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The pleasures of the garden at night

“By the light of the silvery moon" is such a fine time to be in the garden.

The look is quite different from the garden in daylight, and worth considering when you plan your plots. Even full moonlight bathes the garden with only about one-half-millionth as much light as sunlight.

Color fades

Darkness brings subtle changes in our perceptions of the garden. There's not enough moonlight to activate the color-sensing part in our eyes, so the same garden that is in full color in afternoon is in black and white at night. Not that it is any less appealing: What it lacks in colorful fun it gains in quiet elegance.

Without the distraction of color, mass and form are what catch our attention.

Shrubs that are dense with leaves take on a bold presence at night, joining other amorphous masses. In daylight, those same bushes hardly get a second glance, except when they are in flower.

Walls and trees — every dense, three-dimensional form, in fact — also take on a bold presence in moonlight. Their forms might suggest alien creatures, or guide our eyes or feet along in the dim light. And they might offer an earthbound anchor from night's awesome "big sky."

You won't get this feeling from hybrid tea rose bushes or a few marigolds here and there, both of which brighten the garden by day but fade into the darkness of night.

Apparent sizes change

By day, colors alter our perception of the landscape. The red and orange of flowers such as geranium and canna is so eye-catching that the plants seem to jump toward us. A sedate sweep of blue salvia has the opposite effect, receding into the distance. Now jumble the sunlit scene further with contrasts and harmonies among colors. Whew!

For relief, step out into the moonlit garden and be greeted by serene, static masses. For some reason — perhaps it is the lack of color — everything visible in the moonlit garden seems larger than it does by day. By night, butterfly bushes will seem ready to embrace or envelop from all sides; an arbored entranceway to a vegetable garden feels like it towers overhead at night.

Night bloomers

Yes, the night garden does have its flowers. As darkness falls, pale flowers, especially white ones, become more prominent. They seem to emit a soft glow.

Among night's most hauntingly beautiful flowers are those whose pale trumpet shapes attract nocturnal bats and moths. Like these pollinators, some varieties of these flowers — angel's trumpet, cereus and moonflower, for example — open only at night, shyly folding up each morning.

The sweet fragrances of many night bloomers strengthen their allure to bats and moths. The perfumes alone might be sufficient enticement to bring you out into the garden at night, even in the absence of moonlight.

The pleasures of the garden at night 08/28/09 [Last modified: Friday, August 28, 2009 5:30am]

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