The Homeowners Column

The Homeowners Column

Design a moon garden with plants that work the nightshift

Photo of Sandra Mason

Sandra Mason
State Master Gardener Coordinator

Oh by the light of the silvery moon. How delightful are the first warm nights of spring. A clear moon casting shadows on the bellowing frogs seeking their perfect mate while we enjoy the gentle breeze of rain washed air. Ok now admit it, we do have a few of those nights. Why not plan a garden around the night? During a hectic work week that may be the only time we allow ourselves to enjoy our gardens, plus in the dark our overwhelming impulse to weed is easier to resist.

Moon gardens are special gardens designed to be seen at dusk and into the night. It may be a garden intended for a stroll or a garden designed to be viewed from a 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; however, they do cast a pleasant warm glow. Imagine 100 fireflies caught in a jar.

When selecting plants for a moon garden, consider plants with white fragrant flowers, silver-leaved plants or plants with green and white variegated leaves. Include plants with different sized and shaped flowers and different textured leaves.

Luckily some plants don't mind working the night shift. Assorted plants possess flowers that only open at night to exude their wonderful fragrance. A strategy meant to attract their night pollinating moths.

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 six 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 reseed once established.

Angel's trumpet, Datura spp. is also termed moon flower or referred to as thorn apple because of their prickly seed pods. 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 have multiple petals. The plants are annuals but often reseed to reach 2-3 feet tall in one season. Be warned they can become a bit weedy. Angel's trumpet loves 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. Brugmansias are also poisonous and should not be used around kids or experimentally-minded teenagers.

In your moon garden include shrubs with fragrant flowers such as lilacs, koreanspice or burkwood viburnums and daphne. Other fragrant flowers include night blooming jasmine, flowering tobacco, 'Casablanca' Oriental lily, petunia and sweet autumn clematis.

Silvery leaved plants such as lamb's ear, artemesia or dusty miller reflect the moonlight. Variegation is "in" so there are many plants with green and white variegated leaves.

A moon garden at dusk can also offer a show of the aerial acrobatics by sphinx moths as they flit from flower to flower like a hummingbird. Don't give up enjoying your garden just because the sun set.

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