The Night Garden
If you’re like most people, when you arrive home at the end of the day, your
garden’s already gone to bed and you miss out on the result of all those weekends of
work you put into it. A well-designed night garden, however, offers a landscape that at
6 p.m. is just starting to wake up. The right combination of lighting, night-blooming
flowers, and elements that appeal to senses other than sight can create a garden that’s
well worth staying up for.
Night garden lighting
Night garden lighting requires balance: walkways should be lit well enough to let you walk comfortably and not worry about stumbling, but not lit so brightly as to drown out the garden’s subtleties. Avoid flood lighting, which creates
“light pollution” at eye level and limits the eye’s ability to see the stars and the
details of the garden. Simply lighting essential areas like walkways and seating
should provide more than enough light. Between the two styles of lighting—inset and
above-ground—above-ground lighting is often less expensive and easier to install, but some feel it’s less attractive than inset lighting.
Solar powered lighting will save money, but be sure it will still be working when you need it,
even if that means at 3 a.m.
For the most attractive effects, incorporate lighting into the landscape. Water features, especially waterfalls,
are ideal candidates for lighting, as they combine the visual interest of the play of
light on the water with relaxing sound of a running stream. For dramatic effect, position lights to
reflect from textured surfaces such as walls or textured plants. Lighting the base of a statue or placing lights inside tall grass can both highlight a particular garden element and
help the lighting itself blend in.
[See BLI’s Landscape Lighting for more ideas.]
The other four senses: the “eyes” don’t have it all.
Needless to say, human eyesight is not in its prime at night, even with extra lighting.
The other senses, however, are just as strong. To take
advantage of this, add plants that appeal to hearing, smell, and touch. Money plant (also called “honesty”)
is both audible and has an appealing texture. Pampas grass is audible and makes
a dramatic lighting “fixture”.
[See BLI’s Audible Garden,
Aromatic Garden, and Touch Garden for ideas on each sense.]
Mother Nature has created a surprisingly wide variety of night-blooming flowers. The commonly pale or white blossoms of these flowers reflect moonlight to attract insects for pollination.
Although many prefer warmer climates, a good number will grow in moderate climates (and delicate plants can be taken in for winter). Glossy foliage or foliage with contrasting textures also tends to “glow” in the moonlight.
(Note: the more flowers you have in your garden, the more insects you’ll attract. Although this is true day or night, the difference at night is that in some parts of the world, these insects will attract bats. While bats’ swooping and diving can be startling, almost all are harmless and can navigate
around something as fine as a human hair. They don’t touch people and, contrary to the myth, they won’t get tangled in your hair
or clothes. Bats, in fact are nature’s bug-zappers and can help control the mosquito population. If you have a serious mosquito problem,
you may even want to attract bats with a bat roosting box.)
Night Blooming Cereus/Queen of the Night (Epiphyllum oxypetalum or Epiphyllum purpusii)
This plant is called “queen” for a reason: its pure white lotus-like flowers
send out a heady fragrance that can fill a whole garden with ambience. It’s also royally tempermental and each plant seems to have its own blooming frequency and quantity of blooms. Generally, flowers opens after dusk, reach full bloom by midnight and fade by sunrise, though some last up to a week. It can be a little unruly, sending out long runners in no particular pattern. Night Blooming Cereus cannot survive frost and must be taken in for the winter.
Moonvine or Moonflower
Moonflower (Ipomoea alba), an anual vine related to the morning glory, can climb and spread
to 10 feet. Its large white flowers stay tightly closed by day and unfurl at dusk to release a soft, lemony fragrance.
Angel’s trumpet or Datura
Angel’s trumpet (Datura innoxia), another annual vine, offers long, white, trumpet-shaped flowers that open in late afternoon and can grow up to 8 inches long.
Narrowleaf evening primrose
Narrowleaf evening primrose
(Oenothera fruticosa) is a perennial wildflower with pale yellow blooms that release
a sweet scent in the evening between dusk and dark. In the summer, the blooming period is only about 15 minutes, with sunset being prime blooming time.
Four o’clock (Mirabilis jalapa) is an annual whose flowers open, as the name implies,
around four o’clock in the afternoon, in speckled or striped reds, yellows, rose-shades or white.
Mrs. George C. Hitchcock water lilly
Perfect for a night-time water garden. This lilly produces highly fragrant, pink blossoms of some ten inches across that open at dark and close around midday. Although it continues blooming late into the summer, it’s a tropical and should be taken indoors before the frost.
Yucca (Yucca filamentosa) is a perennial with spiky foliage and tall flower stalks
that provide flowers all day. At night, however, the flowers lift to release a unique
soap-like smell. Watch out, though, as yuccas attract bugs.
Button snakeroot (Eryngium yuccifolium) is a perennial wildflower with sword-shaped foliage and tall flower stalks bearing white, globe-shaped flowers.
The flowers of the night phlox (Phlox ‘Midnight Candy’) open at dusk and release a fragrance reminiscent of almond, vanilla, and honey.
This plant, a member of the family Solanaceae (nightshade family), is native to tropical America,
although there are a few North American species and several others in the South Pacific, Australia, and South Western Africa. Most varieties are cultivated for their fragrant trumpet-shaped flowers that open at night.
Despite their diurnal name, the daylilies (Hemerocallis) of the varieties ‘Moon Frolic’ and ‘Toltec Sundial’ do bloom at night.
Other plants for the night shift
The silver or white fuzz on the foliage of plants like Lamb’s ear (artemesia), silver sage (Salvia argentea), caladiums (Caladium bicoloror), and variegated cannas (Canna indica) both reflect light and add texture. Vegetables can take part in the show, too. The white fruit of the ‘Alba’ eggplant and of the ‘Casper’ or ‘Boo’ white pumpkins add a strikingly usual effect to the nighttime vegetable patch.
In areas where the nights tend toward chilly (which, in the pre-dawn hours, is true of most areas), even a simple patio heater can keep you comfortable so you can enjoy your garden more. Whether you prefer the look and atmosphere of a chiminea’s open-flame heating or the convenience of electric heating, there is a variety of options for taking the chill out of the air with style and efficiency.
[Visit BLI’s Garden Heating section for more ideas.]
When choosing decor, look for either easy-to-see elements or decor that doesn’t depend on sight. Statues with deep cuts or textures that will cast strong
shadows will work well with lighting. Hearing-dependent decor like windchimes and fountains also make ideal night garden features.
- How to Design a Butterfly Garden
- Mountain and High-Altitude Landscaping
- Plan a Cut Flower Garden for Beautiful Bouquets Year Round
- Hummingbird Garden Plans
- Rose Garden Design Ideas
- The Foliage Garden: Always in Season
- A Child’s Own Garden
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