Down to Earth: Night Blooming Plants

Gardens made for the Moonlight

| August/September 1998

When I travel, I often get offers from gardeners for tours of their herb gardens, which thrill me. A garden is a personal statement, like a favorite family cookbook or a painting.

A few years ago, I made a trip to Longwood Gardens in Philadelphia to spend a few days visiting a friend. While there, she introduced me to several student interns, who invited me to take tours of the 10-by-10-foot plots each is responsible for cultivating. They were all unusual in their own way, but one garden really intrigued me.

The focal point of this garden was an old column, about 7 feet high, placed like a pedestal on a small mound and giving the plot a look of permanence, as if it had once been the site of something architecturally significant.

Everything was scaled down in size. A small path wound up a miniature hill, crossing a tiny dry streambed. The path led through knee-high plantings of herbs, grasses, and ornamental flowering perennials. A substantial clump of brilliant purple-pink echinacea and a ‘Blue Boy’ rosemary shrub in full bloom with sparkling blue flowers added a swath of color. The path wound its way to a miniature, stone-edged “lake” surrounded by a dwarf lawn of emerald green grass that the landscaping student, Todd Sucy, told me he mowed with scissors.

Clumps of prostrate rosemary ‘Lock­wood’, well-clipped globes of ‘Spicy Globe’ basil, and little mounds of olive green sedums surrounded the lake. Mounds of gray catnip and horehound, as well as the bolder green of lemon balm, all clipped to stay small, dotted the lawn like miniature trees. The scale was such that I felt as though I were viewing a pristine landscape from high in the air.

Todd asked me to come back to see the “real” garden at night. That evening, there was no moon, and the hillside leading up to the garden area was alive with thousands of dancing fireflies. By the light of the fireflies and the lights of Longwood Gardens, we could make our way without flashlights.

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