The sun through the seasons

The summer solstice is nearly here. In north Wales, that means that the sun is up for 17hrs a day (even if we can’t see it because of clouds…); the nights are never really dark; the sun rises in the north east and sets in the north west; and it climbs to a height of 60 degrees above the horizon at its peak.

By contrast, at the winter solstice, the sun is only up for about seven and a half hours; it rises in the south east, setting in the south west; and it barely manages to climb more than 17 degrees above the horizon.

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The position of the sunrise and sunset at the winter and summer solstices in north Wales
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The position of the sunrise and sunset at the winter and summer solstices in north Wales

In garden planning, it’s important to consider the paths that the sun takes across the sky through the year. Most growing is done between April and August and parts of a garden which might seem too shady for production during the winter will, in fact, receive plenty of sunshine during the growing season.

There are lots of tools on the internet to help calculate the path of the sun. Or, if you have time, you can just watch the way the sun moves through the seasons and then plan a garden to fit with that.

Funnily, I’ve noticed that estate agents almost always say that a garden is south facing – apparently it increases the value of a property. And in a way it’s true – from some point in any garden you can always face south and who’s to say which way a garden actually “faces” anyway!

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The earliest darkness of the year

In this corner of north Wales, today is the day when the evenings stop getting shorter. Although it’s still nearly a fortnight until the winter solstice and the shortest overall day length the sun won’t set any earlier than it does today – about four o’clock this afternoon. It always feels like turning a corner and heading into a new year from now on, even though it will be another 10 days or so before the evenings actually start staying light later: for the next 10 days it will be a four o’clock sunset everyday. And until the New Year, the sunrise will be a little bit later everyday.

Winter sunset over the dunes at Penrhos beach
Winter sunset over the dunes at Penrhos beach, Anglesey

So far this winter, we have only had the slightest touch of frost and many tender plants are still growing strong in the garden. Some of the deciduous trees and shrubs are still hanging on to a few of their leaves. This hazel is confused: next to this year’s leaf the bud that should open next spring is starting to burst already.

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