Just a very basic question that's been ruminating in my head for a while, and whilst the answer may be obvious, I can't seem to find anyone who has addressed it directly.
So we all know in a forest garden the idea of layering is a great way of mimicking a forest and maximising space utilised, ideally in a North - South orientation...............this is the important point I'm trying to make.
Every design or explanation of maximising sunlight talks about tall things at the back, short at the front to maximise sun from the South.
But what about East - West. Westerly afternoon sun in the northern hemisphere is the preferable exposure over morning easterly right?, and yet every design I see just puts all the rows of layers pretty much in a line, as if the southerly exposure is the only thing that matters. So the westerly most tree, shrub, herb etc receives all the afternoon sun, and the rest get somewhat shaded which obviously means fruits on that side of the tree or shrub doesn't ripen aswell as southerly facing fruit.
I'm attaching a diagram to illustrate the point.
So my question is, is there any merit in staggering the plants? Admittedly this means in the north-south direction there is less room to plant, but it allows more light to the neighbouring plant in the E-W axis. Or am I overthinking it. As I say, most designs don't seem to give it much consideration.
This is an area that must vary by location. Here we try to arrange plants so that only the most heat hardy plants get full afternoon sun. Many plants can only take full sun in the cooler morning hours. It's more of an issue with smaller plants, though.
I think part of the reasoning behind recommended tree spacing it to be sure a tree has enough room to get sunlight. First a smaller tree has enough distance to be out of the shade of its neighbors and as it grows larger it rises above that same shadow.
I guess I look at it more randomly, like I see mother nature plant. I am always amazed as I walk through a diverse forest and see how trees grow naturally.
In nature some trees grow big and tall and hog all of the sun, some grow under them. So I guess the way I would have to look at planting a food forest is sort of like a savanna of big trees with smaller and smaller trees underneath and around them. Designing this seems like it would be a lot of work to get it right. Considering succession, allelopathy, soils, water, as well as sun and shade. I have seen some pretty good food forests on you tube that seem pretty random that are doing just fine.
It seems that spacing for maximum sunlight would leave a lot of ground without trees ? Or am I missing the point?
One rule of thumb I use and try to instill is the "10-2" maxim. The greatest solar intensity is between 10 am and 2 pm sun time, so if you have plants that need direct sun and they only get it during this window, they will do fine. This is why orienting alleyways on a N-S axis is a good thing, and why chasing sunlight at the margins of the day isn't always worth the effort (although when you're in a room with a west-facing window on a hot summer afternoon you will most certainly pick up plenty of solarenergy).
I'd suggest you watch the plants in the area, watch which way they lean. Where do they face. A lot of plants will face east if they have sunlight in that direction. If it gets cold in the early spring then a plant will face not only the light but the heat.