Night time is a truly magical time during our Southwestern summers. As the blazing sun sinks below the horizon and the air begins to cool down, a number of desert plants open their flowers, drenching the night air with alluring fragrances, enticing the night-flying pollinators. To make the most of this enchanting time of year, you need to consider revamping the landscape into a garden for the night – also called a “Moon Garden.”
A moon garden can be fancy or simple. The idea is to add plants to your landscape that will increase your enjoyment of the space anytime after the sun goes down, whether the moon is out or not. You create a space to go outside, sit down, and let the cool air and slower pace of a desert night seep into your soul.
Flowers for the Moon Garden
One plant that blooms at night is the Arizona State Wildflower, the saguaro cactus. Since planting a saguaro and waiting for it to bloom requires a lengthy time frame, let’s look at some other plants you can plant now and enjoy this summer.
Datura is a summer annual wildflower that fills the night with a sweet and musky fragrance that attracts bats as well as the giant hummingbird moths to pollinate them. The plants have large dusky green leaves, and they appear to survive on rainfall alone, a real plus in my book. There are a number of species including: Wright’s datura (Datura wrightii), desert thorn-apple (Datura discolor), and for higher elevations, the oakleaf datura (Datura quercifolia).
Cacti of many shapes and sizes bloom at night, including the Arizona queen of the night (Peniocereus greggii). Look for the huge white blooms usually sometime in June. This year the mass blooming event was June 30 & July 1 across southern Arizona.
A number of other night-blooming cacti also provide tasty edible fruit, including: serpent cactus (Peniocereus serpentinus), vanilla cactus (Selenicereus grandiflorus), harrisia (Harrisia martinii), Peruvian applecactus (Cereus peruvianus) and dragonfruit (Hylocereus undatus). [[Follow the facebook page as I post some images of these in the comming weeks.]]
Foliage for the Night
Moon gardens include plants with silvery leaves that gleam in the moonlight. In that vein consider the aloysias. They bloom honey-sweet at night, and linger into the day, attracting butterflies. Related to lemon verbena, the vanilla scented white bush (Aloysia lycioides) and oreganillo (Aloysia wrightii) are both native to the Sonoran Desert. See more about Aloysias – here.
Sit and Smell the Flowers
In addition to plants, one of the most important components of a moon garden is a place to sit and enjoy your garden. Bench or chair, edge of the garden or center of it – there is no right or wrong; just make sure seating is comfortable.
Be moderate with your lighting. Too much light and it will attract too many insects that are not pollinators. You need just enough low level lights that the space is safe to use. Small solar lights are good, on the ground, not bright prison-like lights glaring down off the eaves of the house.
There is no specific design for a moon garden. You can start small, add a few night blooming plants and some relaxing seating. As time goes by and you use your moon garden, you can add to it. Create a yard you can enjoy every day of the year, and all 24 hours of the day.
Thanks for Reading!
More about overall care of your land and landscape in this book: Month by Month Gardening for Arizona, Nevada, and New Mexico (Cool Springs Press). This link is to Amazon and if you buy the book there the Horticulture Therapy non-profit Tierra del Sol Institute will get a few pennies – at no extra cost to you.
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The El Sol newsletter can help with bite-sized bits of information. [mc4w
Datura is a night-blooming summer wildflower that can live on rainfall alone.
The delicate Sonoran spider lily blooms in June with incredibly sweet fragrance.