Most gardens are enjoyed during daylight hours. However, for those people who work long hours during the day, who do not enjoy the heat of the day, or who simply want to try something different, moonlight gardens offer an enticing option.
While bold, dramatic colors enliven a garden that is viewed during the day, pastel and white blooms are more appropriate for the moonlit garden. Brilliant colors will fade into the dark, but white and pastels will stand out and glimmer as they reflect the moonlight.
Does fragrance have to be sacrificed in the night garden? Absolutely not. There are flowers that do not release their scent until night. Pollination? Moths are reliable pollinators that work specifically at night to ensure these flowers continue to produce. They are a beauty and joy to watch in and of themselves.
When choosing plants, do not forget to evaluate the foliage. Variegated or silvery leaves will produce a show in the moonlit garden.
To make a moonlight garden, plan for: white or pastel blooming flowers (annuals and perennials), shrubs with white blooms, flowers that release their scent at night, plants with brightly patterned or sliver foliage, and flowers that open at night.
One of the most popular night plants is the appropriately named Moonflower (Ipomoea alba). It is a night blooming, fragrant relative of the morning glory with 5-6 inch white blooms. It is generally grown from seed and will quickly fill a trellis or arbor on an annual basis. The blooms will open in early evening and close before noon the following day.
Another annual vining plant is Angel’s Trumpet (Brugmansia / Datura innoxia). With 6 inch, sweetly scented trumpet-shaped flowers that appear in midsummer until frost, this selection can also be started from seed. The downside to this plant is that it is a member of the nightshade family and is poisonous. Take care to plant it where it is inaccessible to children and animals.
The blooms of Four O’clock (Mirabilis jalapa) are also trumpet shaped, but come in some pastel shades in addition to white. They release a sweet, jasmine scent when open, which generally occurs late in the late afternoon.
Fragrant columbine (Aquilegia fragrans) is a 12-18-inch-tall perennial with a honeysuckle-like scent. The large pale yellow and white flowers bloom in the spring. This plant can be grown from seed and will readily reseed for a continuous supply to keep the garden full and share with friends.
Shrubs will anchor the moonlight garden and supply structure. White blooming varieties of lilacs (Syringa) will fit the bill and will be on full display in the spring months. Oakleaf hydrangeas (Hydrangea quercifolia) will bloom May through July with their pyramidal panicles of white flowers. Rose of Sharon (Hibiscus syriacus), a larger bush, will bloom later in the season and continue into the fall months. Star magnolia (Magnolia stellate) is actually a small tree with fragrant, showy, star-shaped white March blooms.
Lastly, some silvery foliage plants like lamb’s ear (Stachys byzantine), dusty miller (Senecio cineraria), variegated licorice plant (Helichrysum petiolare), silver sage (Salvia argentea) or hostas with variegated leaves will cap off the garden. These low growing plants provide ground cover and a nice reflection of the moonlight.
White and pastel flowers turn brown when dead, so removing them is a part of the regular maintenance needed. But, an evening stroll in the moonlight garden to complete the task is refreshing to the garden and relaxing to the gardener.
Moonlight gardens need not be large, a few square feet will suffice. Just a small space to reflect the quiet and calm of the night; a refuge from the trials of the day and chance to enjoy being outside.
Certified Master Gardener