The Joys in Moonlight Gardens With Solar Garden Lighting
The daughter of Madame Butterfly, Akina, once invited me to visit her moonlight garden. Now at the time, I couldn’t imagine that seeing someone’s garden in the light of the full moon, but then I’d already experienced her mother’s “pets” and her“spa get tay”— so nothing should have surprised me. However, the drama and romance of Akina’s moonlight garden was one I’ll never forget.
We stepped outside on a starry clear Texas night, to walk along a winding aromatic path to a wooden bench in her herb garden.
“You just sit here … I be right back … . you eyes need to get ready,” Akina said, in her usual halting English. Little did I know, she had no intention of robbing me of joy of a moonlight garden by intruding with her return.
At first, the full moon was briefly hidden by a wispy trail of clouds, then it gradually creeped away to reveal a magical garden transformed. All of the gardens silvery tones shone intensely by the moon’s light. The scent of unseen flowers drifted across the moonlight garden that left me enchanted with a memory that will last a life time. I made up my mind right there forgetting all about where Akina might have gotten off to — I needed to have a moonlight garden of my own.
By Ancient Moonlight
While many of us have never heard of a moonlight garden (another term for them is “white gardens”), they are more ancient than most would suspect. The Chinese and Japanese planted moonlight gardens. They were meant to be a place of mediation and romance. They were also once a garden of the “rich and famous” during the late Victorian era in the United States and Europe. A moonlight garden was also once part of the the Taj Mahal gardens, known as “Mahtab Tagh.” These are multi-senses gardens, more about hearing, smell, and touch. Pools, waterfalls, and fountains played a key role in the design of such gardens.
When designing a moonlight garden, it is a good idea to remember that various shades of white can appear to clash with each other at night, with one color looking dull in comparison to another. For this reason, flowers of one shade should be clustered together, and divided from other flowers with foliage. If pale colors are used in a moonlight garden, it helps to use them sparingly, so that they do not make the whites look pale and dull.
Also remember that location is everything in a moonlight garden. Careful thought needs to be given as to whether or not the garden gets ample moonlight. No tall trees or structures should block the moonlight. Then, on the opposite end of thought, is to remember that you also wouldn’t want any modern daylight pollution, like flood lights or street lights, ruining your carefully planned moonlight garden.
A moonlight garden is a garden which is designed to be enjoyed at night, under the light of the full moon. The design of the garden incorporates plants with highly reflective foliage and flowers which will appear to glow under the light of the moon, as well as aromatic plants which will fill the air with their scents after dark. Most commonly, a moonlight garden appears as part of a larger garden, as moonlight gardens do not always look very exciting by the light of day.
Generally, gardens are planted for how they should look during daylight hours. Not much thought goes into how those same plants can achieve a very magical appearance when viewed by the light of the moon. Until that night in Akina’s garden, it was certainly something I never thought about.
Don’t Skip The Vines (Especially the Jasmines)
In Your Moonlight Garden
Don’t forget about Wisteria (Wisteria sinensis)not only beautiful by daylight, but also fragrant at night. Here, choose pale colors instead of the white varieties, because the are less fragrant.
- Try Japanese honeysuckle (Lonicera japonica)— an easy to grow, somewhat invasive vine that is a delight to more than one sense.
- Carolina Jessamine (Gelsemium sempervirens) — these yellow flowers are literally blooming fools, often still in flower during cold weather.
- Winter Jasmine (Jasminium polyanthum) - hardy and make a quick fence cover
- Star Jasmine (Trachelospermum jasminoides)- Small and fragrant blossoms
Plants That Work Well In the Moonlight Gardens
Dream big when you think about what to plant in your moonlight garden. Don’t just include flowering plants that reflect moonlight. Remember that foliage plants can also be used to scent the air with romance, and little details like planting the walking paths with thyme, mint, or chamomile between stones and along the edges will add sweetness to the air as you walk along.
Another way of thinking when planning a moonlight garden is to think “white garden.” Lightly colored flowers that are cream, pale pink, blue, or purple, or white will reflect moonlight in contrast to dark colored flowers. Here’s a list of plants to consider:
- Angel’s Trumps (Datura inoxia) - A night blooming plant
- Bee Balm (Monarda didyma) - while it is not light reflective it is aromatic
- Bleeding Hearts — (Dicentra spectabilis) - this is a shade loving plant
- Border Carnations — (Dianthus caryophyllus) - They work just as well as border plants as they do in rocky areas
- Evening primrose — (Oenothera Biennis) - Tall, stately, with flowers that open in the evening
- Forget-me-nots — (Myosotis sylvatica) — an abundance of white and pale blue flowers
- Four-O-Clock — (Marabilis jalapa) - A night blooming plant
- Foxglove — (Digitalis spp.) - the lighter color varieties work best in a moonlight garden
- Gardenia - (Gardenia jasminoides) - small strongly scented flowers
- Hyacinth — (Hyacinthus orientalis) - a very fragrant bulb plant
- Lavender— (Lavendula angustifolia) - very fragrant and a “must” for any moonlight garden, just remember that they will cross pollinate when it comes to coloring
- Moonflower — (Ipomoea alba) - A night blooming plant
- Peony — (Paeonia lactiflora) - No moonlight garden should be without this ancient flower of riches and honor
- Periwinkles — (Vinca spp.)- A great ground cover but need to be controlled because they can be invasive in some areas.
- White Roses (Rosa alba) - Even though they only bloom once a year, these sun loving roses are worthy of consideration for moonlight madness
- Rosemary — (Rosmarinus officinalis) - Here it is all about fragrance!
- Silver Rocket — (Hesperis matronalis) — a sweet scented plant with white flowers
- Sweet Cicely (Myrrhis ordorata) - has a great number of flat white flower heads
- Thymes — (Thymus) - Thymes come in a variety of colors, and mixing them in a moonlight garden can be delightful.
- White Oleander - (Nerium oleander) - While very poisonous, it has been planted in moonlight gardens in warm climates for centuries.
- Yucca- (Yucca filamentosa) - While obviously not for all climates, these too can be a romantic addition to any moonlight garden.
Trees That Work Well In Moonlight Gardens
- Cherry tree (Prumus avium) - fragrant pale pink blossoms
- Kousa Dogwood (Cornus kousa) - small variety of the dogwood tree family
- Weeping Silver Pear tree (Pyrus salicifolia) - handing silvery graceful branches
- White Flowering Dogwood (Benthamidia florida) - in full bloom you won’t find a prettier tree, even George Washington and Thomas Jefferson planted them in their gardens
For Those Not-So-Moonlit Nights
Both Akina’s moonlight garden and the ancient moonlight gardens didn’t have the ambient lighting that is so easily and inexpensively available to us today. You can add drama, romance, and safety — concealed lighting, not see the source of the light, but lighting up at dusk without seeing the fittings that will add an extra layer of charm to your moonlight garden.
Solar gardening lighting is perhaps one of the most important parts of your moonlight garden design plan. There are all sorts of new products along this product line and some of them are very theme and whimscal. Some of the ones I favor and recommend are:
- Floating Solar Lights
- Solar Powered Lights In A Stone
- Chameleon Glass Orb Solar Light Stake - Blue Hand Painted Orb (also comes in red)
- Frosted Dragonfly Lanterns
- Garden Projector Lights
- Solar Stepping Stone Lights
- LED Cherry Tree Lights
Here the key to everything, is making sure that the lights you choose emphasize (not detract), and are natural and invisible compared to the plants themselves.
Lastly, don’t forget to let your imagination run wild with statues and other whimsical garden features — along with making sure you have gifted yourself a wonderful sitting area to enjoy your creation.