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Lighten Up the Night: Creating the Evening Garden

Lighten Up the Night: Creating the Evening Garden

In the light of day, the garden shines with bright colors and rich greens that sparkle in the sun.  However, the blackness of night gives us the opportunity to enjoy the garden in a whole new perspective.  As the light fades, our senses become more attuned to the sights, sounds, and smells of the surroundings, so why not create an evening garden that is a multi-sensory experience?  With a little thought on what we plant, where we plant it and how we use garden lighting and sound, we can have a magical garden to enjoy at night.

PLANT SELECTION:  Select plants for light reflection and fragrance.

  • COLOR: White flowers and silver or variegated foliage

In the dark our eyes see a limited spectrum of color and contrast.  Very light colors reflect every bit of available light, whether natural moonlight or outdoor garden lighting, so white flowers and silver foliage appear brighter than other colors around them.  Use big groupings of light colors that will be more visible in the dark.   Plant large drifts of white flowers, line paths with variegated grasses, and use silver foliage plants to make the evening garden glow.  Fill containers with combinations of these “moon garden” plants to reflect the light.

Suggested plants: white hydrangeas and roses, dusty miller, variegated hosta, lamb’s ear, artemisia, Japanese forest grass, white mums

  • SCENT: Night-blooming and strongly fragranced plants

Some plants have evolved to take advantage of darkness.  These plants have flowers that open late in the day or at night and most have a strong, heady scent that is easily diffused through the warm evening air, attracting night-flying pollinators.  Plant these close to sitting areas or in containers grouped together, to enjoy their fragrance and beauty up close. Include flowering vines, such as moonflower or jasmine to add vertical height, allowing them to twine up arbors or trellises.

Suggested plants: moonflower, night blooming jasmine, nicotiana, petunia ‘Thumbelina’, gardenia, Oriental lily ‘Casa Blanca’, alyssum

Moonflower

Dusty Miller

Hydrangea

Oriental Lily

Variegated Hosta

Lamb's Ear

LIGHTING: Night lighting adds depth and interest to the visual experience and enriches the landscape design of the garden.

  • FUNCTIONAL: Lights down pathways, along stairs, and on buildings; task lights such as grill lights or string lights over an eating area.

Functional lighting provides safety for navigating in the darkness.  These lights also provide visibility for outdoor activities.

  • ACCENT: Ideal for highlighting landscape or architectural features; can emphasize symmetry and balance in the garden design or décor.

Pick out only a few structurally interesting plants or areas to highlight, such as placing spotlights at the base of trees or using hooded lights in flower beds.  Special underwater lights can be placed in ponds and fountains.  Directing lights onto textured walls or statuary adds mystery and drama.

  • AMBIENT: Lanterns, twinkle string lights, candles, glowing orbs, fairy lights, color-changing string lights.

Keep supplemental lighting soft and subdued to mimic the moon’s subtle glow.  Ambient lighting looks romantic, mysterious, and festive.

SOUND: Soft sounds can focus the attention on what is happening inside the garden and will distract the ear from noises outside of the garden.

  • NATURE SOUNDS: Rustling from ornamental grasses; soft sounds from resident frogs and crickets; the sound of moving water.

The calming sounds of nature create a relaxing and peaceful experience in the night garden.  Use plants that will sway and rustle in the breeze.  Add fountains and ponds to bring the soothing sound of moving water and provide habitat for frogs that will sing at night.  Do not use pesticides that would destroy chirping crickets or night-flying pollinating insects.

  • ADDITIONAL SOUNDS: Wind chimes, outdoor speakers, textures in the outdoor landscape.

If your neighbors don’t mind, the gentle tinkling of wind chimes is a lovely addition to the garden.  Wireless outdoor speakers allow the introduction of ambient music for either a festive or a relaxed mood.  Using different textures in the landscape adds dimension to the sensory experience, such as the crunch of gravel on a path or the muffled footfalls in the grass.

DESIGN CONSIDERATIONS:

  • HARDSCAPE: Light colored stone and gravel, white structures, light colored containers.

The hardscape can also contribute to light reflection in the night garden.  Consider using light gravel or flagstone in walkways or outlining paths with white marble chips to capture the effect of the moonlight or garden lighting.  Use a white trellis or lattice to support vining plants.  Place light colored containers full of silvery, variegated, and white flowers close to seating areas.  Metallic containers in silver add shimmer in the soft light.

  • FURNITURE: Comfortable seating area, small tables, dining tables.

Complete your garden space with a comfortable seating area where you can relax or entertain.  Upholstered chairs and sofas are available in outdoor fabrics.  Include small tables that can accommodate a glass of wine or cup of coffee.  Add a space-saving table for outdoor dining or game playing that can be expanded or reduced in size, as needed.  Rockers and gliders invite the user to slow down and relax.

  • ACCESSORIES: Art, statuary, pillows, lamps, fire elements, wax and artificial candles.

Personalize your space with favorite pieces of art or statuary.  Pillows can add color and coziness to the seating area.  Outdoor table lamps provide reading light and visually sets the scene for the outdoor room.  Add outdoor candles for ambience.  Those with timers and flickering flames are easily placed into lanterns, containers, or jars hung from trees.  Firepits, tiki torches, and fire bowls add the shimmer of flames against the dark of night.

Dusty miller

White stone path—Path lights & Decorative reflections

Drifts of white flowers

Light gravel—Whimsical lighting scheme

Glowing orbs

Light gravel and stones

Variegated foliage

White accents, flowers, fence, and light gravel path

Accent Lighting

Rope light border—Uplights

White hydrangeas

Japanese forest grass—Light stone patio

Creating a magical night garden gives you a place to unwind at the end of the day, a gathering place for twilight celebrations, and an enchanting spot in which to savor the romance and mystery of the garden landscape at night. Immerse yourself in the sights, sounds and smells of the enchanting evening garden. 

Bonus content: detailed plant lists for night gardens are available at https://memphisareamastergardeners.org/projects/mamg-calendar/

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