Integrate light blooms in your planting, and see the twilight garden come alive.
It’s frustrating for many of us that we only return from work as the light is fading or almost gone, aware of all the perfect garden moments that have slipped by while we were stuck at the office. However, with a little planning, it is possible to create a garden that is at its peak at dusk – welcoming us in a cloud of fragrance as we open the back door.
White, grey and silver are colours that appear to glow at dusk: an optical effect that results from the ability of these colours to bend invisible ultraviolet and infrared light into the visible spectrum. In giving back more light than they receive, white, grey and silver plants appear to effloresce.
White and pale-coloured plants also tend to be the most fragrant, and it is always worth including a selection of these night-scented treats in your garden. Jasmines such as J. officinale and J. polyanthum are best grown against a house wall where they will benefit from the retained heat of the bricks, oozing a rich heady scent in the evenings. This provision of scent close to the house can be continued throughout the year, perhaps with a winter flowering honeysuckle and pots of lily of the valley, hyacinth and tobacco plants. By integrating fragrant white blooms and silver-leafed aromatics throughout the planting scheme, you can create a scented garden all year round.
The delicate, aromatic foliage of grey and silver-leafed plants such as lavender and artemisia provide the backbone of the planting and can be complimented by more structural forms, perhaps Melianthus major or the biennial sea holly Eryngium maritimum ‘Miss Willmott’s Ghost’. Other silver plants include the non-flowering lamb’s ears Stachys byzantina ‘Silver Carpet’ or the wonderful, silvery Convolvulus cneorum.
Concentrated daubs of white can be used to draw the eye and as a striking focal point. You can achieve this effect by grouping together plants with large, white flowers such as Lavatera trimestris ‘Mont Blanc’ or Hibiscus syriacus ‘Diana’, whose flowers stay open at night.
White flowers with an airy texture work in a different way, creating a misty, romantic feel when dusted by frost and dew. Cleome, Gaura lindheimeri and gypsophila work effectively as a subtle introduction to larger white blooms. The best effect is gained by sparing use of white within a matrix of grey and green foliage. The darker greens, greys and silvers of the foliage form a strong background against which the white can shine, as well as serving to separate the multitude of white shades that appear in nature.
It is worth avoiding plants with white blooms, whose dead petals cling to the plant, such as roses and the white form of lilac. Superior choices include spring-flowering snowdrops, the white flowering bleeding heart Dicentra spectabilis ‘Alba’ and tulip ‘White Triumphator’. These could be followed in summer with Geranium ‘Kashmir White’, white foxgloves and the fluffy clouds of Crambe maritima, plus the sweet scents of the tobacco plant Nicotiana sylvestris and a mock orange Philadelphus ‘Belle Etoile’. A wilder autumnal aspect could come from the translucent grass-like molinia and the pale spires of Veronicastrum virginicum ‘Album’, before rambling into the ghostly elegant bramble Rubus thibetanus and a sweetly scented virburnum at the year’s end.
With so many plants to choose from and so few precious daylight hours in the garden, a moonlit garden never seemed more appealing.