The night walked down the sky with the moon in her hand. ~ Frederick L. Knowles
As children, my cousin and I spent most summer nights catching lightning bugs in our adjoining backyards. We’d punch holes in the lids of mayonnaise jars, gradually filling them with our quarry, and then sit in a hammock to enjoy the gentle glow of the makeshift lanterns. Eventually, when parents and bedtime beckoned, we would reluctantly release the bugs, only to begin the hunt again the following evening.
Recapture the magic of nighttime spent in the backyard. With long work hours and sweltering daytime heat, most of us find ourselves finally getting to enjoy our summer gardens in the evening. Why not create a moon garden near porch or patio, with plants that reveal their true charm after dark? In the delicate radiance of moonlight, bright colors turn to black, while pale blooms and variegated leaves glow; fragrant plants perfume the evening air, enticing nighttime pollinators.
Plants that shine once the sun has set
For a stunning focal point in your moon garden, start with an unusual Wolf Eyes dogwood (Cornus kousa ‘Wolf Eyes’). This compact, spreading tree has large, pristine flower bracts in spring and soft green leaves with prominent white margins; in fall, the foliage turns a lovely pinkish-red.
For shrubs, choose from many white-blooming hydrangeas, including the Snowflake oakleaf hydrangea (Hyd. Quercifolia ‘Snowflake’), the popular Annabelle (Hyd. arborescens ‘Annabelle’) or the White Dome (Hyd. arborescens ‘Dardom’), whose clouds of blooms drift above deep green leaves; its flowers are perfect for both fresh and dried arrangements, and will add winter interest to the garden. Summersweet (Clethra alnifolia) is a native with sweetly-scented white flowers in racemes that wave above the leafy shrub, followed by peppercorn-like fruit capsules.
For perennials, there are endless choices. White swamp milkweed (Asclepias incarnata ‘Ice Ballet’) attracts butterflies galore by day and glimmers by night. Radiant David garden phlox (Phlox paniculata ‘David’) offers fragrant, tubular blooms from June through September, resisting both deer and the powdery mildew that often plagues phlox. Various cultivars of false spirea (Astilbe x arendsii) put on a snowy floral display in shady areas, with feathery plumes waving above deeply-cut foliage; try ‘Deutschland’, ‘Bridal Veil’ or ‘Snowdrift’. White catmint (Nepeta x faassenii ‘Alba’) draws hummingbirds, bees and butterflies to its fragrant stalks of flowers, while its aromatic foliage will have a euphoric effect on your cat.
For the edge of your moon garden, try one of the variegated hostas; ‘Blazing Saddles’ has medium green leaves, edged in cream. Silver Brocade artemisia (A. stelleriana ‘Silver Brocade’) produces dense mounds of finely-cut, frosted foliage with a gentle fragrance, the felt-like leaves adding texture as well as shimmer.
For ongoing interest, incorporate long-blooming annuals and other tender plants. The dramatic woodland tobacco (Nicotiana sylvestris) sends up towering stems through basal rosettes of enormous green leaves; the slender, luminous flowers have a relaxed elegance by day, and a heavenly perfume by night. Cleome hasslerana has heavily-scented, spidery blooms held aloft on tall stalks of narrow, dark green foliage; try the ‘Sparkler’ cultivar for a more compact presentation. Moonflower (Ipomoea alba) is a climber that can reach 15 feet in a season, its pale, fragrant flowers opening at dusk from midsummer to frost. Alocasia x amazonica ‘Polly’, known as African mask or Amazon elephant’s ear, is a striking tropical with large glossy leaves and dramatic lime-white veining; lift plants from the garden to enjoy inside for the winter.
Maintaining and enhancing your evening garden
As with any gardens, take an organic approach to caring for your plants, and do likewise when warding off nuisance insects. Treat your yard with products such as Ecosmart’s Organic Mosquito and Tick Control spray or granules. For individual protection, Neptune’s Harvest Best Yet spray and Liquid Net’s Ultimate Insect Repellent employ cedar oil to fend off pesky biters, and can safely be used on children and pets.
Some accessories can enhance the comfort and beauty of your outdoor space. Consider a cozy bench or swing from which to view your garden, or a fire pit to bring the rustic warmth of a campfire right to your patio. Soji Solar lanterns add Asian-inspired appeal, turning themselves on by night to cast a festive glow without the hassle of electrical cords – or the need to chase after all those lightning bugs….
Luanne Panarotti fills her days with work at The Phantom Gardener, preaching at area churches, mothering, cat wrangling, and cryptic crosswords.