Evening Gardens

Martie Young
Adams County Master Gardener

Evening gardens can be a joy when the hot days of August and September make it virtually impossible to sit outside and enjoy your garden during the heat of the day. Too, if you work during the day, evening will be the only time you can enjoy your garden. Go outside and observe all those white and light-colored flowers that are visible to you and the moths and other insects that drink their nectar and are active at night.

So why am I telling you this in May? You have to prepare! Now is the time to get those seeds in the soil (if you haven’t already). Actually some of the seeds you might plant now won’t sprout until the soil warms up. If it is too late to plant some seeds, you may be able to find already-started plants of some of these flowers.


Some flowers are at their best in the dark. Nicotiana is a star. The flowers are narrow tubes that flare out at the end. During the day, the flowers droop. At night, the flowers revive, and their sweet scent perfumes the air. The original plant is close to perfection. It has a rangy, airy form and plenty of fragrant white flowers that open in the evening. N. alata and N. sylvestris both grow tall with a basal rosette of large green leaves. By midsummer each will bloom on tall stalks and continue through the summer. Start seeds in early spring and transplant. Once you have grown nicotiana in your garden, you will be treated to self-sown seedlings every year. They do well in full sun or partial shade. ‘Only the Lonely’ is the name of one cultivar of scented nicotiana, named because of its height in the garden. There are cultivars of colored nicotiana, but they do not have much scent. I probably should warn you that these plants can be considered invasive, but the seedlings are easy to recognize and pull out when small.

Cleome is another favorite of mine. The purple, pink, or white flowers stand out on their tall stalks in the evening and attract the hawk moth to drink the nectar. They have the same advantages as nicotiana - tall and fragrant, with spider-like flowers at the top of the stalk. Also the same disadvantage - they reseed profusely. The small seedlings of both these plants appear rather late in spring, so if you disturb the soil in March or April, you may not see these plants reappear. When many of your perennials are at a low point, nicotiana and cleome can fill the void.

Petunias, those common annuals, are wonderful in an evening garden. Have you ever walked along front yards in the evening and noticed that heavenly scent? The heat and humidity seem to intensify it. And if the flowers are white like ‘White Cascade’ or maybe ‘Red Star,’ which has a white star on a red background, you will have the treat of seeing them in the evening. They should be well watered during hot weather; but if they are mulched and given a good start, you will see the benefits soon.

Moonflower (Ipomoea alba) is another star of an evening garden. Moonflower is an annual twining vine. It flourishes in the heat of summer. It is slow to start, but once the weather turns hot, the vines start climbing. The vines easily grow to 10 feet or more and flower until frost. The scent is delicious, so plant the seeds in late spring (when soil temperature is about 70 degrees) near your evening seating area so you can enjoy watching the buds unfurl at dusk. They are morning glory cousins, and the flower only lasts one night; but, like morning glory, there will be many more buds and flowers.


What about herbs for your evening garden? Garlic chives are a great addition to your garden. In late summer, the flower clusters catch the light of the moon and sway in the breeze. This is a hardy perennial that grows about 12 inches tall with grass-like leaves. The flower stalks are topped with a flat-headed cluster of white flowers that show up well against a dark background. Beware - they are aggressive. Do not allow them to go to seed in a perennial garden, or you will have seedlings coming up everywhere. Full sun and average garden soil are what they need.

Other herbs you could include would be gray- or silver-leafed plants such as lavender, sage and artemesia. All show up well and have scent. Russian sage is a shrubby perennial with purplish-blue flowers. There are so many sage plants it is difficult to choose, so grow many of them. Lavender, also, has many varieties, both tender perennials and hardy plants. Your choice depends on the space you have available.


Don’t forget about the perennial, hosta. You have the choice of variegated, chartreuse, or pale green leaves. The flowers are a bonus, rising above the neat mound of leaves from mid-summer to autumn. Some are extremely showy and fragrant. They grow best in partial shade and prefer rich soil amended with organic matter. They should be well watered to look their best. One benefit of a dry summer may be that slugs will not attack them, but deer love hostas any time. The old-fashioned variety known in this area as August lily blooms faithfully every August and has light green leaves. The plant can become very large and can be divided in spring.

Some of the other annual and perennial flowers to think about including in an evening garden are white scaveola, white verbena, acidanthrus (a tender summer bulb); variegated scented geranium ‘Charity,’ and Sedum ‘Frosty Morn.’ Don’t forget some grasses: Hakonechloa macra ‘Alba Striata;’(for shade) and Miscanthus sinensis ‘Dixieland.’

If you are looking for something a little less ordinary, try Plumbago auriculata which is an annual in our area with light blue phlox-like flowers, and the perennial, Persicaria ‘Red Dragon,’ that has small white flowers in late summer.

Whichever plants you choose for your evening garden, don’t miss the chance to create an enchanting outdoor spot where you can enjoy the cool of a summer’s evening spent among the flowers out under the stars.

*Some plant information taken from Evening Gardens by Cathy Wilkinson Barash, Chapters Publishing Ltd., Shelburne, VT 05482 1993

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