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A Night Garden—Growing Plants That Come to Life After Dark
by Meghan Ray

In the first flush of springtime enthusiasm, it is easy to imagine ourselves spending every Saturday and Sunday afternoon of the rest of the year leisurely tending the garden. But when the weather turns hot and the impulse to hit the beach on weekends grows strong, we venture out mainly in the evening, when the temperature has cooled and the garden is the best place to catch a breeze. Since evening is such a popular time to be in the garden, it is worthwhile to ensure that the garden will be a special place at that time. As dusk comes on, however, the blues and purples that looked so interesting during the day become muddy. Vivid red accents on flowers, along with the greens of most foliage, now turn to shades of gray. What can we do?

Buying fancy floodlights might help. But another solution is to carefully select plants for flowers and foliage that stand out in the half-light of dusk. This is the time of day when whites take on a luminous glow and pale yellows and pinks shimmer as they never do in bright sunshine. Patterned flowers and variegated foliage are also more visible in the evening, contributing subtle interest and texture. Some plants, scentless by day, wait until nightfall to release their perfumes into the air.

Selecting plants with these qualities can make a garden come alive at night. It is not difficult to transform the night garden from something dull and gray into a haven of exotic perfumes and ghostly flowers. Add a few evening divas or fill the garden with them. Either way, the night garden will invite us in.

  1. Alcea rugosa (yellow hollyhock)

  2. Anemone x hybrida 'Whirlybirds' (Japanese anemone)

  3. Brugmansia x candida (angel's trumpet)

  4. Carex muskingumensis 'Ice Fountains' (palm sedge)

  5. Coreopsis 'Moonbeam'

  6. Cosmos bipinnatus 'Daydream'

  7. Eremurus x Ruiter's hybrids (foxtail lily)

  8. Euphorbia marginata (snow-on-the-mountain)

  9. Ipomoea alba (moonflower)

  10. Lavandula angustifolia 'Hidcote' (lavender)

  11. Lobularia maritima 'Pastel Carpet' (sweet alyssum)

  12. Matthiola longipetala (evening scented stock)

  13. Mirabilis jalapa 'Broken Colors' (four-o'-clock)

  14. Nicotiana x sanderae (flowering tobacco)

  15. Oenothera biennis (evening primrose)

  16. Osmanthus heterophyllus 'Gulftide' (holly osmanthus)

  17. Passiflora caerulea (passion flower)

  18. Petunia 'Tidal Wave Silver'

  19. Salvia argentea (silver sage)


*Meghan Ray is the curator of the Rock Garden at Brooklyn Botanic Garden.

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Last modified: August 28, 2014