Moon Garden Design: Learn How To Plant A Moon Garden

Moon Garden Design: Learn How To Plant A Moon Garden

Unfortunately, many of us gardeners have meticulously planned out beautiful garden beds that we rarely get to enjoy. After a long work day, followed by household chores and family obligations, it is nightfall before we can find the time to sit down and relax. Designing moon gardens may be an easy fix to this common problem.

What is a Moon Garden?

A moon garden is simply a garden that is meant to be enjoyed by the light of the moon, or at nighttime. Moon garden designs include white or lightly colored blooms that open at night, plants that release sweet fragrances at night, and/or plant foliage that adds a unique texture, color or shape at night.

Plants with light blooms that open at night will reflect the moonlight, making them pop out against the darkness. Some examples of excellent white blooms for moon gardens are:

  • Moonflower
  • Nicotiana
  • Brugmansia
  • Mock orange
  • Petunia
  • Night blooming jasmine
  • Cleome
  • Sweet Autumn clematis

Some of the above mentioned plants, such as night blooming jasmine, petunia and Sweet Autumn clematis, pull double duty in moon garden designs by reflecting moonlight and releasing a sweet fragrance. This fragrance is actually intended to attract nighttime pollinators, like moths or bats, but their scent adds a relaxing ambiance to moon gardens.

Plants with blue, silver or variegated foliage, such as Artemisia, blue fescue, juniper, and variegated hosta also reflect the moonlight and add interesting shape and texture to moon garden designs.

Learn How to Plant a Moon Garden

When designing moon gardens, first you will need to select an appropriate site. Moon garden layouts can be a large elaborate garden or just a small little flowerbed, but either way you will want to select a site that is easy to access at night.

Oftentimes, moon gardens are placed near a deck, patio, porch, or large window where the sights, sound and smells of the garden can be easily enjoyed. It is also very important that you select a site where the plants will actually be exposed to moonlight, or artificial lighting, so it does not look just like any dark garden bed.

This may mean spending a few nights tracking the moonlight in your garden, during the hours that you are most likely to spend time in your moon garden. Pay attention not only to where moonlight floods your garden, but also to how it casts shadows. Shadows of uniquely shaped plants can add appeal to the moon garden too.

As with any garden design, moon garden layouts can include trees, shrubs, grasses, perennials and annuals. However, don’t be afraid to add other elements to the garden such as reflective gazing balls, glow-in-the-dark pots, strings of lights, and spotlights on specimen plants or other garden lighting.

White rocks can also be used in beds or walkways to illuminate them in the darkness. A trickling water feature or pond full of croaking bullfrogs near the moon garden can add peaceful sounds as well.

Create a Moon Garden

Moonflower Bush

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I admit it: I’m a hopeless romantic when it comes to gardening. That’s why the idea of a moonlit garden appeals to me: I imagine moonflowers unfurling their buds after dark, their frilly blossoms reflecting the pale light. I love the way petunias release their fragrance after the sun goes down, filling the air with soft perfumes.

There are so many reasons to grow a moon garden—including the not-so-romantic reason that by the time most of us get home from work, the sun is setting and shadows are stretching over our yards. Our busy schedules force us to think about how we can enjoy our flowers at night—or wait until the weekend to wander around and see what’s blooming.

A few years ago, I planted a patch of white, silvery and gray plants, hoping they’d catch the moonlight in the evening. I wanted to be able to come home, kick off my shoes, and sink into a lawn chair on summer nights, just for an hour or so. I knew an after-dark garden would be an altogether different experience from one I’d visit in the daytime, but that was okay. I just wanted a little time to Zen out with my flowers.

And guess what? My moon garden worked pretty well.

Okay—it didn’t glow and shimmer quite as magically as I’d imagined, but many of the creamy or snowy-white blossoms I planted did reflect some of the ambient light. It was enough—combined with a few carefully placed candles—to let me enjoy my garden when I could, even if it was after sundown.

I discovered something else, too, when I aimed a small spotlight over the surface of our tiny pond. My neighbor, whose house sits on a hill high above mine, was coming out at night to admire my garden, too. He was too far away to see the flowers, but the spotlight, he said, glimmered like a miniature moon in the dark water. How poetic! Seems I had my romantic night garden, after all. You can grow one, too just choose white or light-colored flowers, shrubs and foliage plants.

The large white blooms and heavenly fragrance of the moonflower (Ipomoea alba) will turn your garden into a magical midnight paradise. Source

The moonflower is a twining, vine-like plant that is part of the Morning Glory family. Except the glory of this plant unfolds under the moon.

Night Gladiolus (Gladiolus tristus) has a spicy scent and is attractive to butterflies and bees. Source

Plant an Elemental Garden

If you're a Pagan or Wiccan who's into gardening, you might want to consider planting an elemental garden. The four classical elements are often associated with Pagan and Wiccan spirituality, so why not incorporate them into your gardening? Summer is a great time to work on your garden, so if you haven't gotten out there digging in the dirt yet, now's your chance! The sun is at its peak, the earth is nice and warm, and plants are growing all around. Move some of your existing plants (or put some new ones in) and create an elemental garden. By connecting different parts of your garden with the four elements, you can add a little bit of magic into your life each year.

Not Your Average Moon Garden

When we built an addition to our 18th-century clapboard house and I looked out our new bedroom window, I recognized an opportunity to create a garden viewed from above that would offer cheer in every season and extend visual interest into the evening. It was a perfect spot for a moon garden: a garden of white flowers and foliage designed to be visible all evening. But because all good gardeners extract ideas from visits to great gardens and adapt them to their own landscape, I am not afraid to admit that I shamelessly stole the idea of using yellow-foliaged evergreens (or should they be called “evergolds”?) for my “moon” garden from a visit to Crathes Castle in Scotland.

