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    Garden Planning: Night Gardens

    Authored by Leah Chester-Davis

    Whether you call it a night or moonlight garden, the name alone conjures up enchantment. Think of beautiful plants that seem even lovelier when highlighted by moonglow. While some plants bloom late in the day or only in evening, such as four o’clocks and moonflowers, night gardens are also often noted for plants that boast white blooms, have a lovely fragrance, or have silvery or variegated foliage. They may be accentuated with special lighting to play up both the plants and the overall ambience of the garden. Whether it is your entire landscape, a corner of your yard, or a patio, a night garden helps extend the enjoyment of your garden. It just may become your favorite spot on a warm summer evening or to view year-round from inside your home.

    Where to put a night garden

    Wherever moonlight typically falls in your garden is a good place to start, such as a spot that is not blocked by tree canopy or by shadows. Another consideration is a spot where you will be most likely to spend your time in the evening when outside. Also think about what your best night view from inside your home might be. Even a collection of containers on your patio can be used to create a striking moon garden.

    What plants do I put in a moonlight garden

    While it may be difficult to see the shades of colorful blooms at night, white and other light-colored flowers seem to shimmer. The options are plentiful, especially when you consider annuals, perennials, bulbs, and even trees and shrubs. Pair white-blooming plants with those that have silvery foliage and you will have a striking palette for evening relaxation, entertaining, and enjoyment.

    To get started, look for white plant varieties. As you peruse books, magazines, the web, and visit garden centers and nurseries, make a note of plants you want to try.

    Here are a few to get you started, which include a mix of different shapes and sizes and bloom times. By adding a mix of the following, you will likely have both fragrance and something blooming from spring into fall and even winter, depending on your gardening zone. When planting, consider masses of one type plant in one spot for greater impact. For example, several daisies together edged by several lower-growing alyssum plants will create more interest than will one plant here and there.

    Annuals: 

    • Impatiens, petunias, alyssums, daisies, zinnias, begonias, nicotianas
    • Moonflower has fragrant white blooms and grows as a vine so plant it near a pergola, obelisk, or other structure where it can twirl and twine for architectural effect
    • Night-blooming phlox has the bonus of being fragrant. It can grow as a groundcover or at the edge of a border

    Perennials:

    • Shasta daisies, coneflowers, peonies, evening primroses, candytufts
    • Clematis is a perennial vine that has showy flowers. It’s beautiful climbing up a wall trellis or a porch post or tumbling over a fence or wall

    Bulbs:

    • Hyacinths, crocuses, ornamental onions, lilies-of-the-valley

    Shrubs:

    • Camellias, hydrangeas, viburnums, deutzias, spireas, gardenias, pieris, roses, roses of Sharon
    • Gardenias have a lovely scent that will perfume your entire garden. Viburnums also are known for their sweet fragrance

    Trees:

    • Dogwoods, Natchez crape myrtles, fringe, serviceberries, smoketrees, crabapples, Yoshino cherries, hawthorns

    Foliage Plants:

    • Along with white-blooming plants, silvery foliage adds another dimension to the moon or night garden
    • One of the most favorite is lamb’s ear. Others are dusty miller and artemisia. Each adds both interesting foliage and texture
    • Variegated plants also add interest. There are several variegated hostas on the market. Look for those that can tolerate some sun to partial shade

    Other garden elements to consider

    Special lighting

    A night or moon garden has appeal, thanks to the moonlight, that seems to make white blooms reflect the light and glisten. Adding other lighting can add to the ambience. It can be as simple as a few well-placed solar lights, lanterns, or even a candle or two.

    Strategically placed landscape lighting to accent certain plants, walkways or other features can be an option. Strings of lights hanging from trees, an arbor, or pergola also add enchantment, making the night garden a place to relax and unwind. The key is to be subtle with the lighting so that the major light source is the moon.

    Pathways

    If your garden extends beyond a patio or terrace, it may be worth considering the materials used for the pathways. White or light-colored pebbles or stones help make it easier to stroll in your garden by moonlight.

    Water features

    A mix of white plants that are both attractive and fragrant make the night garden one for the senses. Add in the relaxing, soothing sound of water and the garden becomes even more of an oasis. Water features are available in numerous sizes, from ready-made, tabletop versions to larger, more elaborate sculptural options. Some type of lighting on the water feature will help call attention to this soothing element. 

    Seating

    The point of a night garden is to get you outside in the evening to enjoy cooler summer temperatures and to extend the use of your garden. As you plan your garden consider the spots where you most like to linger. This may be the place to add some comfortable lawn chairs and even a small table. 

    Sculptural elements

    Water features, plants that grow up a trellis, and trees can add a sculptural element to your garden. Various art such as sculpture, a gazing ball, mirrors, or even a birdbath will reflect moonlight or other light, adding to the evening garden enchantment, and making it one of your favorite living areas.