving, which paradoxically becomes even more important as you approach the equator (our cows are more sensitive and our curtains tend to fade more up here apparently – it’s a uniquely Queensland occurrence!).
Most working families only see their garden at night or on the weekend. As the temperatures are more equable in the subtropics, many meals are eaten on the verandah or in the garden. Families can have comfortable warm evenings in July (although this is unusual), but spring, summer and autumn are the mainstays for outdoor living. The use of burners and fire pits extends the season.
Being in the garden at night, means that white, night scented flowers are popular. Frangipanni, Gardenia, Eurycles, Hylocereus perfume the garden by night. Water and reflective or textured leaves can take on a new lease of life by night.
Nights spent in the garden also make garden lighting far more important in this climate, than those to the south.
The light in the subtropics can be strong and glary. In comparison the wet tropics to the north, cloud cover and humidity filter this light. It is not unusual for plants to be burnt (visible scalding of larger leaves) during hot weather in summer. This is less likely to happen in zones to the north or south. The worst month for burning is December, leading up to Christmas when it can be warm and dry.
This strong subtropical light shows up shadows and highlights, rather than soft textures. Pastel colours are washed out and rich colours are visually faded. The light is strongest in early summer. Jacaranda trees blooming at this time can look faded and pale. These trees usually bloom a second time in March when the light is softer and the flowers appear to be more intense.
From a comfort viewpoint paving and wall surfaces need to be neutral tones. If they are white or light coloured they produce an unpleasant glare, if they are dark, the surfaces heat up and are unpleasant to walk on or be close to.
Minimising hard surfaces and covering the ground, walls and rooftops with plants provides a far more comfortable environment for users. This is in contrast to the large and often bare surfaces which are popular in southern latitudes.
[Extract from article presented at the ABC Gardening Australia Live QLD, April 2003]
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