Plant a Moonlight Garden

Shimmering, fragrant, evocative.

| April/May 1996

On strolls through my garden in the evening, I’m drawn to one bed in particular. As night falls, this bed of herbs and flow­­­ers glimmers, glows, catches the moonlight, and tosses it back. A breeze stirs, and I’m enveloped by scent. The fragrances of the evening seem sweeter­ and stronger than those of the day, ­or perhaps the surrounding darkness dims other ­senses and makes the night ­garden more ­intensely fragrant and evocative. This bed where I linger is my moonlight ­garden.

• Moonlight Garden Plants 

One of my favorite herb gardens, this one came about almost by chance. After my original circular herb garden grew to fullness, I decided to expand it further by adding crescent-shaped beds on opposite sides of the circle.

I dug out two crescents of lawn to the north and south of my main garden and surrounded them with rocks to match the original design. After turning over the soil, I sat down on a nearby bench with a cup of tea, pondering the possibilities and waiting for inspiration. I had already decided that one crescent should contain the herbs mentioned by Shakespeare. I’m originally from England, and a Shakespeare garden would give me the opportunity to plant many English flowers that I feel nostalgic about—cowslips, primroses, violets, columbine, and daisies. The second garden, however, presented so many possibilities that I wallowed in indecision. Already flourishing in my yard were a medicinal garden, a scented garden, a bee garden, and a garden of kitchen herbs. Did I want to add a tea garden, a dyer’s garden, or perhaps a witch’s garden just for fun?

The inspiration finally came from the shapes before me: the crescents framing the round bed resembled phases of the moon. A moonlight garden of silver and white would combine beauty and practicality. Not only would pale gray leaves show up wonderfully in the moonlight and light the way for evening strolls, but they would furnish me with a fine supply of material for herbal wreaths. I already had a number of gray and silver plants in other parts of the garden, so I could begin by transplanting rather than buying, a gentle beginning for my budget. The idea of a ­restful, pretty garden bed that comes alive at the end of the day was appealing to me, and I dug in.

I had many plants in mind for this garden bed, but only later was I able to articulate the essential requirements for their inclusion: silver foliage, white blooms, or evening fragrance. (Using the same criteria, Carolee Snyder of Carolee’s Herb Farm in Hartford City, Indiana, has planted a larger moonlight garden in the same shape. Her plant list that accompanies the illustration is a wonderful starting point for any would-be moonlight gardener.)

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