“But I just can’t sleep and sometimes I know if I could just step outside and get some fresh night air, gaze at the moon for a short while and take in the stillness and solitude, I just know I’d return to bed and slide gently off to a peaceful slumber”.
This from an old friend, as we’re catching up last week, after enquiring about her notoriously bad sleep patterns.
Naturally, on goes The Oxfordshire Gardener hat and I begin to gently probe her on why she feels she can’t step outside on nights when the midnight air might soothe her mercurial mind.
I know she’s adept at nipping downstairs without disturbing her partner or children (I’ve seen her activate full Nigella-mode and pull together fairly complex treats in the middle of the night, no less).
It turns out there are few issues that prevent her from enjoying her garden at night. Foremost, the family have only fairly recently relocated to a new home and the garden, whilst mature and well-kept, is perhaps a little dated and just a bit, well, plain. It doesn’t make for a particularly inviting evening retreat.
The other matter in hand is a minor privacy issue. The garden is fairly rural, but they do have one close neighbour who has a narrow sightline over the garden and “they might think I’m a bit bonkers if they happen to catch me out in the garden in the middle of the night!”.
The good news is that whether you’re a night-owl struggling to get some shut-eye or a social butterfly looking to entertain outdoors, with some adept and judicious design, any garden landscape can be made into a moonlit paradise.
The secret to creating a garden that’s as beautiful and alluring at night as in the daytime is colour and scent, and well-designed landscaping. And landscaping is the starting point.
If you want to entertain after dark or simply take a moment to drink in the night’s sights and scents, then a seating area makes good sense.
Generously proportioned bench-styles provide plenty of room for seating family and friends or for lying back and stretching out under the stars. Line with lots of large, weather-proof cushions for luxurious comfort. And, of course, you’ll need an equally generously sized table to hold al fresco feasts and lanterns (hand-held ones will also help you find your way back to the house).
Speaking of which; no garden is complete without a subtle lighting scheme built-in. We’re not talking ‘Blackpool Illuminations’ here, we don’t want to add to the light pollution problem, but soft, down-lit path lights at intervals along key walkways will help guide night-gardeners around the planted areas and prevent any much-loved plants from being trampled under foot.
Any up-lighters or spotlights should be sparingly used, but are brilliant for highlighting any particularly striking specimen plants. Pendant lights with solid shades will light your table without casting light up into the heavens and wall lights designed to throw light down perform a similar job by doors, so you won’t be fumbling for handles.
We work with trusted electricians to deliver our lighting designs for landscape schemes where different sets of lights in various areas of gardens are on different circuits, so that only those lights that are needed for the area in use can be turned on. Remote controlled lighting works perfectly for this. Heading down to the far end of the garden? Switch on the path lights alone, take the controller with you and switch on the lights around a seating area as you arrive at it. Once there, you can turn off the path lights until you are ready to return, switching off the seating area lighting as you leave.
Adding tall planted raised beds around a seating area adds to a sense of cosiness in the dark, you’ll feel ensconced and enclosed. Be bold and plant with vertiginous plants of interest and climbers with support systems, (as well as lower-growing types) and they’ll enhance the privacy and help to contain sound, so your neighbours can get a good night’s sleep too. Keeping planting close to seating also means you can enjoy the colours, fragrances and textures more closely too (more on that below!).
The same concept applies on a larger scale. If your garden is very open, then consider creating a Walled Garden. Walled gardens perform exactly the same function, providing privacy, containing sound and enclosing and thereby intensifying the fragrance of plants and flowers. They should also help to retain any residual heat from the day, which, when correctly located, means during the day, they can act as sheltered sun-traps for growing tender plants and vegetables.
The Colour of Night:
Or rather the opposite of.
The key to planting in a Night Garden is to contrast the darkness with pale and interesting plants. White blooms are crucial, but the lightest shades of all the spectrum work too. Think of lilac and pale lavenders, light pinks and pastel apricots, primrose yellow, sky blues and silvery greens.
In terms of species, we look to plants that either open at night or don’t close-up their petals and hide as the sun sets. Especially important for a multi-sensory experience are those whose scents are strongest at night or whose texture and form dazzle under moonlight.
The obvious choices are stocks. Night-scented stocks are the classic choice, with its pastel mauve to white flowers and grey-green foliage. Generally sold as seeds, these annuals are very easy to grow. Scatter seeds directly on the ground or in containers (they don’t like to be transplanted as seedlings) at three-weekly intervals for a long-flowering season.
Other flowers with heady night scents include night-scented phlox, Angel’s Trumpets (Brugmansia), Sweet Rocket (Hesperis), wisteria, Trachelospermum jasminoides, Tuberose, Gaura, Lilies and the aptly named Moonflower.
Even some aquatic plants get in on the act. Nymphaea Dentata Superba is a gorgeous night flowering water lily.
Not to forget trees and shrubs, try Abelia ‘Confetti’, Hammamelis mollis, Linden tree, Katsura tree (with a candyfloss fragrance!) and Philadelphus ‘Manteau d’Hermine’.
Some flowers are not necessarily renowned for their nightly fragrance but still look the part or hold their scent, if more subtly in the dark. White or pale roses for example. Try Rosa ‘Desdemona’ or ‘Claire Austin’. Lavenders too will release their fragrance as you stroke them, at any time, but for the Night Garden choose lighter shades such Angustifolia ‘Arctic White’ or the pink ‘Rosea’, lilac ‘Twickle Purple’ or newcomer ‘BeeZee Light Blue’. To keep the display going longer, blend in with Intermedia ‘Edelweiss’ which flowers later the Angustifolias.
You might even want to grow some dainty, daisy-like camomile so you can sip on some homegrown sleepy tea before drifting back indoors to your pillows.
And there we have it. Your secret Night Garden awaits, so slip off your slippers and slip on some shoes, throw your robe around your shoulders and bathe in the moonlight, enveloped by nature’s nocturnal wonders.
Ready to start your garden adventure? Find ideas and inspiration in our garden design and landscaping stories.