On a sunny winter morning, you'll find us sitting outside on our front porch in our shirtsleeves. The plants in the cottage garden next to the porch are soaking up the sun, too. The outside temperature can be below 30°F, but with the winter sun shining on our porch, the temperature can easily reach 70+ degrees.
When we built our house in a sunny meadow, we had the opportunity to create a passive solar design. The front porch is directly south-facing. The north is blocked by the house. The west is blocked by the L-shape formed by the garage with the front porch. This positioning allows us to take advantage of the seasons.
In the winter, the front porch is wonderful on a sunny morning. During the summer, the screened porch on the north side of the house is shaded and cool while the front porch is great in the evenings. The east patio is great for morning sunshine during the fall and spring as well as being shaded on summer afternoons. We made sure that we created outdoor rooms for each season so that we can spend as much time as possible enjoying the gardens.
In the summer, the sun travels directly over the house, totally shading the front porch during the hot months. In the fall, the sunlight gradually intensifies during the morning hours.
Through the coldest months, the sun is lower in the sky and shines directly onto the porch, heating up our favorite places to sit and drink our morning coffee. The stone floor of the porch also absorbs the winter heat produced by the sun and helps to hold the heat during the day.
This passive solar design obviously provides us with energy-savings in both heating and cooling costs. The position of the doors and windows allow light in the house during the winter as well. Being able to sit outside and soak up the rays of the sun in the winter makes the cold weather so much more enjoyable. Our favorite sitting spot is so warm that a planter of coleus survived the cold nights until November 19th. This little spot may be perfect for starting a few seeds early in the spring!
The front cottage garden benefits from this micro-climate, too. In September, we pulled out the shrubs that were in front of the porch and have planted sun-loving perennials and sown seeds for next year's cottage garden. Right now, the plantings are sparse, but I know that the perennials and sown annuals will fill in the space very quickly next summer. Included in the new design are agastache, monarda, echinacea, salvia greggii, salvia guaranitica, lantana, sedum, verbena and poppies. These new plants joined the existing phlox, lavender, dianthus, perennial heliotrope and daylilies. Cosmos, zinnias and other annuals will be sown by seed next spring.
The original shrubs had already outgrown the space due to this warm spot in the garden. This little micro-climate is protected from the winter frost. In the three years of living here, I've never seen frost within 10 feet of the front porch. Of course, during the summer, this is the hottest spot in the garden!
Story and photos by Freda Cameron; Snow photo taken at 10:25 am on January 20, 2008; Porch photos taken at 11:41 am on November 17, 2008.