Troy B. Marden is a plantsman, garden designer and co-host of Nashville Public Television’s hit gardening show, Volunteer Gardener. Troy’s gardens, photography and written work have appeared in numerous magazines, and he lectures regularly on gardening around the country. Visit www.troybmarden.com.
 

 
 

Some Enchanted Evening
by Troy B. Marden - posted 03/19/17



After a long day at work, nothing is more relaxing to me than an evening stroll through the garden. The colors are more saturated in the sunset light than any other time of day, and after dark, the garden takes on a life of its own. In an attempt to attract nighttime pollinators, flowers often unleash intoxicating fragrances that permeate the damp, evening air. Some even open in time-lapse fashion, and I find myself mesmerized watching their petals unfurl. Many of these plants are easy to find and to grow, which makes them all the more appealing. If I had to narrow the list down to just a few of my top favorites that make my garden come to life every night, the list might look something like this:

Brugmansia, or angel’s trumpet, is a popular specimen for containers and also thrives in the ground. Its spectacular blooms are borne most profusely in late summer and autumn.


Angel’s trumpet (Brugmansia spp.):
This outstanding tropical offers bold foliage and spectacular pendant-like blossoms ranging from pure white to soft pink to pale yellow. It is an outstanding specimen for large containers but is also perfectly at home planted in the ground, where it can be underplanted with smaller companions. Planted in the garden, it is occasionally perennial in Zone 6b and will be fully hardy farther south, though it may not sprout until very late spring when the soil has warmed thoroughly. After sunset, the flowers release a powerful fragrance that attracts pollinators to the blooms.
 

‘Athens’ sweetshrub (Calycanthus floridus ‘Athens’):
The yellow-flowered form of one of our most popular native shrubs, ‘Athens’ sweetshrub has soft, greenish yellow flowers with an intense fragrance that I can only liken to that of fruity bubblegum. This fragrance is most noticeable during the evening hours, and I love to plant them near a screened-in porch or patio area that is frequently used for dinner or entertaining after dark.


Calycanthus floridus ‘Athens’ is a perfect selection for the evening garden. Its fragrance permeates the air after sunset.


Moonflower (Datura inoxia):
Sometimes called moonflower because of its enormous, pure white blooms that truly glow in the dark on a moonlit night, Datura can be found growing in pastures and along roadsides under the most difficult conditions. It is just as tough in the garden, where it is unbothered by pests of any kind and opens its nighttime blooms from midsummer to frost. Note: The seeds of Datura (and of its close cousin Brugmansia) are poisonous. Plant them far away from the curious fingers and mouths of young children, as well as pets.
 

‘Tahitian Flame’ ginger lily (Hedychium ‘Tahitian Flame’):
With its architectural form and highly variegated green and white leaves, ‘Tahitian Flame’ is a welcome addition to the evening garden. Perhaps more important than its foliage is the warm, spicy fragrance that the flowers emit. While the flowers are fragrant throughout the day, the air hangs heavily with its exotic perfume after dark.

 

Left: Datura stramonium is often found growing wild in pastures and along roadsides. Its 6-inch wide, pure white flowers open at dusk and attract nighttime pollinators to the garden. Middle: Hedychium‘Tahitian Flame’ has heavily variegated green and white leaves that light up the evening garden. The intoxicating fragrance from its flowers intensifies as the sun goes down. Right: Even in winter, evening can be one of the most beautiful times in the garden. Helleborus niger ‘Josef Lemper’ has pure white blooms that shine in the moonlight on a clear winter night.


‘Josef Lemper’ Christmas rose (Helleborus niger ‘Josef Lemper’):
Summer is not the only season when I love my garden after dark. Planted near my front door, Helleborus niger ‘Josef Lemper’ shines on cold, moonlit nights in winter, and it flowers from late November through early March. Growing just 12 inches tall and about twice as wide, it is the perfect companion to hosta, ferns, heuchera and other shade lovers. Its evergreen foliage is also a welcome addition to the winter landscape.


