I used to have tons of lilies in the garden, but years of deer browsing and heavy clay soil took their toil and claimed them all, so today I had planned to start rebuilding their numbers with 64 Casablanca lilies that showed up on my doorstep as if delivered by fairies. But it is snowing, or rather spitting sleet, so instead I’m huddled on the sofa with all four of the dachshunds reading and dreaming about gardens instead of digging in them. And in my perusing I came across an article on moon gardens that described the fragrance of the Casablancas as an intoxicating and necessary inclusion to the night garden along with the Moonflower vines that unfortunately I didn’t plant this year. It made me think about what my own garden looks like in the evening, and how so often when I come home from work, especially now in the fall, I don’t actually get to enjoy my garden as it has been created with the sun as it’s focal point, not the moon. As I sit on the couch drinking my tea, I fantasize about how I could make evening in the garden something a little more special, and a little more visually, and olfactorily exciting.
The key obviously is to work with the moon, and to use plants that are silver or white foliaged or white flowered or those that bloom at night. The second part would be for me to learn to pause, to not just rush from the car into the house, but to meander and contemplate. A moon garden is a garden of subtly, a garden when the effects are delicate, faint and small. I’m a more bombastic gardener. I tend to like explosions of color; so the addition of more white and silver is going to be very interesting for a girl that tends to lunge for the hot pink and the orange. Nor am I good at meandering and pausing. I got 6 white chairs (that of course show up beautifully in the moonlight) for my birthday last year and have really only sat in any of them only once or twice. When I’m in the garden I tend to be doing, not being, but that’s something I need to work on in life as well as my garden, so the idea of the moon gardening experience is interesting.
The plant list is easy, and who doesn’t love an excuse to buy plants. “I have to get all the plants on this list since having them will help me learn to relax and enjoy my garden instead of just working in it,” I rationalize. Obviously white roses and clematis (I loathe ‘Iceberg’ so maybe ‘Sea Foam’ and ‘Snow Drift’ and I love ‘Henryi’ so those are easy), lambs ear, caryopteris ‘Snow Fairy’ and as many of the white echinaceas, ‘Pow Wow White,’ ‘Fragrant Angel,’ and the green eyed ‘Virgin’ as I can afford. More Phlox carolina ‘Miss Lingard’ and her cousin ‘David’ because who doesn’t need phlox.
And I shall have to track down seeds of white Mirabilis jalapa, the self seeding annual known as four o’clocks for when their flowers open only to die with the coming dawn, a perfect moon garden addition. Of course I will need tons on my favorite lobularia, as it’s a froth of whiteness that will, I imagine, look like foam in the moonlight. The Japanese used white chrysanthemums but I prefer white cleome and nicotianas. Tuberose would be a good suggestion, for it’s scent, but I’m never really sure how to work it into my existing beds so I shall have to track down a night blooming jasmine instead.
I have the dogwoods and the clethra and the viburnums, but could always add more hydrangeas (of course) especially the paniculata ‘Bobo’ and the reblooming mophead ‘White King.’ And I will have to remember the moonflowers next year and add them in places closer to the house so in case I fail at the meandering, I will at least get to enjoy their sweet scent in the evenings. Next year will be white dahlias as opposed to the peach or pink or orange and purple of previous summers, and more of the fall blooming Japanese anemone ‘Honorine Joubert’ as well as the variegated willow Salix 'Hakuro Nishiki.' And I must have a rosemary willow, the salix elaeagnos 'Angustifolia' that Margret Roach showed slides of in one of her lectures, that I’ve lust for ever since.
If I find the four o’clocks, I should also look for night scented stock, Matthiola bicornis. According to my research, by day, it’s quite unremarkable, almost drab, but as evening descends the flowers slowly open and perfume the air so richly that by midnight, as it’s perfume peaks, it attracts all sorts of pollinating moths. It’s been years since the first and only time I saw a luna moth and I long to spot one again, but unfortunately the adult moths do not feed at all so they will not be attracted to my night garden, and since my black walnut died, and I have not pecans I have very little chance of attracting the creature at all, although I do have a sweet gum, which they supposedly love.
As I sit thinking about night winged creatures, silver foliage and learning how to pause, what sounded like a thousand geese flew overhead. I close my eyes and listen. The snow has stopped. The wind has dropped and if I felt like it, I could certainly bundle up, go out into the day and throw a bunch of my bulbs into the ground. Instead I take a note from the four dogs surrounding me and decide to nap. There’s hope for me yet.
Paige Patterson wanted to be a naturalist when she was a child, and has really never lost the desire. She just has to remember how to sit quietly enough to be able to see.