The extensive gardens there are all magnificent, but I was captivated by one special space called the Golden Garden. As I entered this garden room sur­rounded by beautiful yellow and gold conifers, I felt as if I had walked into warm sunshine right out of the gray Scottish mists. My farmhouse is no castle and our Connecticut climate is less than ideal, but this was a clear case where inspiration presented the perfect design solution.

Most of the conifers with standout shapes and glowing foliage at Crathes Castle wouldn’t survive our winters, so I selected hardy substitutes: species and cultivars that would brighten the scene well into the evening and warm the cold, dark season with a consistent backbone of glowing shrubs arranged in a distinctive plan.

A visible design extends the day

The area where I planned to build this garden allowed for a symmetrical design with ample space defined on one side by the straight stone wall of my rose garden. A split-rail fence runs at right angles from this wall, and a young oak tree stands near it, aligned with the end of our house. A new section of split-rail fence ties the oak tree to the corner of the house, creating a rectangle roughly 75 feet long and 30 feet wide.

I considered planting along the outer edges of this space, but I decided it would be more interesting to divide it into two distinct areas to create the illusion of a larger space. A walk through intimate yet connected areas also adds the sense of journey and drama that enhances an outdoor experience.

The springtime blooms of ‘West Point’ tulips echo the yellow foliage of perennial companions.
Photo/Illustration: Steven Cominsky

Because this garden would be viewed daily from my bedroom window, usually at dusk or dawn, I wanted to include a unique geometry recognizable from above and in low light.

My friend, landscape archi­tect Wallace Gray, inscribed a lovely figure eight within the rectangular space. Rather than filling the figure with lawn surrounded by perimeter plantings, he suggested planting the two halves as opposites: the bottom half nearest the house as a central lawn surrounded by plantings, the other half as a narrow grass path running around the edge of a central bed. With a fountain installed within the top half of the figure eight, the final form consisted of an oval lawn at one end and a round outline of the fountain pool at the other.

I was confident that such a definitive design viewed from below or above would stand out at any hour and in every season.

A twist on tradition

Instead of sticking with the classic elements of a moon garden, I made the follow adaptations to ensure my space was what I wanted.

White isn’t always right.
Silver and white are the classic colors for a moon garden. Many white plants bloom briefly, however, and are often less hardy than the golden plants I have chosen. By shifting the main color of my garden to gold, I have greatly increased my plant palette with a full sequence of blooms and leaves from spring through fall.

A view exists from inside and out.
Moon gardens are traditionally places to sit and enjoy the transition from day to night. I experience my moon garden from above, looking out my bedroom window, so the bold forms of my “evergolds” provide standout structure whenever I look down on this glowing outdoor room.

Sound can replace scent.
Many night-blooming plants common in moon gardens are wonderfully fragrant. Because evening scents are difficult to fully appreciate from my bedroom window, I’ve added the music of a small fountain as a layer of sensory interest.

Strong shrubs anchor the plan

I call this garden my “moon garden” because I most often view it by the light of the moon. Perhaps it should have been called the “sun garden” with its shades of chartreuse, yellow, and gold. When I awake in the morning, the golden foliage evokes the sun, a particularly pleasing effect during the dark days of winter.

Golden evergreens provide the backbone of this garden because they hold their foliage and form all year long. Two tall, beautifully textured Hinoki cypress (Chamaecyparis obtusa ‘Crippsii’, USDA Hardiness Zones 4–8) anchor the oval lawn, flanked on either side by lower-growing arborvitae (Thuja occidentalis ‘Rheingold’, Zones 2–7), which turn a lovely bronze color in winter. A large, conical arborvitae (Thuja occidentalis ‘Degroot’s Emerald Spire’, Zones 2–7) highlights the fountain focal point. A hedge of gold-thread sawara cypress (Chamaecyparis pisifera ‘Filifera Aurea’, Zones 4–8) forms a soft curve and enhances the intimacy of this garden room. Two more sawaras announce the entrance to the garden with their striking, threadlike foliage.

Height adds interest to any garden by drawing the eye up from the horizon, so each year, I transplant two columnar golden Monterey cypress (Cupressus macrocarpa ‘Goldcrest’, Zones 7–11) at the waist of the oval to punctuate its geometry. Even though they are not hardy in my climate, their contribution to the design is so vital I don’t begrudge digging them out each year to be overwintered indoors.

To add even more glowing color, I use yellow and gold perennials such as lily-flowered ‘West Point’ tulips (Tulipa ‘West Point’, Zones 4–8), which emerge in early spring around the fountain, and the strawberry-like flowers of waldsteinia (Waldsteinia ternata, Zones 3–8), which fill in beneath the shrubs in late spring. The ever-reliable ‘Stella de Oro’ daylily (Hemerocallis ‘Stella de Oro’, Zones 3–10), which reblooms after spring, is joined by the golden blooms of black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia fulgida var. sullivantii ‘Goldsturm’, Zones 4–9) as summer turns to fall. I balance all of these yellows with other colors—especially their complementary color, purple—to create a vibrant scene throughout the season.

When visitors enter the moon garden at night, the borders shine brightly, extending the evening by an hour or more. Even in the depths of winter, the bright bones of my evergolds gleam. Best of all, from my bedroom window, this garden graces my eyes every evening before I slip off to sleep and again in the morning when I awake.

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