Design a Garden That Glows at Night

Solar garden lights, fragrance, and foliage stand out after dark

 String lights on a stately arch invite visitors to the evening garden. White and pale blue flowers add to the allure.

When evening falls and it's too dark to weed, deadhead or start a new project, it's time to turn off your busy mind and turn on your senses. The garden becomes a whole new place after dark, filled with mysterious sounds, fragrances, and luminous colors.

There are lots of easy ways to make your garden a more compelling destination in the magical light of evening. Incorporating just a few of them will keep you outdoors as long as possible, and hopefully add a whole new dimension of enjoyment.

The evening garden is filled with sounds, fragrances and luminous colors.
bench in garden

Incorporate Places to Sit

If you want to tune into your garden in the evening, you need to slow down. Way down. In fact, the best way to tune in is to just sit down. If you don't already have a bench or two in your garden, get yourself something to sit on. Though a pretty bench can be an attractive garden feature as well as a practical one, your garden seating can be as simple as an old kitchen chair or a plank of wood balanced on two stumps. Having a destination is important — especially after dark.

Plant Evening-Scented Flowers

There are many flowers that become more heavily scented after dark because they use their fragrance to attract moths and other nighttime pollinators. In the calm, moist air of evening, the fragrance of these flowers can seem to hover over the entire garden. Add a few of the plants listed below (or add them all!) and enjoy an olfactory adventure as you follow your nose to seek out the source of each scent. Here are some favorites.

Casablanca lilies
Casa Blanca lilies are especially fragrant.


Fragrant Flowers Notes
Nicotianas N. alata and N. sylvestris, which are both white, are the most fragrant.
Brugmansia and datura Both are scentless in the daytime; they turn it on after dark.
Moonflower A vine that thrives in heat, it has fragrant, white, trumpet-shaped blooms.
Trumpet and Oriental lilies Plant as many different varieties as you can justify!
Acidanthera Also known as peacock orchids, they need to be dug like glads, but are totally worth it.
Dame's Rocket (Hesperis matronalis) This annual is easy to grow from seed
Stock This is a lackluster name for a beautiful annual with a carnation-like fragrance.
Dianthus Not all varieties are fragrant, but many of them are.
Tuberose This is a tender bulb that needs to be dug and stored indoors over the winter.
Mockorange (Philadelphus coronarius) This shrub has fleeting but fabulous white flowers.
Alyssum More fragrant in the sun, alyssum's honey-scented blooms are still quite fragrant after dark.
Hostas Some varieties, such as Guacamole, have fragrant flowers in late summer.
Petunias Seek out fragrant varieties — use your own nose to evaluate them.
Heliotrope Both the purple and the white varieties have a vanilla fragrance.
White flowers, silver-gray foliageWhite flowers and silvery-gray foliage begin to glow as daylight fades.

Include Plants with White flowers and Silvery Foliage

At dusk, and especially when there's moonlight in the garden, white flowers become luminous and can be seen from quite a distance. Most of the evening-scented flowers described above are white as well as fragrant. Other flowers to consider adding to your garden include white varieties of the following: clematis, roses, foxgloves, daisies, cosmos, impatiens and cleome. Sprinkle them around the garden to create little patches of moonlight.

Pale gray foliage, especially if the leaves are slightly fuzzy, really seems to glow in the evening light. The best plants for this effect are lamb's ears (Stachys byzantina), Artemesia, Lamium maculatum, lavender, garden sage (Salvia officinalis), Plectranthus argentatus 'Silver Shield', Licorice mint (Helichrysum petiolare), and Russian sage (Perovskia atriplicifolia).

Lotus Solar path lightLight the way with weatherproof Solar Path Lights.

Include Lighting for Ambience and Saftety

If you want to add lighting to your evening garden, keep it subtle. To appreciate the white and silver plants, you'll need to let your eyes adjust to the fading light. If there are bright lights scattered through the garden, that effect would be lost. Low-voltage or solar outdoor lights can add a soft glow, as will candle-powered lanterns. You might even use some white twinkle lights to accent a special tree or garden structure.

Solar Bottle KitEarth-friendly tabletop solar lighting, such as this DIY Solar Bottle Lantern Kit, bring warm touch of ambient light without the hassle of extension cords.

Special Features

A white or pale-colored fence really glows at dusk, and can serve as a wonderful backdrop. I have a 20-ft length of picket fence painted a very pale sage green. On summer evenings you can still make it out at 10:30 p.m. Moving water catches moonlight in a magical way, and a little pond or self-contained water feature can take on a whole new life after dark.

As winds calm and ambient noise levels drop, you can really start appreciating the sound of leaves that rustle (think about bamboo or an ornamental grass) or the soft tinkling of wind chimes.

Whether you enjoy your evening garden in the company of friends and family, or on a silent stroll by yourself, you'll find it's a soothing, soulful way to put the day to rest.

Moving water catches moonlight in a magical way.
Solar-powered garden decorationsSolar-powered garden lights are sure to add a little magic.

Last updated: 05/01/2023

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