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Elements for creating a moonlight garden


May 18, 2021
By Mary Fischer

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Photo credit Unsplash. Plants with white or light-coloured flowers or foliage will reflect moonlight and “glow” at night.

As landscapes move into warm summer nights, a moonlight garden can extend the experience late into the evening.

“Moonlight gardens have been around for centuries,” said Mary Fischer, horticulture educator at University of Illinois Extension. “There’s something about a beautiful garden illuminated by moonlight that engages the senses in a different way.”

It’s not difficult to create a moonlight garden, provided the designer takes care to focus on specific elements, says Fischer.

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First, they should determine where moonlight typically falls, and consider existing objects or plantings that occupy the space. These could block out moonlight through the shadows they cast. Consider views from within the home, and how views can be accessed from inside.

Install low-output artificial night lighting. Hardware stores and garden centers can offer inexpensive lighting kits, and solar lights can offer subtle illumination to specific garden areas. Reflective items such as mirrors add ambiance and a perception that the space is larger.

Water features can provide relaxing sounds and can also be illuminated. Fragrant plants add charm and romance, something gardeners have recognized for centuries. Archeologists discovered ruins of a lost garden at the Taj Mahal that contained night-blooming white flowers that perfumed the evening air.

“Consider plants that sparkle or glimmer in moonlight or in subtle lighting,” says Fischer. “Make sure to include plants that have light-colored or white blossoms and light or silver-gray foliage. Add evergreen plants, since these provide the garden with structure in winter, and vividly contrast with white flowers and light-coloured foliage.”

White-blooming annual varieties include ageratum, begonias, cosmos, daisies, dianthus, impatiens, marigolds, pansies, spider flower, violas, and zinnias. White-scented annuals include alyssum, petunias, night phlox, stock, and flowering tobacco.

White or light-coloured perennial varieties include asters, bellflowers, bugbane, candytuft, dahlias, Shasta daisies, daylilies, foamflower, foxglove, irises, mums, peonies, creeping phlox, and violets. White-scented perennials may include peonies and roses.

“Designers should also look for trees and shrubs that have white flowers, and include bulbs such as crocus, daffodils, hyacinths, lily-of-the-valley, snowdrops, and tulips,” says Fischer. “And remember vines, which can add vertical interest, as well as light and depth to the space.”


Mary Fischer is a Horticulture Educator at Illinois Extension.