So-called "moon gardens" are landscapes so designed as to make it possible for you to enjoy them at night, even without flooding your backyard with tons of artificial light. They will show up better on nights with lunar lighting, but the best designs will be enjoyable even in the absence of moonlight since they will contain fragrant plants that you can appreciate with your nose.
There are basically four types of plants (there will be some overlap) used in moon gardens:
- Plants with white flowers
- Plants with bright foliage
- Night bloomers
- Plants with fragrant blooms
While the use of a mass of color can have a great visual impact regardless of your landscape design theme, mass plantings are especially called for when planting moon gardens: A mass of white flowers simply has a better chance of having an impact than would the same white flowers scattered about. Remember, you are looking for plants that show up at night; one blossom here and there will be swallowed up by the darkness.
White Flowers for Moon Gardens
We can further break down this category by focusing on the season of bloom for the typical northern landscape. The early bloomers will light up your yard in early-to-mid spring, after which they pass the baton to the mid-season bloomers. The latter can be supplemented with annuals. You'll have to wait until late summer for the late bloomers, but they're welcome reinforcements who will grant your moon garden a "second wind" when they do arrive.
Some of the plants on this list of white flowers come in colors other than white, too, but those with white flowers are preferred for plantings geared to nighttime viewing:
Early Bloomers for Moon Gardens
- Snowdrops (Galanthus nivalis)
- Other bulb plants, such as white daffodils (Narcissus) and white tulips (Tulipa)
- Creeping phlox (Phlox subulata)
- Bleeding heart (Dicentra spectabilis)
- Azaleas and rhododendrons (Rhododendron spp.)
- Magnolia trees with white flowers, such as star magnolia (M. stellata)
- Bradford pear trees (Pyrus calleriana Bradford; substitute Chanticleer for a stronger tree)
- Yarrow (Achillea millefolium)
- Queen Anne's lace (Daucus carota)
- Sweet alyssum (Lobularia maritima; treated as an annual in the North)
- Snow in summer (Cerastium tomentosum)
- Candytuft (Iberis sempervirens)
- Shasta daisy (Leucanthemum x superbum)
- Foxglove (Digitalis)
- Mountain laurel shrubs (Kalmia latifolia)
- Climbing hydrangea (Hydrangea anomala ssp. petiolaris)
- Japanese dogwood trees (Cornus kousa), including Wolf Eyes
- Doublefile viburnum (Viburnum plicatum var. tomentosum Mariesii)
- Dwarf Deutzia (Deutzia gracilis Nikko)
- Pearlbush (Exochorda racemosa)
Late Bloomers for Moon Gardens
Don't Forget Bright Leaves
So far, we have talked about flowers. Now, it is time to list some plants with bright foliage for moon gardens. One benefit of going the foliage route is low-maintenance since leaves generally last longer than blossoms do. We will also explore night bloomers and plants with fragrant flowers. Fragrance brings an extra sense into play and can be admired even on nights that are totally dark.
Plants whose bright leaves help them show up at night come basically in three categories and are among the best plants for moon gardens: specimens with variegated, gold-colored, or silver-colored leaves. The following list provides examples of each:
Plants With Bright Foliage for Moon Gardens
In the next two sections, plants that boast some of the most fragrant blossoms known are listed, beginning with the night bloomers (which must make use of scent, primarily, to lure in nighttime pollinators).
- Fragrant evening primrose (Oenothera caespitosa)
- Angel's trumpet (Brugmansia spp.; opens more fully at night, when it releases its amazing scent)
- Moonflower (Ipomoea alba)
Plants With Fragrant Blossoms
When White Just Won't Do
Not all people find white vibrant enough to use extensively in their landscaping, especially if they have little room to dedicate to gardening. If space is at a premium in your yard, then this may preclude your making a moon garden. If so, you will be happier if you play with more varied landscape color schemes and leave the novelty of a moon garden to those with bigger yards.