A moonlit walk through the garden

At night, the sweet fragrances of white phlox and pink-blushed climbing roses fill the air.

Lee Reich/AP
Walking through a garden at night can reveal dramatic views.

"By the light of the silvery moon" is such a fine time to be in the garden. The look is quite different from the garden in daylight, and worth considering when you plan your plots. Even full moonlight bathes the garden with only about one-half-millionth as much light as sunlight.

Color gone
This darkness brings subtle changes in our perceptions of the garden. There's not enough moonlight to activate the color sensing cones in our eyes, so the same garden that is in technicolor in afternoon is in black and white at night. Not that it is any less appealing: What it lacks in colorful fun it gains in quiet elegance.

Without the distraction of color, mass and form are what catch our attention in the night garden.

Forsythia, rhododendron, lilac, and other shrubs that are dense with leaves take on a bold presence at night, joining other amorphous masses. In daylight, those same bushes hardly get a second glance, except in spring when they are draped in flowers.

Walls and trees — every dense, three-dimensional form, in fact — also take on a bold presence in the silvery moonlight. Their forms might suggest alien creatures. They might guide our eyes or feet along in the dim light. And they might offer an earthbound anchor from night's awesome "big sky."

You won't get this feeling from hybrid tea rose bushes or a few marigolds here and there, both of which brighten the garden by day but fade away into the darkness of night.

Apparent sizes change
By day, colors alter our perception of the landscape. The red of such flowers as geranium and crocosmia is so eye-catching that the plants seem to jump towards us. A sedate sweep of blue — whether from salvias or balloon flowers — has the opposite effect, that of receding into the distance. Now jumble the sunlit scene further with contrasts and harmonies among colors. Whew!

For relief, step out into the moonlit garden and be greeted by serene, static masses. For some reason — perhaps it is the lack of color — everything visible in the moonlit garden seems larger than it does by day. By night, butterfly bushes will seem ready to embrace or envelop from all sides; an arbored entranceway to a vegetable garden feels like it towers overhead at night.

Night bloomers
And yes, the night garden does have its flowers. As darkness falls, it is pale flowers, and especially white ones, that become more prominent. They seem to emit a soft glow.

White phlox, golden and pink-blushed climbing roses, white and soft pink lavatera: They all offer a cool but welcoming hello in the light of the moon.

Among night's most hauntingly beautiful flowers are those whose pale trumpet shapes attract the pollinating bats and moths that go about their work only at night. Like their pollinators, some varieties of these flowers — angel's trumpet, nicotiana, cereus, and moonflower, for example — open only at night, shyly folding up each morning.

The sweet fragrances wafted into the air by many night bloomers strengthen their allure to bats and moths. The perfumes alone might be sufficient enticement to bring you out into the garden at night, to enjoy even in the absence of moonlight.

Editor’s note: For more on gardening, see the Monitor’s main gardening page. Our blog archive. Our RSS feed.

You may also want to visit Gardening With the Monitor on Flickr. Take part in the discussions and get answers to your gardening questions. If you join the group (it’s free), you can upload your garden photos and enter our next contest. We'll be looking for photographs of fruits. So find your best shots of summer's blueberries, peaches, plums, etc., and get out your camera to take some stunning shots of early fall apples. Post them before Sept. 30, 2009, and you could be the next winner.

of 5 stories this month > Get unlimited stories
You've read 5 of 5 free stories

Only $1 for your first month.

Get unlimited Monitor journalism.