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The Evening Garden - Part I: Designing Your Tranquil Moonlit Escape

Summertime evenings are some of the most cherished in my mind. The work is done; the heat is waning; and the fireflies are starting to glimmer at the edges of the yard. I've turned on my own twinkling solar lights if the moon is not full and poured a cold drink. And now is when I reap the second shift of beauty in my garden. Now is when the moon garden--the night garden--shines!

For those who plan them, evening gardens are a pure secret delight. And what a treat to unwind in this remarkable space. Often referred to as Moon Gardens, they are all about using darkness and reflecting light. Some even call them White Gardens for the white blooms that reflect the moonlit night.

Whether you are looking to create an entirely monochromatic artful oasis or just adding some features for cooling, shaping, or adding texture to your evening backyard, read on for a few tips, a few photos, and some suggestions to get you started!


White Blooms!

Whether you choose some sharp annuals for the edging or a big pop of white in a perennial filler, white flowers can glow gloriously once they catch the moonlight or lighting we place in our garden. And there are so many to choose from!

  • Annual Vinca

  • Impatiens

  • Zinnias

  • Fan Flower

  • White Petunias

  • White-blooming Wax Begonias (Bonus: their glossy leaves are extra reflective!)

  • White Bleeding Heart

  • Hydrangeas

  • White-blooming Hibiscus (not currently in stock)

  • Garden Phlox 'David'

  • Woodland Phlox 'May Breeze'

  • Anemone (spring and fall blooming)

  • White-blooming Lilies (Painters favorite: Casa Blanca Lily, not currently in stock)

  • White Liatris 'Alba' (Great for the back of the garden!)

  • White-blooming Hollyhock

  • Bear's Breeches

  • Shasta Daisy

  • Miss Bateman Clematis

  • White Iris 'Immortality' (limited stock)

  • Whorled, Common, and White-blooming Swamp Milkweeds (They glow and attract nighttime pollinators!)

White-Silver Foliage

Greys and silvers can soften white flowers and help them blend rather than stand out. They are also fabulous in their own right! Adding a silvery element to a moonlit corner is a centerpiece of its own merit.

  • Artemisia 'Silver Mound' or Powis Castle'

  • Curry plants, Helichrysum

  • Dusty Miller

  • Dichondra 'Silver Falls'

  • Japanese Painted Fern 'Godzilla'

  • Big Bluestem (native, tall and silvery)

  • Brunnera (limited stock)

  • Sea Holly

  • Lamb's Ear 'Silver Carpet'

  • Rose Campion

  • Lamium 'White Nancy'

  • Mountain Mints

  • Balkan Yarrow

And remember that not all whites are the same. Cool whites are different than creamy whites. Some might pair better with silver foliage, some with warmer green hues. Play around until you get the color combinations you prefer!

Dynamic Shapes and Leaf Variegation

When you remove petal color from the equation, the eye can focus on the contrasts. Simple plant variegation becomes a star! Or contrast can be found in the shape of the plant habits--bending/waving, straight upright, or spilling elements. Play around with adding contrast:

  • Caladium

  • Variegated Carex (i.e. Japanese Forest Grass 'Aureola' or Variegated Sedge 'Everest')

  • Jacob's Ladder 'Stairway to Heaven'

  • Purple Fountain Grass 'Fireworks'

  • Dappled Willow

  • Northern Sea Oats

  • Glitz Euphorbia (semi-spilling)

  • Creeping Baby's Breath


Evening gardens are famous for using scent to add to our sensory palate. Scented geraniums could be placed along paths where you might brush against the foliage or try some of these favorites for end-of-day fragrance:

  • Moonflower (The scent attracts night pollinators!)

  • Peppermint Scented Geranium (also reflective!)

  • Jasmine 'Fiona Sunrise' (Its bright chartreuse foliage could also be great contrast)

  • White Fringe Tree

  • Cherry Laurel 'Otto Luyken' (or other strongly floral scents)

End-of-day Blooming

The penultimate Moon Garden plant is one that will either open in the evening or hold their blooms open through the night.

  • Four O'Clocks

  • Evening Primrose

  • Moonflower (scent will attract night pollinators)

Elements of Dark

Don't forget the backdrop! Bring bright elements forward by adding thoughtfully placed segments of dark contrast:

  • Ornamental Rice 'Black Madras'

  • Fountain Grass 'First Knight'

  • Taro 'Black Coral' (reflective!)

  • Ninebark 'Red Baron' (currently out of stock)

  • Any dark Heuchera (i.e. 'Black Forest Cake')


As in any garden, you can add a lot with some key elements of hardscaping. For nighttime use, think peripheral lighting, some seating, and clearly marked pathways. Stepping stones are key for passage! But it doesn't just have to be utility; my close friend built a gorgeous stepping-stone labyrinth in her yard to add a quiet activity in the winding down hours. As with so many garden designs, let your own taste and your own creativity lead!

And if you have already created your Moon Garden refuge, send us your favorite night garden photos... we love to be inspired by you!


Watch for our second segment this summer, The Evening Garden: Part II, where we will address our favorite evening pollinators and beneficial plants for their support. And if you are interested in learning more about night pollinators, check out the Moth Night event at Painters on July 26th from 8:00-11:00. Join us for a lecture and collection demonstration with a professional moth light. Tickets available now!

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