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A nighttime oasis can be a peaceful and enchanting retreat.
Pear Flower & Moon
Nicotiana in morning dew
Yucca baccata Flower
Wunderblume (Mirabilis jalapa) four o'clock flower or marvel of Peru
Saturday, August 24, 2013
Today’s column is for gardeners who have romance in their souls, because what could be more romantic than a garden that’s meant to be enjoyed by moonlight?
Moonlight gardens use light, color and fragrance to create a garden that can be enjoyed as twilight approaches. After your day’s work is done, this is a garden in which to sit back and relax.
Whether you crave a quiet spot for meditation and relaxation or space for entertaining your friends, a moonlight garden proves that gardens can be as interesting by night as they are by day.
What is it?
The basic idea of a moonlight garden is to grow plants that can be enjoyed at night through either sight or smell. A moonlight garden contains light-colored plants that reflect the light of the moon, alongside fragrant plants that combine to create a garden filled with mystery, romance and allure.
Moonlight gardens are not a new concept. Centuries ago, meditation gardens incorporating white sand and pond moonlight were common in China. Moonlight gardens became popular in 19th-century New England.
As a light source, moonlight can dramatically transform a landscape. The contrast of dark leaves and pale flowers heighten a plant’s interest. Distinctive bark and twisted branches form unique shadows.
Darkness also serves to heighten our other senses, and a moonlight garden takes advantage of that heightened sensitivity. Although our ability to see is diminished in the dark at night, the scent of fragrant flowers is amplified, and the sound of leaves rustling in the breeze provides background music.
A moonlight garden becomes a peaceful and enchanting retreat.
Designing your garden
When designing your moonlight garden, pick a location that will be washed by moonlight . Take a walk on a moonlit night and scout out possible sites. Avoid areas that have deep shadows from big trees or from structures .
The location of the garden will also need to be appropriate for daytime, as it will need to provide adequate sun for the plants you choose to grow.
When choosing plants, the goal is finding a plant that’s beautiful any time of the day, but particularly so at night. White flowering and night flowering plants, varieties with fragrant nighttime flowers, and plants with silver leaves or bright patterns on their foliage are all good choices for a moonlight garden.
An all-white garden can sometimes appear overwhelming, so it’s generally recommended to keep your moonlight garden small. To give it visual appeal day and night, use a variety of pale colors, like light yellow, cream, light pink and pale lavender. Avoid strong colors like red and orange that will dominate the garden space.
Silver, gray and variegated foliage work very well in a moonlight garden. Bright green and yellow leaves will also show up in dark spaces, and can be used effectively.
To give even greater impact, offset your lighter, reflective plants with the contrast of dark foliage in the background. Dark green foliage will appear almost black at night but it will make the light elements stand out even more.
Plant flowers in masses, as single flowers scattered about the garden will be swallowed up by the darkness. Mass plantings will provide an impactful statement.
Beyond flowers, consider architectural or sculptural plants, and trees with interesting bark. Plants with shiny leaves, like rhododendron and holly, reflect light that is present, becoming focal points in the landscape. Ornamental grasses provide texture, color and movement as they sway in the breeze, and their fall plumes provide dramatic focal points.
A note about white
Although white flowers are the best at reflecting the light of the moon, you need to be aware that “white” flowers come in shades of bright white, ivory, vanilla, pearl, cream and eggshell.
A bright white flower placed next to another “white” shade of flower can make the off-white flower look dingy. It’s best to use plants in the same shade of white next to one another, and separate the differing shades of whites with another color, like green.
Doing so will make the whites appear to be the same, even if the shades of white are different.
Some plant varieties flower exclusively at night, and some varieties release their fragrance after dark to attract night-time pollinators like moths and bats. Flowering tobacco, stock, angel’s trumpet, yucca, four o’clocks and night phlox are examples of flowers that become fragrant at night.
Moonflower is considered a staple of moonlight gardens. Moonflower has large flower buds that open as evening approaches, releasing a lemony fragrance that attracts large sphinx moths.
For those enjoying the moonlight garden, watching the moths flit from flower to flower gathering nectar can be an entertaining part of the evening as well.
Do pay attention to your plant’s scent when choosing a location, and avoid placing all of the scented plants together. Not all scents blend well, so you may need to rearrange your plants as the fragrances combine. Plants with faint scents should be placed near walkways and sitting areas so that they can still be enjoyed.
Beyond plant selection, use light-colored hardscaping elements in your garden, like paving, fencing, arbors, benches and garden ornaments. Reflective surfaces, like glass objects, mirrored tiles or water in a birdbath can catch and amplify the light.
Add outdoor lighting to fill in when the moon is not out, but avoid bright lights like floodlights. Opt instead for soft lighting like tiny white Christmas lights, or candles and luminaries, to create a romantic ambiance.
For more information about moonlight gardening, including suggestions for plants, visit my blog at blogs.roanoke.com/downtoearth/.
Karen Hager’s column runs every other Saturday in Extra.
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