The early mornings are my favorite time of day to visit my flower garden. The birds and bees are busy, and with the glistening of dew still on their leaves, a few of my favorite flowers awake to greet the sunrise. These include morning glories, gazing daisies, California poppies, and Venice mallow, to name a few. But, there are other times when the garden comes to life with afternoon or evening bloomers that showcase their colors and fragrances under the light of the moon.
Like clockwork, plants open and close blooms to create a 24-hour visual splendor. While most people concentrate on planning and planting a garden that they can enjoy during the daylight hours, a moon garden is a special place and an enjoyable project to undertake.
What is a moon garden?
A moon garden is meant to be enjoyed by the light of the moon and includes white or lightly colored blooms that open at night to reflect the moon’s radiance. Many night bloomers are sweetly scented, have unique foliage, texture or shape making them well-suited to a moon garden.
Moon gardening is not a new idea, though. People have been enchanted by the luminescence and fragrance of night-blooming flowers, for hundreds of years.
A fragrant white garden
White gardens, such as the famous white garden at Sissinghurst, have been popular as part of monochromatic planting schemes, but moon gardening takes it a notch higher. The focus is not only on the color of flowers and foliage, but on their silhouette in the moonlight and, of course, their fragrance.
A moon garden need not necessarily stick to the monochromatic theme of white gardens unless you want it to. Light colored flowers often find a place in the garden for their fragrance or the color of their leaves.
Blue and silver foliage plants
The silvery hue of several foliage plants seems to have a glow of their own, which only gets accentuated by the moonlight. That’s why Lamb’s ears and Dusty Millers make themselves at home in any moon garden. They may be used as groundcovers or edging plants.
Artemisia, Lavender, Texas Sage, and Dianthus are a few other plants that can claim a place in the moon garden by virtue of their silvery foliage. Several succulents of Echeveria and Sedum families also may be added to this list.
For an easy maintenance garden, consider the powder-blue foliage of the mound-forming blue fescue (Festuca glauca) and steel-blue of the blue oat grass Helictotrichon sempervirens. Eryngium ‘Miss Willmot’s Ghost’ with both foliage and flowers of silver is another option.
Plants with white or cream variegations stand out in low light. A few large shrubs with variegated leaves will help the moon garden maintain the color scheme even when the flowers are scarce.
For instance, if the fragrant white flowers of Daphne are not enough, the variegated cultivar ‘Wild Winter’ has everything going for it. The variegated Japanese Pittosporum (Pittosporum tobira Variegata) is another great choice. This evergreen also has white flowers. What’s more, the grey branches blend incredibly well with the color scheme.
Low growing variegated plants are especially useful to brighten dark corners and as a ground cover in shady areas under larger plants. Hostas with white variegation ‘Fire and Ice’ and ‘Patriot’ or those with silver blue leaves, ‘Silver Bright’ and ‘Silver Bay’ are great for shade.
The silver-leaved Lamium is an excellent ground cover under shrubs and trees, so is the Japanese Painted Fern. Variegated Mondo grass and Japanese sedge ‘Everest’ (Carex oshimensis ‘Everest’) do well in sunny spots.
Water features to catch the moon
A lily pond is a great addition to any moon garden. The moon reflected on the still water surface is magical, as is its ethereal glow that envelops everything around. It’s the perfect setting for a romantic evening. In Hindu mythology, the fragrant, white waterlily that opens only at night is the lady lover of moon, who visits her once a month in full splendor.
You can also plant some ornamental grasses with beautiful plumes around the pond to catch the moonlight. Between the short White Bunny Tails grass Lagurus ovatus to the tall Pampas grass Cortaderia selloana with large silvery plumes, you have quite a few to choose from.
The ‘White Cloud’ Muhlenbergia capillaris, white Fountain grass (Pennisetum setaceum) and Maiden grass Miscanthus sinensis are great options.
Moon gardens are ideally located where they will not be exposed to unwanted light and noise. They should be easily accessible from the house and preferably close to where you entertain guests. Another consideration is the view from the house. You should be able to enjoy the sights and smells from a patio, balcony, or windows.
Plant selections for moon gardens
These are the backbone of any garden, and it’s the same with moon gardens.
- Gardenia ‘Kleim Hardy’
- Mock orange (Philadelphus coronarius)
- Daphne (Daphne odora)
- Night Flowering Jasmine (Cestrum nocturnum)
- Angel’s Trumpet (Brugmansia candida)
- Chinese Snowball Bush (Viburnum macrocephalum)
Perennials and Bulbs
A major portion of the garden should be dedicated to perennials. They reward our gardening efforts many times over, coming back every year more spectacular than before.
White and fragrant
- Lily of the valley
- Tuberose (Polianthes tuberosa)
- Fragrant true lilies (Lilium spp.)
- White Bleeding Heart (Dicentra spectabilis alba)
- Echinacea ‘White Swan’
- Delphinium ‘Snowgoose’
- Allium ‘Mount Everest’
- Astilbe ‘Vision in White’
Climbers with fragrant flowers
Climbers add vertical interest, and it’s a boon when they have scented flowers too.
- Wisteria floribunda ‘Alba’ offers both. A single, trained Wisteria vine can be a garden in itself.
- Clematis paniculata is another prolific bloomer that can perfume late summer nights.
- Trachelospermum jasminoides is an evergreen with fragrant flowers.
- Common Honeysuckle (Lonicera periclymenum)
- Climbing rose ‘Lace Cascade’ or white ‘Lady Banks’
- Moonflower (Ipomea alba), the scented, night-blooming cousin of morning glories deserve a place in gardens in warmer regions.
- Climbing Hydrangea (Hydrangea petiolaris) – Its fast growth and large, long-lasting flowerheads make up for the lack of scent.
Even a small moon garden can benefit from a well chosen tree or two, either as a focal point or backdrop for other plantings.
- American Fringe Tree (Chionanthus virginicus)
- ‘Venus’ Dogwood
- Smoke Tree (Cotinus coggygria)
- Crape Myrtle (Lagerstroemia indica)
- Chaste tree Vitex agnus-castus ‘Dale White’
- Crape Myrtle (Lagerstroemia indica)
- ‘Snowdrift’ crabapple
Annuals with fragrant flowers
- Sweet alyssum (Lobularia maritima)
- Flowering tobacco (Nicotiana alata)
- Sweet pea
- Heliotrope (Heliotropium arborescens)
- Jimson weed (Datura)