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Night Gardens
by Liesbeth Leatherbarrow
by Liesbeth Leatherbarrow

Liesbeth has written for several western gardening publications, including Gardens West and The Gardener for the Prairies. She has also co-authored three gardening books: The Calgary Gardener (with the Calgary Horticultural Society), The Calgary Gardener, Volume Two: Beyond the Basics (with Lesley Reynolds), and 101 Best Plants for the Prairies (with Lesley Reynolds).

June 27, 2004

A garden created to look its best by the light of the moon might not seem an obvious goal for gardeners in Calgary. After all, it doesn't get dark here until late and many of us are already dreaming sweet dreams before the moon even rises. But for those of us who are night owls (I know I'm not the only one!) who like to take one final late-evening stroll through the garden before calling it a day, consider this: many plants look and smell their best by moonlight!
So-called night gardens were fashionable during the nineteenth century when gardeners preferred to view their gardens in the mist or by night to protect their fair skins from the harsh light of the sun. No kidding! Lucky for them that beautiful effects can be created in the garden for late-evening enjoyment. Here are a few ideas on how to achieve these effects.
Silvery leaves do a wonderful job of catching the light of the moon; variegated leaves, which are leaves of more than one colour, create a shadow effect. Try planting some or all of the following: alyssum, artemisia, cerastium, hostas, flowering kale, lamb's ears, lavender, lunaria(!), ribbon grass, sage, yarrow.
Evening-scented plants are a must for the night garden. Many of the plants that smell good at night are also light-coloured to attract late-night pollinators such as moths, beetles, and bats. Some plants that perfume the night air include: evening primrose, evening scented tobacco, four-o'clocks, honeysuckles, lilacs, mignonette, petunias, soapwort, evening scented stocks and sweet peas.
Drifts of light-coloured flowers add a ghostly feeling to a garden viewed by moonlight. The following plants are worth trying to help create this mystic effect: clematis, cleome, columbine, dianthus, gladiolus, hostas, iris, lilies, pansies, potentillas, thyme and tulips.
Remember that structures in your garden can also add interest to your evening stroll. Arbours and trellises can both frame the moon or be silhouetted against it; ponds reflect the moonlight producing subtle backlighting effects on neighbouring plants. Even a tree with an unusual shape can provide an excellent backdrop for your night garden.
If you already grow many of the plants named above it might be worth your while to stay up late one moonlit evening to take a whiff and have a look around. You never know what unexpected beauty you may find there.
Finally, on a practical note, if you are prone to taking a late evening wander through your garden, remember to keep pathways free from obstacles and overhead branches trimmed to prevent potential accidents.

New Book Out March 2002

(Perfect Partners - Beautiful Plant Combinations for Prairie Gardens) 


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