‘Hyperion’ daylily (Hemerocallis ‘Hyperion’):
I have grown the popular ‘Hyperion’ daylily in my garden for more than 30 years — it’s one of the longest-lived perennials I know. My first plant came from my great aunt, who was an accomplished gardener. That original plant has resided in my parents’ garden for three decades and divisions from it have recently found their way into my current garden in Tennessee. Its sweetly scented, lemon yellow flowers open in late afternoon or early evening and emit their fragrance throughout the night before closing in midafternoon the following day.

 

Left: Hemerocallis ‘Hyperion’ is an old-fashioned favorite whose fragrant, lemon yellow blossoms open each evening and remain open through the following afternoon. Middle: ‘Annabelle’ smooth hydrangea is one of our most popular garden shrubs. Its large, white blooms are perfect additions to moon gardens or other areas of the landscape lit by moonlight or landscape lighting. Right: Moon vine (Ipomoea alba) opens its flowers at dusk and attracts nighttime pollinators such as sphinx moths, sometimes called “hummingbird” moths. Its flowers will remain open through midmorning the following day.


‘Annabelle’ smooth hydrangea (Hydrangea arborescens ‘Annabelle’):
This most popular of garden shrubs really needs no introduction. Its huge blooms glow like white orbs after the sun goes down. On a moonlit night, I can see them in the garden from several hundred yards away as I approach my driveway and from the screened-in porch. They have an almost otherworldly appeal as they appear to float in midair.

Towering spires of creamy white blooms on the white martagon lily stand like ghostly sentries in the garden after sunset.


Four o’clock opens in late afternoon each day from early summer until frost. Their strong, sweet fragrance permeates the evening air and is carried on the slightest breeze to the farthest reaches of the yard.
 


Moon vine (Ipomoea alba):
Closely related to morning glory, moon vine opens its enormous, pure white flowers at sunset and flowers until sunrise the following day. Moon vine is a vigorous, fast-growing annual vine. Seeds can be sown directly in the garden around the first of May, and you will have your first flowers in midsummer. Moon vine can climb 15 to 20 feet in a season, so be sure to provide it with a sturdy trellis, fence post or tree trunk to climb on. The sphinx or “hummingbird” moth is its primary pollinator and can be seen drinking nectar from the enormous flowers each night.


Martagon lily (Lilium martagon var. album):
The white martagon lily towers above its neighbors and offers drama and a strong element of architecture to the evening garden. Thriving in rich, well-drained soil in part sun, this plant is sure to impress garden visitors at any time of day or night. Growing from a bulb about the size of a tennis ball, well-grown plants can have more than 50 buds per stalk and will bloom over a period of weeks in early summer.
 

Four o’clock (Mirabilis spp.):
This is another old passalong plant that I have grown since childhood. Their flowers open in late afternoon and unfurl so quickly that you can actually watch them open, if you catch them at just the right time. Their sweet fragrance perfumes the garden throughout the night, attracting moths and other pollinators to their blooms.
 

‘Missouri’ water lily (Nymphaea ‘Missouri’):
If you are fortunate enough to have a pond or water garden large enough to accommodate it, ‘Missouri’ is one of the most beautiful of all water lilies. Its pristine, white blooms are nearly the size of a dinner plate. It begins blooming in midsummer and continues each night through late fall. As a tropical water lily, it needs warm water temperatures to thrive — a perfect choice for Southern climates.


If you are fortunate enough to have a large pond or water feature and enjoy growing water lilies, one of the most spectacular is Nymphaea ‘Missouri’. Its pure white, 10-inch wide flowers open after dark and remain open until about midmorning the following day.

 

A version of this article appeared in a June 2012 print edition of State-by-State Gardening.
Photography courtesy of Troy B. Marden, Hugh and Carol Nourse, and Leandra Hill.

 

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