As light levels fall, our other senses become sharper and thus we are drawn – like moths and other night-time pollinators – by soft scents and piercing perfumes alike. Summer evenings here are made for enjoyment; it's a comfortable time to be outside, lingering over dinner under the stars; ideal to sit and relax letting all the stresses and worries of the day fade away. So create a bit of bewitchment in your night-time garden, here´s how.
Designing a night-time garden is easier than it may seem. Plan special areas – perhaps framing the patio where you prefer to sit, or around a dining area or, simply, a small area that always catches the best of the moonlight. Use lots of white and pale flowers which glow luminously and seem larger by night; add a dash of silver foliage plants for a hauntingly platinised look; then some evocative after-dark aromas to hover on the soft night air. Plain green hedging provides a perfect backdrop for the pale colours to glow and helps to trap the smells inside the garden too. The loud brash colours of daytime fade into the shadows leaving their paler counterparts to glow and shine. White, faded blues and the palest pastels are the best. And remember that it's not just flowers that glow – silvery bark and foliage can do the same and striped or variegated plants take on a more exotic light and shade look than in their daytime garb.
For scent there are several really good options. The first to spring to mind are citrus flowers, jasmine and dama de noche (cestrum nocturnum). I'd add one more plant to this 'must have' list – the aptly and alluringly named moonflower or ipomoea alba. This climber opens huge white glowing dishes of flowers during the night hours, a real winner and softly scented too. These four will give you enough allure and aroma for many an evening, but if you fancy something a little different, here are a few more suggestions.
Nicotiana affinis, tobacco plant.
Closely related to the tobacco plant that we smoke but with a much nicer smell! Pollinated at night, it exudes a strong perfume as an attractant and shines under the moonlight too. Use it to line pathways or fill your pots.
Brugmansia suaveolens, angels' trumpets.
Often mistakenly known as datura, the scent of this plant and its looks are utterly intoxicating! But it has a dark side! It has long been used as a hallucinogenic, so you may want to position it a distance from your seating area – unless you like to be, literally, overpowered by its scent! The white variety, with soft velvety leaves, has the strongest perfume.
Brunfelsia pauciflora, yesterday, today and tomorrow plant. This shrub or small tree charmingly bears purple, lavender and white flowers at the same time and a soft haunting perfume.
Hedychium, ginger lily.
Their strapping dramatic foliage is great in pots around patios and the heady fragrance of their flowers is magical at night.
Lilium regale 'Album' and lilium candidum.
Lilies are always special but both of these have a particularly wonderful perfume and are stunning beauties too.
Mirabilis jalapa, Don Pedro or 4 o'clock plant. A survivor, often found growing in rough rubble, its delicate-looking beauty always surprises. In lovely shades of yellow, pink and coral, often striped and blotched, it opens during the evening and wafts its scent around. Spreads rapidly via tubers and seeds.
Oenothera biennis, evening primrose.
Another late-evening flowerer and tough contender, it rapidly forms massive mounds smothered in sweet scented yellow trumpets. A prolific but charming self-seeder. Wisteria floribunda, Japanese wisteria has elegantly cascading tassels of flowers – try it over a pergola. Beautiful by day and bewitching by night in white, pale pink or lilac and softly scented.
For height, try tall wigwams of lonicera or honeysuckle and trachelospermum jasminoides, the star jasmine for towering and spectacular pillars which will wrap you in their spicy aromas.
As you can see, these scented night-time beauties are all pale coloured and there are some others that, although not scented, add their own enchantment with their silvery good looks.
Artemisia stelleriana, beach wormwood or dusty miller has heavily silvered creeping ferny foliage perfect for softening path edges. It loves hot and sunny but adds a special glow to moonlit evenings too.
Convolvulus cneorum, silverbush is a low shrublet again lovely in hot sunny spots and with a platinised sheen by night. It´s flowers will close up at night but the foliage is so good you won´t miss them.
Santolina chamaecyparissus known as the curry plant. Tightly knit silver foliage with yellow flowers which many people cut off to enjoy the foliage alone. Good for rather formal path edgings. Trim regularly to stop it falling apart.