The Homeowners Column

The Homeowners Column

Design a Moon Garden

Photo of Sandra Mason

Sandra Mason
State Master Gardener Coordinator
slmason@illinois.edu

Oh by the light of the silvery moon. Remember those first warm nights of spring; a clear moon casting shadows; the frogs calling for that perfect mate; a gentle breeze of rain washed air. OK now admit it, we do have a few of those nights. Why not plan a part of your garden around the night? During a hectic work week that may be the only time you really get to enjoy your garden.

Moon gardens are special gardens designed to be seen at dusk and into the night. It may be a garden designed for a stroll or a garden designed to be viewed from a screened in porch or patio. Add a bit of outdoor lighting to guide you down a path or up light an interesting small tree. Solar lights are versatile. They are never quite as bright as electric but cast a pleasant warm glow, about like 100 fireflies caught in a jar.

Luckily there are plants perfect for work on the night shift. Some plants have flowers that only open at night to exude their wonderful fragrance. A strategy meant to attract the night pollinating moths. Some have flowers that get more fragrant at night and some just look good at night because of their white flowers or silvery leaves. Gardens designed around white flowers and silver-leaved plants are dramatic day and night. Include plants with different sized and shaped flowers and different textured leaves. Add a touch of another color such as red or blue for a spark.

Moon flower, Ipomoea alba, is a show stopper. The spiraled flower buds flirt with you during the day as you anticipate the night show. The large 6 inch wide white flowers start unfurling about dusk. Get up close to inhale the flower's fragrance. This relative of the morning glory is a vigorous growing vine and kind of looks like a morning glory on steroids with large flowers and large heart shaped leaves. It can be used to scramble over arbors and onto large trellises. It does best in full sun to partial shade. It is an annual but can be started from seed from the previous season or from garden centers. For proper germination soak the seed overnight or file the hard seed coat with nail file.

Angel's Trumpet, Datura spp. is also called moon flower. Its large upward or outward facing trumpet shaped flowers look very tropical. Depending on the species and cultivar, flowers may be white, pink, lavender, purple or yellow. Some are double flowered. They are sometimes called thorn apples because of their prickly seed pods. The plants are usually grown as annuals but can reach 2-3 feet tall in one season. They love heat and full sun. On warm summer nights the flowers are particularly fragrant. All parts of this plant are poisonous, so no grazing in the garden.

Similar plants are the brugmansias with their downward facing flowers. Their shrubby habit and large trumpet flowers lend a dramatic flair to a moon garden. They can be pruned into a small tree. Since they are tropical plants, some gardeners grow them in containers for transport back into the house for winter. Larger plants mean more flowers. There are many cultivars including some with double flowers. Brugmansia are also poisonous and should not be used around kids or experimentally-minded teenagers.

Other night fragrant flowers include night blooming jasmine, flowering tobacco and sweet autumn clematis.

Silvery leaved plants such as lamb's ear and artemesias can reflect the moonlight. Variegation is "in" so there are many plants with green and white variegated leaves.

Don't give up enjoying your garden just because the sun set. There are several theme garden books that include moon garden designs. Also the moon garden forum is http://forums.gardenweb.com/forums/moon/

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