the Heat of the Night (Photo by Craig
Mabray of All Pro
Pushing paper all day instead of a mower,
most of us have few daylight hours during the week to get landscaping chores
done, much less do gardening we might actually enjoy. Extending the days with
the “spring forward” of Daylight Savings Time may help for a few months,
but come autumn we are forced once again to “fall back” into darkness. But a new trend bunks the excuse of not enough time in the
day to do it all: it is night gardening.
And whether for time constraints or physical ones -- such as skin
cancer or lupus or simply an aversion to Houston’s heat -- night gardening
has become a popular alternative for those who would rather work out in the
yard than work out in the gym.
All of us, given a cool breeze and a bit
of insect repellent, would probably enjoy being
in a lovely garden at night. But working
in it? It’s easy. All
it takes is an open mind, a good light system and the proper plant materials,
preferably those that are at their peak during twilight or darkness.
So assuming you have the first prerequisite taken care of, let’s look
at the next two.
The moon’s reflection is about 1/600,000th
of the sun’s brightness and only occurs periodically anyway, so expect to
invest in additional lighting for a night garden.
Lighting in an outdoor space can be categorized the same way as that in
indoor spaces. Today’s homes
have outdoor lighting that generally falls into security/safety (such as porch
lights, floodlights, walk lights, etc.) or accent (well lights, up lights,
tree down lights, etc.). Security/safety
lighting is normally wired into the house at construction and switches can be
either inside or on a “dusk to dawn” or “motion” mechanism causing it
to automatically come on when needed. Accent
lighting outdoors may be considered a luxury item and added on as that.
But another category of lighting will be necessary to allow gardening
at night: task lighting. Just like in the kitchen preparation area or at a desk, task
lighting an exterior space will require determining WHAT and then WHERE the
If a full scale landscaping operation will
be performed after dark, floodlights are warranted and a licensed electrician
may be required. Check local
electrical codes before beginning this project to see if the UF cable can
simply be buried or if it will be necessary to encase the cables in plastic
conduits before burying. Always
install GFCI (ground fault circuit interrupter) devices as a safety
precaution. It is also a good idea to make sure your new lights will not be
interfering with the sleep of those in your house or neighborhood who choose
not to garden at night. Point
beams toward the specific spots you will be working and not out in a general
direction. This may require more lights to be used, but your family and
friends will thank you. If
floodlights are already in place at the corners of the house or garage or near
the back door, consider using that area for the night garden so that
additional lighting might not be necessary.
Or use temporary, plug-in lighting.
That does not mean haul the Hawaiian hula dancing floor lamp out onto
the patio….just purchase a few clip or stand, heavy duty lights (like those
used by mechanics when they work under the hood) and some outdoor extension
After you install your garden by the light
of the moon, you will probably want to enjoy it under similar circumstances.
Louis XVI had hundreds of men holding torches to light Versailles for a
midnight stroll through the garden. Unless
you have a very large family and stock in a candle company, however, low
voltage lighting might be a better choice for accenting your night garden.
The diffused glow of a low voltage system brings the garden to life
without a huge drain of electricity by reducing the 120-volt outlet current
into a 12-volt one. Most
transformers allow for up to six lights at 75 watts or less on each line.
These systems can be purchased inexpensively at hardware, gardening,
home improvement or discount stores. Various
fixtures may be mixed and matched to give drama to the landscaping.
Although kits are available, landscape lighting is not really a “one
size fits all” proposition and the kits often turn a languid sidewalk into
an airport runway since most -- if not all --- of the kit fixtures are exactly
alike (4-5 Tiki looking accent lights and one spotlight).
So now the lighting and garden are mapped
out and installed. But what
plants do you use in a night garden? Nocturnal
plants are typically tropical, easily suited to our temperate climate,
although some will require being grown in pots to bring in on those nights it
dips below 45-50 degrees. (A
containerized night garden is also a wonderful option for those who live in
high rises or other limited gardening space homes.)
Night blooming plants are usually pollinated by moths, although bats
are responsible for the pollinating of many cactuses and trees that are
nocturnal and beetles work on most of the magnolias.
But the colors of the daytime world are no longer effective beacons
calling out for pollinators in the night. White, yellow, blue, black and
shades of gray are the only ones truly visible.
It is now that the smell
summons many prospective suitors. In her 1932 book, The Fragrant Garden
(The Macmillan Company), Louise Beebe Wilder wrote,
Fragrance speaks to many to whom color and form say little, and it can
bring as irresistibly as music emotions of all sorts to the mind.
Just as one person’s favorite
brussel sprout dish would turn the stomach of another, so is “fragrance”
arbitrary and personal. It is
recommended that prior to installing a specific plant in your garden for its
delicious scent, you try it before you buy it.
Some release their perfume only at night, while others’ fragrance
simply becomes more intense with the setting sun.
Creating a garden can be cathartic for
anyone tolerating the stresses of everyday life.
So don’t deprive yourself just because the daylight hours are too
few. Build your own night garden and retake the evening as your own, building
a space that you can use to unwind and relax whether swinging a hoe or a porch
NIGHT GARDEN PLANTS
flowers that keep
odor to themselves all day;
when the sunlight dies away,
the delicious secret out
every breeze that roams about.
Night gardens can be a wonderful
addition to any landscape. Whether
the garden is planted and cultivated at night or simply enjoyed after dark,
some of the easiest fragrant and/or night blooming flowers are listed below to
give you a beginning to start your own night garden.
garden lilies (Lillium
angel’s trumpet (Brugmansia
night jessamine (Cestrum
mock orange (Philadelphus
banana shrubs (Michelia
evening primroses (Oenthera
evergreen wisteria (Millitia
wrightii) – beautiful native shrub but not necessarily thought of as
fragrant; the leaves may cause an irritation to skin, so relegate it as a
focal point toward the back of a garden
moonflower vine (Ipomoea
alba) – reseeding annual
evening stock (Matthiola
longipetala) – cool season annual
jalapa) – reseeding annual
flowering tobacco (Nicotiana
spp.) – annual
night-blooming daylily (Hemerocallis
sand verbena (Abronia
G. lindheimeri, G. parviflora)
night yucca (Hesperaloe
night blooming cereus, or one of the other
450 night blooming cactuses