Australian gardens have an incredibly bright light. Clear skies, relatively low numbers of cloudy days and little pollution give an intensity to our outdoor environment that is missing in many countries.

The intensity of the light in Australia is immediately obvious when visiting or viewing pictures of many famous European gardens where soft light and often overcast skies change the colour experience completely. Think of the soft light in Monet’s gardens or the romantic English perennial borders. So how do we best make use of this bright Australian light?

The answer is to go with the intensity and use bright bold colours. Plants such as hibiscus, oleander and bougainvillea shine in the bright light and provide a brilliant contrast with dark greens or painted structures and walls. Water plants such as lotus flowers with bright pink blooms look great and grow well in ponds or large water jars. One of the reasons the homes and gardens of the Mediterranean are so striking is the use of colour on structures. The white painted homes of Santorini in the Greek Islands for example provide the perfect foil for the occasional splash of bougainvillea, plumbago, jasmine, oleander or tecoma. The deep blue sea in the distance completes the picture. Many contemporary Australian landscape designers are using bright coloured structures to create the same effect.

Bright light and bright colours though do require relief in warm climates. As much as the bright colours dominate the images from Santorini, it is the cool shady spots out of the sun that people live in when the sun is high in the sky. Pergolas and awnings with climbing plants such as grape vines or climbing roses provide shady courtyards that are considerably cooler than the streets and terraces outside. The cool green in these shady areas seems to intensify both the hot colours outside and the depth of shade inside. Succulents, when used in groups of pots, will look great in bright light. They will also survive the baking sun when the occasional drying out event is almost inevitable. The sculptural shape of many succulent plants such as agave contrast really well with the bright blue sky. Succulent plants have interesting foliage year round and flowers in the warmer months.

Terracotta pots and ornaments work well with high light and high temperatures. The baking sun seems natural for the clay and if anything, the older the terracotta the more personality it displays. Terracotta pots do lose moisture in the form of water vapor through the sides of the pots which helps to cool the root zone; a natural and timeless form of airconditioning. Whilst this does mean a little more watering than some other containers, it also means happier plants in Summer. Bright colourful plantings are a great way to use our incredible light intensity to create a really vivid garden. Bright plantings also contrast more strongly with the cooler shadier parts of the garden which make them even more inviting in Summer.

Words and images by Brian Sams