One of the delights of having a garden is being able to enjoy the sights and fragrance of nature in an intimate setting. It is the pleasure of having a close bond with the natural world that makes all the work that goes into planting and maintaining a garden worthwhile. Oddly, most gardens are created with an eye toward how they look during the day, even though the majority of people are working, running errands or socializing during the day and have only a few hours in the evening or later at night to enjoy their gardens.
A wonderful way to soothe our time-starved lifestyle may be to give ourselves downtime with nature when time is more available. With this in mind, we can create gardens with an eye toward when we are more likely to be in them which, for most people, is in the evening. Another fun fact about a nighttime garden is they have the gift of dimness to hide spent blooms, weeds and other unsightly features that we are very aware of during the day. Also, they are better edited than day-blooming gardens, the greens fade into the gloaming and the pale blooms and variegations seems to shine with no supports in the gathering dark, like old-fashioned silent screen starlets. Another wonderful thing about an evening garden is not just that they are at their prettiest when we are around to look at them, but that they are often more fragrant than daytime gardens. Many evening blooming plants are deeply scented to attract moths as pollinators because the bees and butterflies that pollinate their day blooming cousins are settled down to rest. One way to attract these nighttime visits is to have a luscious perfume to lure the moths.
To create a night-blooming garden or add night blooms to an existing one, look to spaces near your home that you use at night to relax. Good locales are a porch or balcony where you sit, outside your dining space or bedroom windows or near a patio where you gather with friends and family. Look for fragrant plants that bloom white or pale yellow that will catch any available light. Some examples are gardenias, moonflowers, jasmine and nicotiana. Look for plants that have leaves with interesting variegations. White caladiums, variegated grasses and white-edged hostas look loveliest at night when even the smallest amount of light makes them stand out against a green background of lawn or evergreen shrubs. Also think about gray foliage plants. Many of these have low water needs and have a fragrance to their leaves when they are brushed. One of my personal favorites is the various types of artemisias. Lavender cotton santolina is another strong scented plant. For truly low water, night garden silver succulents with their varied forms and blooms that are often fragrant can create a beautiful garden all on their own.
The ideas of design are the same for a night-blooming garden as a daytime one. Vary height and texture, going from tallest furthest away from where you will view the plants to shortest ones closest to view; this trick gives even a small garden a feeling of greater depth. Plant airier textured plants in front, or overlapping heavy ones to show both to their best advantage. Place plants that need to be touched or brushed to release fragrance close to the path or near where you sit. If you are using vines, plant them on dark-colored trellises so the blooms will seem like suspended stars or lanterns in the dim.
You can use these ideas to create a little pocket garden just outside the back door or bedroom window, or you can create an all white and silver garden like Vita Sackville West’s famous one at Sissinghurst Castle. Whatever scale you want will give you hours of enjoyment when you have the most hours to spend and help you connect to the beauty and variety of nature.
The Smith County Master Gardener program is a volunteer organization in connection with the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service.