Many gardeners aren’t home during the day to enjoy their garden, so creating one that lasts into the evening hours expands your options. Build your night garden where it is easily accessible in the evening, or where you spend your time outdoors at night.
Two “moon plants” are the moon vine (Ipomoea alba) and moon bush, or Angels’ trumpet (Datura meteloides). Both of these plants are summer bloomers and won’t kick in and grow until the soil is nice and warm. With proper care, once they begin to bloom, they will give you a wonderful show all summer long. The morning glory moon vine (Ipomoea) is a summer annual. This vining plant produces 6-inch pure white trumpet-shaped flowers that unfurl in slow motion every night just at sunset. While each flower only lasts a day, or should we say, evening, they remain fragrant well after dark.
The Datura, or moon bush plant, has 6-inch white trumpet-shaped blooms that open at night and remain open well into the following day. This plant is a perennial most years and can reseed as well. Each flower only lasts a day, but almost every bloom will form a bristly round seed pod. To keep it blooming more freely, pinch off the seed pods until late in the season when you want to start saving seeds. Keep in mind that all parts of this plant are poisonous.
Don’t overlook the Oenotheras. Although these plants come in shades of yellow and pink, they are excellent late-afternoon through early-morning bloomers. First to bloom is the showy evening primrose, the pink Oenothera speciose, which can be invasive, followed by the yellow blooms of Oenothera biennis.
Night-blooming jasmine is not a showy plant to put in the garden, but once you’ve gotten a whiff of its night scent, you won’t want to miss it. Cestrum nocturnum produces greenish-white tubular-shaped flowers. The sweet scent is phenomenal, and it blooms in cycles throughout the summer. There are numerous true jasmines, which have fragrance all day and also have nice white showy flowers, which will continue to shine in the night garden. Star jasmine (Jasminum nitidum) and pink jasmine (Jasminum polyanthum) are two good annual choices, while the Confederate jasmine (Trachelospermum jasminoides) is an excellent evergreen perennial vine.
Starting in the late afternoon, Mirabilis jalapa’s (the common four o’clock) 2-inch trumpet-shaped flowers open, releasing a jasmine-like scent. Although they aren’t all white, they give you a mix of colors ranging from pink, rose, white and orange to yellow.
For those who like the truly unusual, consider a houseplant that you move outdoors for the summer. The night-blooming cereus is truly the ugly duckling of the plant world. This gangly vining succulent houseplant produces flower buds along the edge of the leaf. When it blooms — stand back — these flowers are unique and enormous. They won’t open until the sun is well set, but once they do, they remain open and fragrant all night.
Your night garden need not consist just of night-blooming plants, but any light-colored bloom that stays open in the evening will work. There are many excellent choices of white-blooming or silver-foliaged plants to choose from. They include bulbs and perennials: candytuft, white Japanese anemones, snowdrops, lily-of-the-valley, ox-eye daisy, Shasta daisy, white bleeding heart, lilies, snow on the mountain, phlox and tuberose with their sweet fragrance.
Even if you have ample time to enjoy your garden during the day, why not extend your viewing pleasures and enjoy evening’s cooler temperatures as well? Consider comfortable seating near your garden and possibly add some extra lighting for when the moonlight isn’t available.
Janet B. Carson is an extension horticulture specialist for the University of Arkansas Extension Service.