Photo: Kate S. Jordan
A moon garden comes to life at night. Teeming with silver foliage and fragrant night-blooming plants, this type of garden actually flowers in the dark and therefore offers a unique experience for all the senses. “Enjoying a moon garden can be an unexpectedly sensual experience,” says Jarema Osofsky in her new book, Moon Garden: A Guide to Creating an Evening Oasis. “It relies less on the sight of vibrant, colorful displays, and more on the soft glow of white flowers, the nocturnal pollinators drawn to their luminescence, the scents of night-blooming plants, and the sounds of nature in the stillness of the night.”
At the same time, the moon garden’s appeal lies in its synchronicity with the cosmos. Osofsky, a Brooklyn-based landscape designer and founder of Dirt Queen NYC, drew inspiration for her own moon garden from India’s Mehtab Bagh Garden, or “Moonlight Garden,” built by Emperor Babur in the 16th century. It sat across from the Taj Mahal and acted as a pleasure garden for the Mughal nobility, who enjoyed the glittery pathways and marble pools alight under a full moon.
But not all moon gardens have to be so focused on lavish aesthetics. For Osofsky, moon gardening makes for an opportunity to understand the cycles of the moon and “reflect upon different cycles and patterns in your own life.” She notes that mugwort (Artemisia vulgaris) is not only used in moon gardens but also for centuries as a way to foster lucid dreaming. You can even create a moon garden indoors or with very little space—your moon garden doesn’t have to fit any traditional standard. Read on for her expert tips and tricks for creating your own moon garden that is both stunning and in-tune with the moon.
Consider the season when creating a moon garden
Even though you can grow a moon garden anytime of the year, many night-blooming plants are tropical and cannot survive below 50 degrees Fahrenheit. If you live in a region where snow and frost can impact your moon garden, Osofsky suggests growing some of the night-blooming plants as potted houseplants first; you can bring them back indoors in the springtime, after the threat of frost has abated. These can include varieties like plumeria, bromeliads, and Queen of the Night cactus—a plant which only blooms one magical night a year. “Luckily, its foliage is attractive even when it’s not in bloom,” she adds. In her own house, Osofsky likes to use potted pink jasmine (Jasminum polyanthum) for its “divine fragrance, pink buds, and lush green foliage.”
During the winter, Osofsky brings out glass vessels for bulb plants that can be grown indoors, showing off the plant’s intricate root systems. This includes plants like paperwhite narcissus, which is known for its sweet smell. If you’re starting your indoor moon garden closer to the winter season and want to create further visual appeal, opt for Amaryllis with their giant white or glittering red blooms. “But start growing these bulbs six to eight weeks prior to your desired bloom date,” she warns. They also need good drainage, so place them in terra-cotta pots that have drainage holes. You can also go beyond potted plants. “In the late winter, on the cusp of spring, I bring in a few cut branches of magnolia in bud and bloom to invite spring to come a little sooner.” Osofsky also uses bunches of cut dried hydrangea panicles, alliums, and lunaria as arrangements for her living room.
Pick the right plants
To attract pollinators, night-flowering plants tend to come in white. “Many nocturnal plants are essential sources of food for moths and bats, attracting them with their sweet and spicy scents.” Osofsky insists that these can include nicotiana and mock orange. She also notes that white blooms and silver foliage look great under the moonlight because “white [flowers] pop after dusk while silver shimmers in the moonlight.”
However, you can still insert plants of different hues into your moon garden. “On the east coast, we have some native evergreens that are great for a moon garden like the Magnolia grandiflora,” adds Osofsky. “Not only does it provide a green backdrop year-round for your showy flowering perennials, but it has glossy, light-reflective leaves and beautiful, night-fragrant white flowers.” Or choose citrus shrubs and trees “that flower during their winter dormancy with a truly heavenly scent, both day and night.” Many orchids are night-fragrant too, so consider adding in a few orchids in various shades.
How do you start a moon garden?
Before picking your plants and deciding when to create your moon garden, the very first thing you should do is choose its location. According to Osofsky, it’s important to “observe what kind of sunlight it receives.” While the flowers may bloom at night, the plants still require enough sun to live. “Ideally, this location has a clear view of the moon and the stars,” she adds. Moreover, your moon garden doesn’t have to be separate from an existing garden. “You can incorporate moon garden elements into your existing garden, with fragrant shrubs and climbing vines like passionflower or honeysuckle, white flowers and silver foliage.”
Believe it or not, you don’t need a full view of the moon to enjoy your moon garden. “It’s really about creating a relaxing environment where you can gather with friends or deepen your connection to the moon, plants, and nurture your inner self,” she says. Perhaps you have a bay window or a skylight where moonlight pours in. Just be sure to pick a spot that you would enjoy sitting for longer periods after dusk.
What are some other items that should be added to a moon garden?
The purpose of the moon garden is to create a comfortable ambiance. So, feel free to add other typical garden elements like seating and sculptures or art pieces. For Osofsky, a water feature is key. “Integrating a water feature into a moon garden enhances its serenity,” she writes. “The sound of trickling water is infinitely soothing, especially at night when all is quiet except for croaking toads and chirping crickets.” She adds, “In an urban landscape, it’s an antidote to street noise.”
In terms of lighting, keep that soft and minimal. Use lanterns, candles, and string lights, “and stick to warm amber and yellow tones.” Think about how you wish to use the space and select the type of outdoor light fixture that would best accompany this activity. “[A moon garden] can be a space for entertaining, meditation, or journaling, a place to set intentions, stargaze, or dig your hands in the dirt.” However you use your moon garden, try to take a moment to reflect. “Angel’s trumpet flowers (Brugmansia suaveolens) mysteriously reach peak bloom with the full moon,” says Osofsky. These and other unique night-blooming flowers might remind visitors to your garden of their own uniqueness.
Originally Appeared on Architectural Digest