Plan a Moonlight Garden

Focus on white and light-colored flowers to create a garden that glows in the moonlight.

  • The silver-gray leaves of Biergarten sage aren’t remarkable in daylight and blend in with the other sages. But by night, their texture reflects moonlight and they almost glow.
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  • Althea blossoms (Hibiscus syriacus) contrast nicely with their deep green leaves in daylight. By night they seem to float in the air, the darker leaves seeming to disappear.
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  • Native Culver’s Root (Veronicastrum virginicum) appears to come alive at night, looking like little glowing rockets in moonlight.
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  • Elderberry flowers (Sambucus canadensis) appear to float in the air by moonlight.
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“Why are there no pink or white flowers in your garden?” my friend the late Betty Wold asked me one summer morning. Betty was a lifelong herbalist and educator from Oklahoma, and we were taking a tour of my gardens.

I explained I didn’t really care for pink or white flowers very much and so chose only the more vibrant colors I liked. “Besides,” I said, “I try to have only plants that pay me back for the space I give them, either by providing food, seasoning, or medicine. The white and pink flowers seem kind of wimpy to me.”

“But if you have only darker colored flowers, none of those show up in the moonlight,” she chided me with a laugh. “How can you have a picnic in the moonlight without the night colors?”

Over the years I’ve come to appreciate the more subtle floral colors, not for their daytime hues, but for how magically they transform after sunset, even in simple starlight. And all of those brilliant blue and crimson flowers I love in the daylight literally disappear from view at night.

I sometimes stroll through my garden enjoying how different it is at night. Not only do the white flowers glow with unexpected light, the pinks and lighter yellows seem to have a vibrancy totally absent in daylight. Flowers I’ve overlooked during the day, such as white cosmos, appear to actually glow at night.

A moonlit garden has a different set of fragrances, as well, some subtle, some pronounced. In the heat of the day, many essences are lost to our senses because the heat evaporates them so quickly. At night fragrances are considerably more noticeable. Dianthus, of any color, which has lovely, clove-scented fragrance by day, is absolutely delicious at night.

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