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Archive for Sunday, July 22, 2001

The late show

Night-blooming plants offer cool respite during hot months

July 22, 2001

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Let's face it: Late July is no time to putter in the garden.

Even the most zealous gardeners relegate those "must-get-done" tasks to early morning, before the temperature and humidity rise from merely uncomfortable to nearly unbearable.

Indeed, within short order the heat and steaminess of July bear down and chase gardeners into the cool retreat of air conditioning well before midafternoon. Only with sunset does it feel comfortable enough to venture out again.

For that reason alone, a night garden is worthy of consideration. Plus, for gardeners who entertain outdoors, a garden enhanced by darkness adds to the merriment.

If nothing else, a garden reflected by the moonlight and scented by night bloomers is a refreshing end to a sizzling summer day.

Show starts at sundown

A moonlit garden? Flowers that bloom at night? Oh, yes, the spectacular diversity in the horticulture mix offers a number of plants that put on their best show in the late evening. Their flowers open after sundown even into the wee hours of the morning attracting night-flying moths and often scenting the air with a sweet fragrance.

The white color of many night-blooming flowers creates a spectacular contrast against the darkening sky.

The earliest of the evening bloomers is the Four O'Clock (Mirabilis jalapa). A longtime favorite that is easy to grow, Four O'Clocks open pretty much in time with their name.

The plant bears fragrant flowers in white, pink, magenta, red or yellow. By morning the blooms have faded. Just like clockwork, though, come 4 p.m. the next day, another floral show begins.

Evening walkers know instantly when they pass evening primrose (Oenothera pallida). Saucer-shape white flowers that open at dusk emit a sweet aroma reminiscent of honeysuckle that permeates the night air.

What this knee-high plant lacks in overall looks, it more than atones for with its powerful fragrance. To enjoy its scent, plant evening primrose along entryways or frequently used garden paths.

One of the most impressive night bloomers is Angels' Trumpet (Datura). This bushy plant has deeply lobed leaves and long trumpet-shape flowers in white or soft yellow. The flowers open before your eyes after darkness sets in.

Datura is strongly scented and the foliage and flowers are quite a sight as they capture the moon's glow. However, all parts of the plant are highly toxic. Avoid using the plant in gardens where children or pets are apt to touch or nibble.

Evening fragrance

The sweet scent of evening stock has been captured in literature for decades. Why not take advantage of its perfume for the moonlit garden by placing a few in a container on the deck or patio?

Evening-scented stock (Matthiola longipetala) is an erect or spreading plant only 12 inches tall with clusters of pink, mauve or purple strongly perfumed flowers. The flowers open after sunset, adding beauty and fragrance to the garden.

Like its cousin the morning glory, moonflower (Ipomoea alba) grows on twining 10- to 12-foot vines, ideal for privacy trellises near a sitting area or a porch post.

However, its deep green leaves soon become forgotten when the profusion of white trumpet-shape flowers unfurl at night. The 6-inch blooms release a heady scent in the night air and shimmer in the moon's glow.

Another flower worthy of the night garden is Flowering Tobacco (Nicotiana alata). It produces tubular, greenish-yellow flowers that open only in the early evening or night. The flowers of this annual are highly scented.

Finally, be sure to add the diminutive night phlox (Zaluzianskya capensis) to the moon garden. Although the umbrella-shape flowers close during the day, they open at night. The warmer and more humid the evening, the stronger the fragrance.

Plant a night garden near a porch, patio or deck to enjoy as you relax at day's end.

Even as the oppressive summer bears down, gardeners are cheered knowing that the warmer the evenings, the more fragrant their nighttime gardens become.

No doubt, it's a most pleasant reward for heat-weary gardeners.

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