Midwest Regional Reports

Moon Garden Inspiration for the Midwest

Create after-hours ambience with fragrant, light-catching plants

midwest moon garden
A moon garden often includes plants with pale flowers, silvery foliage, and scents that become more pronounced after sunset.

My wife and I are both avid gardeners, but we typically only find time to sit and enjoy the landscape at dusk or after sunset. To maximize the evening appeal of our landscape, we have incorporated many plants that provide visual interest and scent as night sets in. If you’ve considered creating a moon garden for evening relaxation, I’ve compiled a few ideas to get your design wheels turning.

When lighting is limited, certain colors and fragrances become more pronounced, impactful, and memorable. While sunlight provides roughly 100,000 lux (lumens per square meter), moonlight offers only 1 lux. In the moon’s relatively weak light, objects that are white, silver, gray, light pink, or pale yellow appear almost luminous, while darker colors become muddy and muted.

A true moon garden forgoes artificial light

To maximize the impact of your moonlit landscape, it is important to block or eliminate as much light pollution from streetlights, exterior security lighting, and other sources as you can. Remember, it takes about 10 minutes for eyes to fully adjust to a moonlit garden scene, so be patient and resist the urge to flip on the porch light.

night plox and angels trumpets
White flowers truly pop in the evening hours, and fragrant selections like angels’ trumpets (left) and night phlox (right) are especially enchanting.

Plant for all of the senses, not just the eye

It is possible to put together a dynamic mix of perennials, annuals, trees, and shrubs that will give you abundant interest and a progression of flower displays over the entire growing season. Make sure to include plants with a variety of flower forms and plant architecture.

Position plants that emit pleasing fragrances close to seating areas; a pot of angels’ trumpets (Brugmansia spp. and cvs., Zones 9–11) tucked in near a bench is a recipe for pure magic! Many plants become more fragrant in the evening including seasonal evening bloomers like moonflower vine (Ipomoea alba, Zones 10–12), night phlox (Zaluzianskya capensis, Zones 9–11), and some selections of flowering tobacco (Nicotiana cvs., Zones 9–11).

garden bed with lots of silver plants
Plants with silvery foliage seem custom-built to catch the tiniest glint of moonlight.

Use plants with “light-catching” foliage

The foliage of many plants is also useful for “illuminating” the moonlit garden. As you build your nocturnal plant palette, include some cultivars with prominent silvering, variegation, streaking, spotting, or glossiness. During the day, the whites and silvers will help to unify the composition, and in the evening hours they become the stars of the show.

New Look dusty miller
Consider the value of silver plants with fuzzy foliage, like ‘New Look’ dusty miller.

Plants with fine hairs called pubescence on their leaves look especially bright under moonlight, since the hairs increase the surface area of each leaf significantly. I love the bright nighttime effect of silver sage (Salvia argentea), ‘Berggarten’ sage (Salvia officinalis ‘Berggarten’, Zones 5–8), cardoon (Cynara cardunculus, Zones 7–10), and dusty miller (Senecio cineraria, Zones 8–10).

two types of sage plants with silver foliage
Silver sage (left) and ‘Berggarten’ sage (right) are two more plants with soft, light-catching leaves.

After you’ve got your plant list figured out, consider bringing in some design elements to enhance your evening retreat. You could include water features, garden art, or structures that provide privacy, sensory engagement, and relaxation.

For more Midwest regional reports, click here.

Looking for more fragrant, night-blooming plants? This article has some more selections worth considering.

Click here to listen to a podcast episode that’s all about silvery plants.

Still can’t get enough silver plants? You can find seven more here.

—Mark Dwyer is the garden manager for the Edgerton Hospital Healing Garden in Edgerton, Wisconsin, and he operates Landscape Prescriptions by MD.

Photos: Mark Dwyer

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  1. collards 04/22/2024

    Nice garden, but article is mistitled. Most of these plants are not hardy in the midwest where I live in the Chicago area.

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