May 24, 2013
The moonlight garden

Calla aethioica

In Victorian times, the moonlight garden was a favourite theme. Defined, it is a garden that comes to life at dusk, precisely at the moment when the intense reds, oranges, blues and purples of other flowers begin to fade.

In Canada, where we have only five or so months in which to enjoy our gardens, the idea of making them as attractive at night as they are during the day, seems to be a concept that's taken an awfully long time to arrive. With artful plantings, a selection of some of the wonderful garden lighting that has recently arrive on the marketplace, a comfy chair or two, good music in the background and a pitcher of one's favourite summer beverage, there couldn't possible be a better setting for balmy summer evenings.

The colours that glow
While the Japanese have several good examples of moonlit gardens, the world's most famous is probably England's Sissinghurst Castle, where there are breathtaking examples of creams, whites, silver, pale lavender and a touch-of-rose blooms -- the colours which glow in the moonlight garden.

Gray-green, variegated green and white or silver-leafed plants which reflect the dim light of the moon, or garden lighting, are the visible, nighttime companions to the whites and creams of the blossoms.

A signature flower for any night-lit garden is the moonflower, (Ipomoea alba) the annual twining vine with trumpet shaped flowers. From early summer to late autumn, this aptly-named flower blooms at dusk and closes at dawn.

Shade and texture
Night interest gardens are becoming increasingly popular among Canadian consumers. This burgeoning trend presents a host of opportunities for landscape designers and garden centre retailers.

Ornithogalum arabicum

When designing these gardens, or helping consumers design their own, suggest that in order to make their outdoor summer evenings even more visually interesting, that plants are placed so that the leaves and flowers of one, contrast in shape and size with those nearby. And the more fragrant the flowers are, the more they will be noticed in the still of the night. For example, the elegant white trumpets of the longiflorum lily make a wonderful companion to the ruffled petals of white roses. White begonias are a great neighbour for blue-leafed hosta or white impatiens.

Some unusual choices
Unusual summer-blooming bulb flowers which are ideal candidates for the moonlight garden, whether planted in beds or in pots and containers are:

Acidanthera (more commonly called Abssyinian gladioli) grows to a height of one metre and bears 10 to 12 very fragrant 10 cm white flowers blotched with chocolate or reddish purple.

Galtonia, another fragrant species bears up to 30 white or green-tinged nodding flowers on each sturdy 60 cm to 90 cm stem.

Hymenocallis (often marked as Ismene) and commonly known as spider lily. This remarkable flower is heavily scented with intricately formed white, daffodil-like flowers. It is also an excellent cut flower, lasting a week or longer.

Ornithogalum, bearing clusters of star-like white, or near white flowers with black or green centres. Various Ornithogalum (there are six or so varieties on the market) make a vivid display when planted in clumps or drifts. They too, are an excellent, long-lasting cut flower.

Last, but certainly not least, are the Zantadeschia, or calla lilies. It is the oh, so elegant shape of these flowers that make them an outstanding addition to the night garden.

One final tip...
Dedicated gardeners the world over are continually moving plants from here to there for better viewing, more sunlight, more shade, better drainage and a host of other reasons. Most of them are used to casting a critical eye over a daylight garden. As they develop both a daytime and nighttime garden, they shouldn't be surprised if they find themselves moving more plants around than they had expected. Perhaps you might like to remind them that it will be well worth it when on the first summer evening they sink into their comfy chairs, in their fragrant garden of moonlit delights.

All photos courtesy of the International Bloembollen Centrum, Hillegom, Holland