Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Northern & Central Midwest
August, 2007
Regional Report

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A soft planting of Arabis along the path looks like a carpet of stars.

A Night Garden

Late Lament

Cold-hearted orb that rules the night,
Removes the colors from our sight.
Red is gray and yellow white.
But we decide which is right.
And which is an illusion.
--Justin Hayward

This lovely poem (and lyrics to a Moody Blues song) doesn't seem a lament to me. I love the nighttime. I was lying on the hammock the other night, fighting mosquitoes but completely enthralled with the evening garden.

This garden in daylight is filled with sunlight and shadows bouncing around, ricocheting off colorful plants, and with bees and wasps sampling its wares. Yet at night, the colors fade away, leaving only shades of white and gray, and all manner of night moths inhabit the space.

Reflected Light
During the day reflected light gives the bright red zinnia its verve, the yellow coreopsis its intensity, and the golden-bronze magnolia its subtle richness. But the night garden is lighted only by solar rays twice reflected by the moon or by artificial lighting that we provide.

Site Selection
Before I even begin to select plants for an evening garden, my first criterion is to select a garden site that is easily viewed from a comfortable chair, porch, or even my hammock. The garden may be designed for strolling through as well, but one of my delights is to be completely relaxed. And that usually means being seated or prone.

Plant Choice
When choosing plants for the night garden, two criteria to put at the forefront are color and fragrance. Plants with white, cream, or yellow flowers will reflect moonlight, making their blooms look like sparkling lights amidst their muted green surroundings. As the night grows darker, they shine brighter and brighter. The bells of a white foxglove dangle like earrings. The flowery brushes of snakeroot appear suspended above the woodland floor. White caladiums float their tropical leaves in a sea of black and gray.

Choose Light Colors
You can certainly combine white flowers with reds and dark blues to enhance the daytime garden, but these darker colors will disappear with dusk to leave only the white ones visible. Pale lavender, sky blue, and shell pink will create a comfortable transition from dark, rich colors in the daytime garden, and will appear as muted, creamy colors as the night approaches. Plants with gray or silvery foliage will become almost iridescent under night lighting.

White Cultivars
You may have favorite plants already in the garden that have colorful varieties as well as white varieties. For example, we tend to think of lilacs in shades of purple and pink, but there are lovely white types as well. Mixing white lilacs in a hedge with the other colors will give you color and fragrance for daytime and nighttime.

Take a walk through your garden tonight and think about what you could change to make it more luminescent as an evening garden. Or, start fresh and plan a garden that is specifically intended for evening enjoyment.

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