The Moonlight Garden: A Composition in White

Dori Fritzinger
8 Min Read

American writer, Emily Dickinson (1830-1886), gave a magical description of wandering through a moonlight garden that is as true now as it was in the 19th century:

“And still within a summer’s night

A something so transporting bright,

I clap my hands to see.” 

Moon gardens are planned and planted for enjoyment during dusk into the light of the moon. They come in all sizes from grand formal gardens at your favorite botanical garden to a container garden on your patio or deck. Even the plants you choose can make your moonlight garden suit your taste. There are flowers that bloom at night and those whose colors shimmer for the ultimate moonlight effect.

The place to start planning is by choosing your location for your moonlight garden. Your garden site should get full moonlight and be safe and easy to access in low lighting conditions. As the evening progresses, the way your plants’ shadows change can add to your garden’s character. Daylight conditions are also important as many of the plants that make ideal moon garden plants also like full to partial sun.

Once you get your site chosen, it is time to start thinking about the plants themselves. For me, this is when the fun begins.

Provided your moonlight garden is in a permanent location, the only limit you may have is the amount of money you want to spend. However, most folks don’t have the luxury of owning land or having an unlimited budget.  For this reason, I have chosen a variety of trees, bushes, vines, and plants that are easily available and whose expense doesn’t make them prohibitive.

Moonlight Garden Trees

Curling river birch bark

The southern magnolia (Magnolia grandiflora) is my choice for the perfect tree to anchor your moonlight garden design. They are large trees, so they aren’t the right fit for everyone. Their deep-green, shiny leaves and large, bright-white, fragrance-filled flowers are perfect in the moonlight.

You can also think about adding trees with white or light-colored bark, such as river birch (Betula nigra). Birch trees have light bark that will show up well at night. Plus, their unique, curling bark would add texture and an element of interest.

Moonlight Garden Vines and Climbers

By using arbors and other structures, climbing bushes and vines can bring your moon garden’s beauty overhead. These fast-growing varieties eagerly climb up tall and beautiful.

White “New Dawn” roses (Rosa ‘New Dawn’) are one variety of climbing white roses that are winter-hardy in temperatures up to -10°F. They are very fragrant, with a stunning scent and color.

Jasmine (Gelsemium sempervirens) can grow to over 20 feet, making it ideal for arbors, fences, and trellises. It has blooms that are yellow, which is different from the other flowers chosen, but with its awesome perfumy aroma, it is a must-have for a moon garden. There are over 200 varieties of jasmine; surely one will fit into your design.

I am partial to wisteria and white wisteria (Wisteria floribunda ‘Longissima Alba’) makes an elegant choice for a moon garden. They have a beautiful nighttime scent and a unique hanging shape.

white wisteria
White wisteria (Wisteria floribunda ‘Longissima Alba’)

Moonlight Garden Bushes

Positioning flowering bushes throughout your moon garden help to bring the eye down to help highlight your lower plantings.

White lilac blooms are famous for their perfume. Lilacs (Syringa vulgaris) come in shades of purple and white varieties that can add to your garden’s look and smell. The white lilac reflects the moonlight better, but don’t underestimate the heady nighttime scent-effect of both varieties.

White hydrangea (Hydrangea arborescence ‘Annabelle’) offers a punch of white; it has been called “the Rockstar of the shrub world”. It grows in a wide range of growing zones and blooms throughout spring to fall.

Moonlight Garden Flowering Plants

In making your choice of plants for your moonlight garden, you should take into consideration both color in lunar light as well as their versatility. Whether you choose annuals, perennials, or both, your choices will personalize your moon garden.

Gardenia’s (Gardenia augusta) scent and beauty are iconic. Many varieties will bloom all year in warmer climates. Yet, in most areas, it will have to be brought in during the winter.

White Petunias

Using white petunias (Petunia axillaris) in your moon garden provides you with different ways to enjoy them. The recent popularity of “Wave ™” petunias has brought the petunia cascading blooms waterfalling in a hanging basket. This blended with the traditional use of white petunias in ground-level beds can stretch this affordable plant to many budget-friendly uses.

White impatiens (Impatiens walleriana) are sun lovers who are also happy in a shadier setting. They make pretty low-growing borders along paths and walkways. White inpatients come in both single and multilayered varieties.

Moonlight Garden Foliage Plants

dusty miller (Senecio cineraria)
Dusty miller (Senecio cineraria)

The silver foliage of dusty miller (Senecio cineraria) shimmers in the lunar light. These lacey leaved annuals like part shade to full sun.

Lamb’s ear (Stachys byzantine), as its name describes, has leaves that are very soft and covered with fine, white hairs making it a favorite to grow in containers at a seated eye-level.

Now that you’ve selected your plants, it’s time to accessorize. Like any pretty outfit, your moon garden will sparkle with some special touches.

Lighting Your Moonlight Garden

Adding lights along the pathways, for both safety and ambiance, can help you see where you’re going while helping your plants glow when the moonlight isn’t full strength. Simple solar-powered LED lights are inexpensive and ideal for a garden. Placing pretty candles on tables also can create a romantic touch.

Seating in Your Moonlight Garden

Seating is a must; create a place to take a seat, relax, and enjoy all your hard work. It can be a simple garden bench placed along your pathways, all the way up to an elegant gazebo.


Sounds in Your Moonlight Garden

Add another layer to your scene with sound effects to enhance your garden. Randomly placing wind chimes made of wood or metal throughout your moon garden can add a magical effect.

Don’t forget about adding a water feature to enhance the overall experience. They can be both visual and sound. You can find a wide assortment of simple to complex water features online and in your local garden centers.

Celebrate moonlit nights by relaxing or entertaining guests in your very own moonlight garden.

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