Moonlight Gardens

white flower
Sacred thorn-apple (Datura wrightii) is related to angel’s trumpet, but has upright flowers. UF/IFAS.

We often think about how our garden looks in the daylight, but with a little bit of reframing and extra thought, your garden could also be a midsummer night’s dream. White and silver plants are especially striking when the natural light is low. Additionally, some plants have a scent only after the sun goes down; making your garden enjoyable in the night allows you enjoy this sometimes hidden feature of these plants. There are also several moths that visit night-blooming flowers, a different side of wildlife you can observe in your twilight garden.

Shimmering Silver

Silver-leaved plants can help bring visual contrast into your landscape, and they look great in night-time gardens. Dusty miller is a name used for many plants. In this case, we’re talking about the small, silvery-leafed plant that’s grown as a cool-season annual in Florida, Senecio cineraria. Its silvery, fern-like foliage makes dusty miller perfect for glimmering in the moonlight.

silvery green foliage and purple flowers of Texas sage with bumblebee
Texas sage growing in the Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden in Coral Gables.
Photo by Scott Zona, cc-by-nc.

Texas sage (Leucophyllum frutescens) is a medium-sized native shrub with delicate silvery to gray-green leaves. These plants are extremely drought and heat tolerant and can thrive throughout Florida.

Most wormwood (Artemisia spp) varieties have foliage that’s small in scale with a feathery look, fuzzy texture, and highly aromatic.

Wondrous Whites

Gardenia is not a low-maintenance plant, but for those gardeners who love a challenge, they see gardenia as well worth the effort. Gardeners throughout Florida can enjoy growing gardenias, and with everblooming varieties the blossoms can be enjoyed all year.

Fringetree has delicate, lightly fragrant white flowers that cover the tree for about two weeks during the spring. Native (Chionanthus virginicus) and pygmy (C. pygmeus) fringetrees flower before new leaves emerge in spring, while Chinese fringetree blooms at the end of the spring growth flush.

Flowering dogwood is a popular tree native to the eastern U.S., including North Florida. The dogwood tree (Cornus florida) blooms for a few weeks in the spring, with four-petaled white flowers.

The Southern magnolia is the most well known of the species, but there are many other magnolias that are native to our area, so you should have no trouble finding one that’s right for your landscape.

The fast-growing river birch (Betula nigra) is a good choice for North or Central Florida gardeners. Its bark is extremely showy and peels off in attractive sheets of beige or creamy white. This light-colored bark can really shine in the evening landscape.

white flowers with long spidery petals
A spider lily growing at the edge of Ginnie Spring in High Springs, Florida. UF/IFAS.

Spider lily (Hymenocallis latifolia) produces many gorgeous white flowers in summer and fall that are fragrant, long-lasting, and delicate. The interesting-looking white flowers grow in Zones 10 and 11 and can be particularly lovely when illuminated in your night garden. For other white lilies try white crinum varieties.

Stokes’ aster varieties like ‘Alba’ and ‘Silver Moon’ shine with white blooms. Stokesia laevis is a versatile and showy native perennial that makes for an attractive and low-maintenance garden addition.

If you prefer annuals, try white varieties of petunias, alyssum, snaps, impatiens, and vinca. Foliage plants with white variegation can also stand out in your nighttime garden.

Fragrant Flowers for Nighttime

When angel’s trumpet is in bloom, it’s impossible to miss. This large shrub or small tree blooms with huge, trumpet-shaped flowers that dangle downward and emit a sweet-smelling fragrance that’s especially strong at night.

Star jasmine (Trachelospermum jasminoides) brings shining white, intoxicatingly fragrant flowers. This versatile vine is a great plant for many settings. Despite their diminutive size, the flowers pack a huge punch of sweet fragrance and can easily perfume an entire yard.

Water lilies have large, round leaves with beautiful flowers in many colors, and are available in both day and night-blooming varieties.

Other Ways to Light Up the Night

Lighting provides ambience to your landscape, while adding safety and value to your home. Lighting along walkways and driveways can provide visual guidance, while uplighting trees and plants adds drama. There are many energy-efficient options, including LED and solar lights. These options will not provide the intense light of traditional bulbs, but will last longer, cost much less, and are often easier to install.

Unique lighting can also make the outdoors look like the indoors. Look for products that have an all-weather light bulb and shades that are waterproof and washable.

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