How I Create Magical Moonlight Gardens

Good design can make a garden a delightful place to be—and not just when the sun is shining.

garden in moonlight

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A garden should not just be a productive place. It should also be a space that you can enjoy spending time in as frequently as possible. Good design can make a garden a delightful place to be—and not just when the sun is shining. One thing you might like to think about is creating a garden which can be enjoyed after dark, by the light of the moon. Here are my tips for a magical moonlight garden.

Placing a Moonlight Garden

Just as we think about the passage of the sun when planning a garden, so too we should think about the moon's movements when planning a garden to be enjoyed at night. I recommend considering where the moon rises and where it sets throughout the year. Plan to position a moonlight garden where it will get plenty of moonlight when the skies are clear—especially during the months when you are most keen to enjoy it. 

You might position a moonlight garden close to a window, or close to an outdoor seating area, patio, or garden building. But you should always be sure to position it where it will actually be illuminated by moonlight. I also find its helpful to think about accessibility and make sure it is somewhere you can get to easily after dark.

Choosing Plants for a Moonlight Garden

It is important to remember that even when your garden is designed to be especially appealing at night, it also has to work during the day. As always, when choosing plants for your garden, it is important to factor in sunlight and shade, wind, water needs, and soil, and to find the right plants for the right places. 

Select White, Night-Blooming, and Scented Flowers

For a garden to be enjoyed at night, I advise making sure that you include plenty of bright, white flowers, which can stand out well in lower light levels. Remember to include flowers that bloom or open fully at night. These can be attractive to moths, bats, and other wildlife, but also help keep your garden looking (and potentially also smelling) wonderful after dark. 

Some wonderful night-scented flowering plants, for example, are:

  • Star Jasmine
  • Honeysuckles
  • Angel's Trumpet
  • Moonflower
  • Wisteria
  • Nicotiana sylvestris
  • Hesperis matronalis
  • Night-scented stock
  • Matthiola perennis 'Alba'
  • Lilium regale
  • Dianthus 'Memories'
  • Phlox paniculata
  • Evening primrose

Remember, these will help attract night pollinators such as moths and bats to your garden. 

Think about making sure you have white blooms to enjoy through as much of the year as possible. And consider trees, shrubs, and herbaceous plants. 

Early in the year, magnolia trees that have white blooms, Rhododendron ssp., snowdrops, and other spring bulbs could be great choices. Mock orange blooms later in spring. In summer, dogwoods, Viburnums, Kalmia latifolia, white roses, white foxgloves and delphiniums, yarrow, Queen Anne's Lace, perennial daisies, and sweet alyssum can be stars of the show. And later in the season, autumn clematis, chrysanthemums, Phlox paniculata, late daisies, etc. can keep things going often well into fall. 

You should be sure to take into account where you live and match plant choices to the conditions in your particular garden. 

Consider Plants With Silvery or Variegated Foliage

You should also consider including plenty of plants with interesting light, silvery or variegated foliage, which can stand out far better in moonlight than deeper green vegetation. Silvery junipers, variegated dogwoods or Euonymus shrubs, interesting Hostas, ornamental grasses, Lamb's ear, artemisia are just some interesting options to consider. 

Choose Architectural Plants For Dramatic Shapes and Interesting Shadows

It can also be interesting to think about form and shape, as well as color. Trees, shrubs, or other larger architectural plants, can create dramatic shapes and cast interesting shadows in the moonlight. I recommend considering the shadows that will be cast as the moon moves behind certain plants. A white-barked silver birch could stand out well and create an attractive silhouette. You might consider small trees with weeping forms or something like a Corylus avellana 'Contorta' with its weird corkscrew branches. Your moon garden could even look attractive over the winter months.

Other Elements for a Moon Garden

You can include elements other than plants in your magical moonlight garden. I recommend adding elements that will glisten or shift in the moonlight, such as water features. A fountain or rippling pond can look wonderful and reflect the natural moonlight in beautiful ways. 

Water can also add to the soundscape of the moon garden. When visual sense is dimmed, the other senses can become heightened. So think not only about what you can see but also what you can smell and hear in your moonlight garden. 

You might also add hanging ornaments, which catch the light, mirrors against a wall or fence, metal artwork that shines in the moonlight, or even some pale statuary. Adding extra touches between plants can help turn your moon garden into something extra special, and make it more personal to you and your taste. 

Sensitive Garden Lighting

If you plan your moon garden well, you might not need any additional lighting at all. But you may wish to add some lighting so you can enjoy the space even when the moon is not showing its face. Just make sure that any lighting you do decide to include is sensitive and subtle. Anything too bright or bold will spoil the effect and, more importantly, could disrupt nocturnal wildlife.