GARDENING : After Sunset, In the Till of the Night


It had been one of those exhausting days when nothing seemed to go right. Cathy Wilkinson Barash was looking forward to getting home and enjoying a comforting dinner prepared by her husband.

Instead, as Barash emerged from her car, clutching a batch of papers to be reviewed that night, she realized her house was dark, which meant no husband at home and no dinner. Frustrated and annoyed, she tripped on her walkway and sent both papers and herself flying.

But in the midst of her mutterings, she detected a delicate aroma perfuming the air.

Intrigued, she saw that a seemingly nondescript vine planted above the entrance was covered with white flowers shimmering in the moonlight and emitting that delicious fragrance. She remembered they’d planted a moonflower vine ( Ipomoea alba , also Calonyction aculeatum ), close cousin to morning glories.

On this dark evening, lit only by the moon, the iridescent, six-inch flowers enchanted Barash, so much so that the horticulturist, author and photographer resolved to write a book devoted entirely to evening gardens.


“So few people are at home in the daytime anymore and aren’t enjoying their gardens as much as they should,” Barash said. “Logic says to create a garden, or a vignette, that greets you and cheers you.”

Published last fall, “Evening Gardens” (Chapters Publishing Ltd., $19.95) describes in detail how an entire garden can sparkle in the evening.

Or, if a person doesn’t want to rip out an existing landscape, Barash offers ideas of how to selectively place plants that light up the evening garden with blossoms or fragrance.

Barash subtitled her book “Planning and planting a landscape to dazzle the senses after sundown.”

One of the keys to an evening garden is to include plants that produce white or very pale colored flowers that either open after dark or remain open when the sun goes down.

An added attraction are those that emit their fragrance into the night sky. As much as we may want to think the plants do this solely for human enjoyment, the reality is these plants are trying to attract the insects that emerge in the evening and serve as pollinators for the plants’ propagation efforts.


Barash, who lives on New York’s Long Island, says she is a strong believer that at least the entrance, walkway, patio or deck area should contain some foliage or flowers for evening enjoyment, especially in warm climates such as that of Orange County, where outdoor living is so much a part of nighttime entertainment.

She points out that many plants used to provide structure in the garden--palm trees, yucca, bamboo or even cacti--can become striking nighttime sculptural statements with the addition of even a little strategically placed low voltage lighting.

“For an investment of around $100 and a weekend of time, anyone can add lights to the garden,” she said.

Next month, a 24-hour garden will be on display in the Peralta Hills of Anaheim. Kathryn Rue, landscape architect and contractor, is installing a demonstration garden there as part of the upcoming Philharmonic House of Design, which will run April 30 through May 29.

Rue, who heads the Rue Group in Fullerton, wanted to design a garden that illustrated how a garden can be enjoyed day and night.

“Since the Design House is open Thursday evenings, I felt people needed to see what can be done to make a landscape lovely at all hours,” Rue said.


Dark colors in either flowers or leaves disappear visually when the sun sets. But silver or light-colored foliage reflects moonlight or artificial lighting and often seems to glimmer.

Rue is using a large number of white flowering plants, including white impatiens, Begonia semperflorens, Clematis armondii, star jasmine and African lilies. She also included silver or variegated foliage plants, including vinca and needlepoint ivy.

These plants really come into their own after dark. All you see are the variegated areas, not the rest of the leaves, which give the plants an unusual form.


In our climate, we have a large choice of plants to add mystery, excitement or drama to an evening garden. Any style of existing garden--Mediterranean, native, perennial, cottage, tropical--can be enhanced for after-dark enjoyment.

Even ornamental grasses add excitement at night. When breezes come up at sundown, the sound of the rustling grasses adds allure to the visual drama.

Even those plants that grow so easily that we tend to treat them with disdain take on a new meaning in the twilight or black hours of night. Plants such as calla lilies, with their cupped white flowers, seem to float in the evening sky as the dark green foliage vanishes into the night.


Delphinium or hollyhock similarly dance in the darkness. Impatiens are frequently used for mass plantings at entrances. While the darker colored varieties vanish at sunset, the white plantings take on a new life in the glow of moonlight or street lights.

Allysum hugs the ground yet lights up the walkway or pathway with a myriad of tiny white flowers of delicate scent. Ground covers such as snow in summer ( Cerastium tomentosum ) and candytuft (Iberis) similarly seem to produce their own illumination in the dark.


But the stars of the evening garden are those plants that only bloom at night, plants such as the moonflower, with huge flowers up to six inches in diameter. Although each fragrant flower only survives for one evening, the vine produces hundreds during the spring and summer. Be sure to provide sturdy support, because the vine is vigorous and can grow to 30 feet.

Although day lilies usually behave just as the name indicates and close their blossoms at sundown, one variety, ‘Gentle Shepherd,’ does just the opposite and blooms all night. This near-white rarity is available by mail through Jackson & Perkins.

Nicotiana (flowering tobacco) is another twilight- to night-bloomer that only releases its heady fragrance in the nighttime.

Barash advises placing the redolent plants some distance apart to avoid a war of scents. These heavily perfumed plants can become cloying. Sweet citrus, along with gardenia, star jasmine or honeysuckle, can produce olfactory nightmares if too intense.

For information about The Philharmonic House of Design, call (714) 840-7542. To contact Jackson & Perkins, call (800) 292-4769


Plants for Evening Gardens

* Abutilon, white

* Allysum, white

* Calla lilies

* Day lily, ‘Gentle Shepherd’

* Delphinium, white or pink

* Heliotrope, white

* Moonflower

* Oleander, white

* Star jasmine

* Stock, night-blooming