Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Northern California Coastal & Inland Valleys
March, 2005
Regional Report

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Be creative with garden lighting. Recycled-glass globes stacked on a stake are illuminated with outdoor rope lights strung within.

Night Gardens

With our busy schedules, sometimes we just don't have time to enjoy the fruits of our labors during the daylight hours. It is possible to create a garden that does double duty in the dark! To enjoy your garden in the evening hours, you just need to add heat and light, and slightly readjust your idea of the plant material.

Because the evenings here along the coast are cool, you may need to create some type of protection from the wind. It's no fun to spend time outside if you are freezing. Those wonderful outdoor fire pits make a welcome addition to a night garden, and when surrounded by informal seating, they create an outdoor entertainment area. Consider keeping a basket of warm shawls close at hand. Or, how about an outdoor kitchen, if you have the budget? They are hugely popular at all of the garden shows this spring.

Lighting can be in the form of solar-powered lanterns or white Christmas lights strung in the trees. Once again, if money is no object, there are fabulous garden lighting systems available. Personally, I love those playful strings of lights that are in the shapes of lighthouses, chili peppers, or tropical fish.

I find it fascinating that plants that release their fragrance in the evening are pollinated by moths. You will discover a whole new side of nature and be able to catch hungry snails in the act! The flowers of night-blooming plants are usually white or pale in color so insects can locate them in the dark.

Start small if you are timid about this project. You can plant a small, night-blooming garden in a large container. As always with container gardening, select a pot that has a drainage hole, and always start with fresh potting mix.

Nighttime Favorites
There are a multitude of plants that will enhance a moonlight garden, and here are a few of my favorites:

Moonflower (Ipomoea alba) is a vining plant that is related to morning glories. Although a perennial, it is often used as a summer-blooming annual. Moonflower will provide quick cover for a trellis, awning, or fence. The flowers are white, fragrant, and up to 6 inches across. Theoretically, they open only after sundown, but they'll open on dark or overcast days as well. The seeds of moonflower need to be soaked or scarified prior to planting.

Don't plant four-o'clocks (Mirabilis) if you don't want them forever. The roots will eventually turn into giant tubers that are perennial. They will thrive in full sun in any type of soil with little or no water, and as their name implies, they open in the late afternoon. The plants produce a multitude of hard, black seeds, so expect this plant to spread and be around for a long time.

Evening primrose (Oenothera) is a beautiful, low-growing perennial. It's very invasive, so plant it where its spread can be curtailed. The pale pink flowers are similar to morning glories. It requires full sun, will thrive on very little water, and spreads by underground runners. The plants have an adverse dermatological effect on some people, causing a skin rash similar to poison oak. Wear gloves when handling them.

Nicotiana (related to tobacco) is very fragrant during the evening hours. It is an annual or tender perennial that requires full sun or partial shade and regular watering. Nicotiana is susceptible to caterpillar invasions, so keep an eye on it.

Angel's trumpet (Brugmansia) is a stunning perennial shrub that looks magical in an evening garden when lit from below. The huge flowers hang from sturdy stems and come in pink, yellow, or white. Hummingbirds love them, and they were a favorite subject of artist Georgia O'Keefe. The more sun this hardy plant receives, the more water it will require. Brugmansias need some protection from the wind since the leaves are fragile. They are also susceptible to frost. Prune in early spring, and save the prunings for cuttings; they grow easily in damp sand or water. Fertilize during the growing period for maximum flower production. The B. candida is the most fragrant, especially at night.

It's not all about the flowers. Silver foliage plants, such as dusty miller (Senecio cineraria) and artemisia, are lovely in moonlight gardens. The light-colored foliage stands out in the dark, so use them liberally as borders to define walkways.

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