Ah! In the still of the night, a garden of white


Nighttime is sometimes the only time many of us have to spend in our gardens. With work, errands and housekeeping occupying the day, there's precious little time to enjoy the fruit or flower of gardening labors. So many local gardeners with day jobs have created evening gardens or moon gardens, as the English call them. These evening oases provide a beautiful place to sit, to savor the slowing rhythm of the day.

I'm not home during the day," says Ned Daniels, executive director of the Rouse Co. Foundation, "so everything in my garden is white; that way I can enjoy it more in the evening."

Stone walls and ivy flank Mr. Daniel's Baltimore County garden, which measures about 15 feet by 15 feet. It has white-flowering shrubbery, a Pennsylvania field stone terrace, a small pool with a recircling pump, and dark green wicker furniture with white duck sailcloth cushions.

In spring the Daniels garden shows off white azaleas, an espaliered (trellised), pale pink quince running up the wall and a white miniature Oregon magnolia, which blooms in May. "Then the pots take over," notes Mr. Daniels.

"In them I have white petunias, nicotiana, [also known as flowering tobacco], white begonias with bronze leaves and white caladiums." Near his parking area is a dense swale of white astilbe and Japanese painted fern, punctuated with day lilies.

In her book, "Evening Gardens," Cathy Wilkinson Barash describes a range of effective components for the twilight-and-after setting. They include plants with white flowers or variegated or silver leaves. Caladium is variegated (and also comes in pink), as is Japanese painted fern, Italian arum, some ivies, ribbon grass, lamiastrum, pulmonaria and some hostas. Many of these are at least partially shade tolerant. Silver-leafed flowers include dusty miller, silver mound artemisia, lavender and sage.

Ms. Barash and local garden designers urge adding scented plants to the evening scene. As Ann Lundy of Landscape By Design points out, "the night is likely to be still in the summer, so scent is important."

Ms. Barash recommends violets, sweet peas and lilacs in the spring. In the summer we might have roses, linden trees, moonflowers, tuberoses, and honeysuckle (but not the invasive Japanese variety). Moonflower is a vine (an annual here), the evening cousin of the morning glory; its large white fragrant flowers only bloom one night each. A spectacular cactus is the night-blooming cereus, whose buds open to about 12 inches across, once a year -- period -- from about 9 p.m. until daybreak. It's probably most reliable as a houseplant in Maryland.

Wintering indoors

Many tropical plants can winter indoors until summer when they will flourish outdoors in our heat and humidity. The exotic oleander, gardenia and angel's trumpet (brugmansias or datura) are good examples of fragrant tropical plants, but remember, oleander, if eaten, is highly poisonous. It comes in either white or pink; the other two are white.

For more whiteness and more scent, Ann Lundy suggests white phlox (Miss Lingard in June or David in July) and says they're both resistant to mildew, adding that watering them from above also discourages mildew.

She also likes the grandiflora magnolia tree, but adds that the smaller, native magnolia Virginiana is more tolerant of our winters and will bloom all summer if kept moist.

Don't overdo scents

All of the above are fragrant. Ms. Lundy cautions against too much scent in the garden, saying "it's an individual thing but some scents are too strong and clash with others." Some flowers release scents only in the evening, nicotiana; for example, is fragrant after sundown to attract moths which transfer pollen while seeking nectar.

Ms. Lundy suggests other white flowers such as clematis paniculata, white wood aster and boltonia, to take us into fall. Japanese anemone sylvestris blooms in both spring and fall.

Evening gardens can have color too. Light colors such as rose daphne, many petunias and impatiens can be dramatic in the moonlight while bland during the day, and bright colors such as reds and hot yellows take on a vibrant glow as the sun goes down.

Two Homeland couples, John and Leila Juracek and Tony and Christine Kameen, effectively mix colored with white flowers and small pools or birdbaths to add focus and structure to the evening scenes.

The Juraceks -- he is with W. R. Grace and she is newly retired -- have mixed a border of white alyssum with what Mrs. Juracek calls "mauvey" colors, including pink portulaca, pink and white phlox, pink loosestrife, white dahlias, lavender achillea and blue bells against double baby's breath and daisies. Mr. Juracek has placed bricks around the beds and a bird bath in the center which adds height, as does the weathered wooden fence in the background. The effect is English country garden.

Dr. and Mrs. Kareems' stone house has white shutters and a white pergola over which they're training wisteria in the spring.

Mrs. Kareem has started two hyacinth bean plants, which have lavender flowers, along the front posts of the pergola. From spring until fall their garden is a parade of mostly white flowering plants: andromeda, variegated holly, white columbine, dusty miller, white clematis along either side of a stone fountain, white browalia and platycydon, pink geraniums, thyme and blue ageratum. As you enter the house, you're likely to step on some lemon thyme and kick up its citrus scent.

Lighting the scene

The garden at night can benefit from well-placed lighting -- nightscaping. Pat Cox, whose landscape business is called Growing Collection, says that there are many kinds of lights which can focus on the plant or on a structure.

There is up-lighting, downlighting, wide-lighting, and little star lights. Think about the overall effect you want to create, what your focal points should be and, of course, safety. Mr. Cox also suggests that floating flower arrangements, made on a Styrofoam ring, with a flat candle in the center add a romantic touch when placed in a swimming or ornamental pool. Water lilies, especially the African night-blooming kind, are both fragrant and exotic.

Carol Brody-Luchs, co-owner of Craft Concepts in Greenspring Station, has mercury vapor lights, which are blue-green and give a moon-light effect, trained on an assortment of trees outside her living room: a birch tree, a cryptomeria, black Japanese pine and cypress knees. "I have no curtains," she says, "and the lights give the scene a dramatic sculptural presentation."


A local garden to study and learn from is the White Garden at Ladew Topiary Gardens, 3535 Jarrettsville Pike, Monkton ([410] 557-9466).

Two worthy books are "Evening Gardens," by Cathy WilkinsoBarash (Chapters Publishing Ltd., 1993, $19.95) and "The Scented Garden," by Rosemary Verey (Random House, 1981, $24.95).

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