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Night Gardening

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Lia Leendertz Lia Leendertz | 07:00 UK time, Thursday, 17 November 2011

If you work any kind of regular hours, it is easy to feel disconnected from your garden. It has its finest moments when you are stuck in the office. Your flowers are blooming away while you play solitaire over an over-chilled sandwich. The answer is to design your garden around the times when you are around: evenings and nights.

night garden

A garden designed to work at night can be a magical place, filled with intimacy, intrigue and wafts of delicious scent. Here’s how to go about making it somewhere you escape to after work, rather than gaze at with regret over the washing up.

Scented flowers

Night-time gardeners have a quirk of nature on their side. Flowers that are pollinated by night-flying insects such as moths need first to be found by them. They signal their presence in two ways: by being pale in colour, so that they show up in low light; and by starting to pump out scent as dusk falls. It is therefore fairly easy to assemble a cast of glowing white, pale blue and purple scented that will do as much for you as it does for the moths.

Some personal favourites are jasmine, Wisteria floribunda, night-scented stock and honeysuckle. For true drama I move the houseplant Epiphyllum oxypetalum – known as queen of the night – outside onto my porch in summer. On warm evenings its huge and dramatic for-one-night-only flowers produce a sweet, heady, almost overpowering scent.

In China and throughout the East its blooming inspires ‘sundowner parties’: you sit, sip Singapore slings, and breathe in the scented air.

Cyclamen

Cyclamen

Dark backgrounds

A pale plant shows up so much better against a dark, dense background. Yew hedges are the masters at this, but a privet hedge or even a dark brown fence will throw your pale beauties into relief. In a night garden, you can also use hedges to help capture scents. Any breath of wind will whisk them away, so use hedges to filter wind and help pool scents around seating areas.

Light

You can make all kind of night-time effects with uplighters and spotlights and colour washes, but I reckon it’s pretty hard to beat a string of fairy lights and a few candles in jars for magic. Cheaper too. Solar lights save a vast amount of fuss with wiring but the LEDs they use have a slightly harsh blue glow, so look for ‘warm white’ or those covered in coloured paper lanterns.

Fire and stars

You see little of your garden in summer, but the problem becomes worse as nights draw in. You do need something to tempt you outside when evenings are far from balmy. A fire pit with seating around it makes a wonderful focus for autumn and winter celebrations, and if you treat yourself to a telescope, earlier nightfall becomes something to look forward to.

I just have a bird spotting telescope, but it draws me outside to look at the craters when the moon is half full – blanket round shoulders and clutching a hot toddy – and to just enjoy being out in my garden at such a peaceful time.

Lia Leendertz is a garden writer.

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