- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 17, 2002

Derek Fell enjoys flowers by moonlight.

Mr. Fell, co-author of the book "Evening Gardens" with Cathy Barash, has two gardens dedicated to nighttime viewing at his home in Pipersville, Pa. One of them is near his house so that he and his wife can appreciate its beauty while sitting in their conservatory. The 10-foot-by-10-foot space features many white flowers, such as tropical water lilies that open at night.

The other garden, off a woodland path, measures about 90 feet by 30 feet. It contains multiple white and night-blooming plants as well as glowworms that make their home in Hakonechloa macra, a Japanese forest grass. Mr. Fell has been working on the creation for about 10 years.

"An evening garden comes alive by the light of the moon," Mr. Fell says. "It's very uplifting to walk through and look at it."

Because many people are busy at day jobs when the sun is shining, a traditional garden may not be fully appreciated. Evening gardens, which are also known as moon gardens, are designed for the later hours of the day. Moonlight can illuminate certain flowers and foliage, making the garden come alive in a magical way.

Cecelia Battle in Clarksville, Md., designed a moon garden in the shape of a crescent moon. About 5 feet wide and 20 feet long, the garden has mostly white flowers and night-blooming annuals. The plants grow around outdoor furniture she has placed there. The border of the garden is lined with white rocks that sparkle in the moonlight. During the night, Mrs. Battle says, she can see it glow from the upstairs window of her house.

The moon garden is only one of her many passions. When she moved onto her 3-acre property about eight years ago, she decided to cultivate theme gardens, such as a butterfly garden, an herb garden, a vegetable garden and a fragrance garden.

"Most gardens are appreciated during the day, but we spend a lot of time outside during the night," she says. "I thought it would be nice to have a garden that takes advantage of the moonlight."

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Jim Adams, curator of the National Herb Garden at the U.S. National Arboretum in Northeast, says the eye cannot see dark colors, such as reds, blues and purples at night. One of the most obvious ways to design a stunning evening garden is to use white or light-colored flowers. The best-known white garden is the Sissinghurst Castle Garden in England, which was created by Harold Nicolson and Vita Sackville-West, flamboyant British intellectuals of the early 1900s.

Mr. Adams suggests using many types of plants in an evening garden to extend its blooms from spring until fall. For the spring, he suggests planting viburnum, an evergreen shrub with sweet-smelling white or pink-tinged flowers. At the end of spring, white roses are a possibility. During the summer, Ipomoea alba, or giant moonflower, is a fast-growing vine that may climb to about 10 feet. The vine, which is related to the morning glory, has white flowers that open at dusk to give a lemony aroma. In late summer and early fall, Heptacodium miconioides or Seven-Son Flower, a tree native to China, develops long panicles of flower buds resembling loose baby's breath.

Aside from simply using white flowers, gardeners can find many night-blooming varieties. One of Mr. Adams' favorites is Nicotiana sylvestris, or flowering tobacco. He enjoys its sweet evening fragrance, which attracts interesting insects for pollination, such as beetles and moths. Its long white flowers bloom from midsummer through fall and are seen easily in the shadows of the night.

Night-blooming cereus has clusters of large white flowers that expand in the evening for about six hours, releasing a vanillalike perfume. Datura inoxia, or White Angel's Trumpet, is another night-blooming flower. It has large trumpet-shaped flowers up to 8 inches long. They emit a fragrance in the evening that lasts through early morning.

"I personally like to blend fragrances," Mr. Adams says. "There are some people who think it's not OK, but for me, the more the better."

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Marc Cathey, president emeritus of the American Horticultural Society south of Alexandria, says that apart from enjoying the fragrances of evening flowers, one also should notice the special appearance of plants at night. The best time for this is during a full moon (whose next occurrences will be July 24 and Aug. 22). For instance, magnolia trees glisten because of their shiny foliage. They also have large white flowers that stand out after dusk.

Mr. Cathey says it takes at least 10 minutes for the eyes to adjust for viewing flowers in dim light. He says evening gardens are not something that one should experience quickly.

The concept of a moon garden originated with the Japanese as an opportunity for contemplation. Ginkaku-ji, the Temple of the Silver Pavilion in Kyoto, Japan, which is known for its gardens, has beds covered with white salt, which appears as silver sand when it reflects the moon.

"It's a way to just rest and turn your motor off," Mr. Cathey says. "You don't realize how beautiful white flowers are until you see them in the garden under moonlight. You have to sit down and give your senses time to become aware of what's there."

Ellen Zagory, garden manager at the University of California at Davis, says the White Flower Garden and Gazebo on the grounds draws many visitors, who come to enjoy a peaceful retreat. She says many couples hold weddings there because of the garden's pure color. The circular garden, which was built around 1980, is about a quarter-acre. It features flowers such as snow-in-summer, white hibiscus and white iris.

"It's like an outdoor room," Ms. Zagory says. "People just don't want to look out their windows at their gardens; they want to be out in them."

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Although white flowers shine best under moonlight, Holly Shimizu, executive director of the U.S. Botanic Garden in Southwest, says silver, gray and yellow flowers also can be used for an evening garden.

For instance, Artemisia ludoviciana (known variously as sagewort, white sage or silver wormwood) has silver-gray leaves and small white and gray flowers. Gray flowers planted as a border around white flowers make them stand out in the darkness. Silver licorice has mint-green silvery leaves that shine in the moonlight. Night-blooming jasmine, which has a greenish-yellow flower, is another possibility. It has dense clusters of flowers that bloom at dusk.

Although four-o'clock flowers are pink to lavender in color, some people like to use them for an early evening showpiece in their gardens. When the sunlight is still sufficient, their color won't be hidden by the darkness.

Ms. Shimizu says the size of the evening garden isn't important only the amount of pleasure it provides. She suggests creating a water feature in the garden, such as a small pond or waterfall, between the flowers. Moonlight reflected on the water's surface adds sparkle to the garden.

"Adding water to the space will add to the enjoyment of a moon garden," she says. "It is very calming."

Peter Loewer of Asheville, N.C., author of "The Evening Garden: Flowers and Fragrance From Dusk Till Dawn," says people should design evening gardens to fit their tastes. Although there are many possibilities, the most important aspect is that the creation brings a sense of satisfaction to those who enjoy it. He mixes day- and evening-blooming flowers in his garden because he spends time there both day and evening. However, at night the garden takes on a new quality.

Mr. Loewer has hosted parties that have revolved around the opening of the moonflower vine on summer evenings. He has taken visitors on moonlit walks in the garden. At other times, he has sat alone in the garden and viewed the moon and stars and listened to the sounds of the evening.

"It's not only the perfect site for both relaxing and thinking about the day that's passed, it's just a very comfortable place to be," Mr. Loewer says. "Without the distractions of the day, the night gives us a better chance to think."

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