Five Plants for your Southwest Night Garden

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 off, it is pleasant to get outside and breathe the night air.

Moon Garden for Night Time

Last week, I introduced the topic of a “Moon Garden,” listing a number of plants with flowers that attract the night-flying Southwest pollinators. While flowers are nice, a moon garden need not have flowers to be attractive. There are a number of plants with silvery foliage that look lovely in the moonlight. Here are five low-water plants that glow in the moonlight.

Silver Foliage for Night Viewing

Aloysia are nice, and can be part of your edible landscape if you plant the variety known as oreganillo (Aloysia wrightii), but aloysias don’t take tempertures much below 20F. Since many of my readers are in places that get cooler, let’s look at some other silvery plants.



Silvery foliage abounds in this genus of herbs – from the cultivated ‘Powis Castle’ artemisia popular across North America to the native Arizona wormwood (Artemisia ludoviciana), and including the European artemisia used to make absinthe.  Arizona wormwood is known by several common names, including silver wormwood and western mugwort. I have grown all of these, and love gently stroking the softly furry leaves of the ‘Powis Castle.’  These artemisia herbs are strongly flavored so the rabbits leave them alone, but I’m not sure about the javelina. Come to think, any artemisia could be part of your edible landscape too! Here is how to make your own absinthe on Savor the Southwest.


Photo courtesy Mountain States Wholesale Nursery

There are eight species of poliomentha, all with grey to silvery foliage.  The name is derived from the Greek words (polios), meaning “grey,” and (minthe), meaning “mint.” All members of the genus are lovely and commonly known as rosemary-mints.  But for the moon garden you want the most silvery of them all – Poliomentha maderensis. From the canyons of the Sierra Madre mountains, the Maderian poliomintha is a lovely and fragrant treasure for your yard. Why plant the autumn sage when you can have this pretty native that uses less water and attracts hummingbirds just as well?

Woolly Butterfly Bush

Silvery foliage plus blooms the butterflies adore! Photo courtesy Z. Akulova

Ignore those East Coast yammerings about “invasive” butterfly bush – this Southwest native in not invasive at all. Woolly butterfly bush (Buddleja marrubifolia) is from the Chihuahuan Desert and tolerates cold and drought far better than the often planted Texas ranger. If you are allergic to bees – consider this shrub that uses less water and looks (IMHO) just as pretty as a Texas ranger in the landscape.


Texas olive trees have silvery leaves and big beautiful blooms all summer long.

Two species of Cordia have silvery foliage. Texas olive (Cordia boissieri) grows into a small tree, while little leaf cordia (Cordia parvifolia) is a shrub. In addition to silvery leaves, both bear charming white flowers. Both not very cold tolerant, and thus are for the Low and Middle Desert zones only. (More on our Southwest Zones – here) The Texas olive fruits are edible when cured.

Buy Plants Locally

The little leaf cordia is a pretty low-water shrub for the warmer areas of the Southwest. Photo courtesy R Perry.

Most of these native plants are not in big box nurseries. You will have to seek out those hidden nursery gems in your area. Gems like High Country Growers, Moosa Creek, or Desert Survivors. Wholesalers like Mountain States Wholesale Nursery grow truck plants to local nurseries across our region. Check out the “Local Nurseries” page – here. (And if you know of one I missed please tell me!)

Don’t Forget to Sit – and to Kill the Bright Lights

The last thing you need in your moon garden is mood-killing “Stalig-17” lights shining in your eyes from the eaves of the house. Even a yellow porch light can be overly bright for night relaxing. A few low-level path lights shining downward are fine. A lantern or two with those battery operated tea lights is also lovely.

Texas olives are fine when pickled, but don’t eat them right off the tree! Photo courtesy Z Akulova.

Yes – when you first step outside from your brightly lit home it will seem dim, but give your eyes a few minutes to adjust. The starlight shimmer of silvery leaves can be quite bright given time.

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. We discovered that a place to set drinks and snacks next to the seating is a nice addition.

Thanks for Reading!

Peace, Jacqueline

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soule-april-southwestFeatured image: Little-leaf cordia flowers.

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.

© Article copyright Jacqueline A. Soule. All rights reserved. You must ask permission to republish an entire blog post or article. Okay to use a short excerpt – but you must give proper credit to Gardening With Soule. You must include a link to the original post on our site. No stealing photos.

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