Moonlight Gardening

Written by: Tim Hamilton | Photography by: Melanie McCabe

Are you someone who rises before the sun to join the long string of headlights along the highway and then wind your way home long after sunset? Is the weekend the only time that you see your yard in the daylight? If so, the ‘Moon Garden’ or the ‘Evening Garden’ may be your key to serenity.
Find peace and repose in a garden that looks its best when there is little or no sunlight and the moon is the center of the night sky.

There are two key elements to this type of garden—plants that stand out in low light (e.g., white, yellow, cream) and silver flowers or foliage, architectural or sculptural plants, interesting bark forms, or plants that emit their scents at nighttime to attract pollinators.

Shasta Daisies and 'Silver Fog' Euphorbia are two choices that will work well in your Moon Garden.

Low-wattage lights can be used to enhance garden features or create dramatic shadows and textures. Many people install pathways lined with oystershell or other luminescent material that reflect the light of the moon.

A decorative torch is one of the touches which accentuates the beauty of your garden.

There are a large number of plants that are perfect for this type of gardening. Flowers and foliage that glow as the sun sets begin the orchestration. Orange and yellow flowers and foliage catch the last rays of the setting sun, giving them a dramatically different look than at midday.  Purple and fuchsia flowers and foliage shine rather than retreat at this time of the day.

As darkness falls, cream, light-yellow, white and silver flowers and foliage glitter. You can see how Coreopsis ‘Moonbeam’ earned its name as it twinkles in the fading light and becomes iridescent after dark.

Coreopsis ‘Moonbeam’

Plants with shiny leaves, such as holly and rhododendron, reflect any light that is present, drawing them into the foreground. They become focal points in the landscape rather than a mere subtlety. This is also true of many variegated foliage plants. Special mention should be made of silver foliage plants. During the day, the silver foliage reflects the bright sun and protects the plant from intense sun and dryness. At night, this same foliage glows under the moonlight. A moon garden introduces a cast of characters that were always there, but were never obvious. Now they dominate.

Both 'Dura-Heat' River Birch (left) and 'Rainbow Pillar' Service Berry have uniquely beautiful bark characteristics that will pop in a Moon Garden design.

Trees and shrubs with contrasting colored bark, such as whitish to brownish or cinnamon exfoliating bark (e.g. – birch, pines and maples), twisted shapes of weeping trees, topiary or tortured forms (Harry Lauder’s Walking Stick) strut through the evening landscape. Unique shadows form.

Ornamental grasses are an often-overlooked element of gardens, but in a moon garden, they are indispensable.

'Cosmopolitan' Maiden Grass

Not only do they provide texture and color to a garden, but they are the voice of a nighttime garden as they sway and rustle in the warm summer breezes. And, when fall approaches, they change color and dramatic plumes appear, providing new focal points in the garden.

‘Karley Rose’ Fountain Grass

As dusk turns into twilight, and twilight turns into darkness, the most dramatic aspect of a moon garden is revealed as the nighttime-flowering plants begin to open.
Some of the most beautiful waterlilies and exotic purple and blue tropicals open and remain so until the next morning.  There is a group of daylilies that do the same. We have all learned about Four O’Clocks in nursery rhymes, but have you ever seen one bloom?  Midnight parties are put on by gardeners to watch the White Night-blooming Cactus unfurl. It is truly an experience of a lifetime.

The list of plants that are more fragrant at night is a lengthy one. Moths are the secret pollinators which gather the sweet nectar at night and pollinate these flowers, taking up the night shift in a position usually held by butterflies and bees. White is the predominate color of this type of flower. Some of the most exotic orchids with long, narrow flower parts have evolved for fertilization by long-tongued moths in Madagascar.

The next time you visit Homestead Gardens, visit our various departments and find out which plants would work best for you in a nighttime garden. Shake it up a little. Become a night-owl and see your garden like you’ve never seen it before.

Suggested plants for a moon garden:

• All of the above
• Hydrangea ‘Limelight’ (Hydrangea paniculata)
• Rose Mallow ‘Luna Blush’ (Hibiscus moscheutos)
• Rose of Sharon ‘White Chiffon’ (Hibiscus syriacus)
• Crapemyrtle ‘Acoma’ (Lagerstroemia indica)
• Phlox ‘David’ (Phlox paniculata)
• Speedwell ‘Icicle’ (Veronica spicata)
• White Cleome (Cleome hassleriana)
• Silver Mound (Artesmia schmidtiana)
• Lily ‘Sunny Salawesi’ (Lilium)
• Flowering Tobacco (Nicotiana sylvestris)
• Canna Lily ‘Tropical White’ (Canna x generalis)

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