Extension Educator, Horticulture
I often wander around in my garden at dusk. It's a cooler, quieter time of day just when I need a cooler, quieter place to unwind from an over-wound day. We usually design our garden with the daytime in mind even though many of us enjoy our gardens at night. University of Illinois Extension educator Martha Smith recently shared her ideas on how to plan an evening garden.
Choose a garden site that is easily viewed from a comfortable spot, such as your favorite chair on a deck or a rocker on a porch.
To ensure enjoyment, select plants that will give the best show from 6 p.m. until nightfall and beyond.
Colors are important for your evening garden. Dark, cool flower colors such as purple and deep blue will be lost at dusk. Light colors take on a luminescent quality in the evening. White, cream, or yellow will pop out. Pale pinks and blues will work but place them adjacent to lighter colors, against white fencing or light colored rocks for contrast.
Perennials come in and out of bloom according to the season. Gardeners should choose spring, summer, and fall bloomers to ensure a continuous flow of color.
For white flowers, Smith recommended tall garden phlox, oriental lily, Shasta daisy, spring anemone, baby's breath, Euphorbia corollata, boltonia, tulip, daffodil, bleeding heart, or gas plant.
Soft yellows or creams can be found in 'Moonbeam' coreopsis, 'Creme Brulee' coreopsis, daylily, hollyhock, fall mums, or columbine.
Annuals will bloom all season and fill those in-between times when the perennials aren't at their peak. Alyssum, impatiens, petunias, geraniums, verbena, cosmos, or spider flower all offer light colors that will shine in the low evening light.
It is important to also remember foliage color. Dark colored foliage such as burgundy or dark green will also be lost in an evening garden. Introduce silver foliage with artemesia, dusty miller, lambs ear, or yarrow. Yellow foliage will really shine with plants such as hosta, barberry, veronica, caryopteris, or coleus.
Chartreuse foliage is popular. Look for more introductions boasting this lime color such as 'Marguerita' sweet potato vine. Foliage with variegations of white or gold also works well to add light.
Fragrance is an important factor in the evening garden, too. Spring-blooming hyacinth, night-blooming stock, sweet pea, carnation, peony, or nicotiana all will add a delicate scent to your garden. Herbs are also great for fragrance. Creeping thyme underfoot or a rosemary or mint plant within reach to pinch for a fresh jolt of fragrance are great additions to the evening garden.
Moon vine (Ipomoea alba) has large white flowers that open in the evening and glow. Their fragrance attracts night pollinators which provide added entertainment in an evening garden.
Angel's Trumpet, Datura spp. also called moon flower has large upward or outward facing trumpet shaped flowers that 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. Similar plants are the brugmansias with their downward facing flowers. All parts of datura are poisonous, so no grazing in the garden.
Other ideas to add spice to your evening garden include adding sound with water fountains or adding light. Consider areas to add outdoor lighting such as uplighting trees. Gardens can take on a completely different attitude at night.