Friday, March 4, 2011

Moonlight Gardens in the Desert

Another favorite pic of mine snapped last year from my roof as I am counting down to the one year anniversary of Las Aventuras Blog.

I spend hours upon hours reading about landscape design, garden themes, and plants to place around homes during our winter downtime. This is perhaps one of my favorite writes in a while as the topic is really interesting.  A wonderful colleague of mine from work brought this garden theme to my attention last year.  I have been researching Moonlight Gardens in the desert for several months now and have found a lot of material on it.  What is a moonlight garden? Why would someone have it? What does it look like?  What kind of plants would you use?  Hopefully I will answer your questions on this very special write about an idea that I think is very magical in nature.

Movies inspire with great storytelling and great acting......but they can also engage the imagination through scenery and landscape.  A couple movies that come to mind are On Golden Pond and the epic Lord of the Rings. When I think "moonlight garden", my mind immediately flashes to a memorable scene from the Lord of the Rings Trilogy where Galadriel is walking barefoot on grass towards a fountain in the moonlight.  I think this scene captures the magic and idea of what a Moonlight Garden represents. Through my travels, I have seen evenings smothered by moonlight and I think that once someone has experienced something so enchanting, they want to recreate it in their own gardens.  If you haven't seen the moon over a still and quiet ocean, the desert, or shining bright through a forest canopy,  this idea may be mumbo jumbo to you, but trust me, it can take your breathe away.  Let's explore Tucsonans and why they enjoy their evenings.

Highly recommended for a large pot or planter, this fragrant night bloomer casts a spell in your garden.  The flower opens at night and floods our courtyard with a lovely smell. It is recommended for a moonlight garden. Picture taken from a planter in our courtyard.

Some people reading this blog will understand because they live in the desert; others will understand because they are "night owls"; while others will read this and think the evening is for sleep. Tucsonans, during the summer, will generally stay out of the heat during the day because it's hot. However, when the sun sets during our summer months, people leave their homes for outdoor dining.  The evenings, especially during monsoon, are balmy and tropical.....sometimes with beautiful lightening storms over the mountains. I don't know if anyone has written about the "night culture"  in the Old Pueblo, but within my community, many of my neighbors are up late at night to go on a walk, take a dip in their pools, have a drink on their patios, or just sit absorbing the night air.  My favorite times are when the power goes out in the city and everything is dark and quiet.....if the citrus is in bloom, El Presidio becomes a very special space. As you can see, moonlight gardening is a wonderful gardening theme....especially if you are up to enjoy the night air.

A night time bloomer, this Night-Blooming Cereus packs a punch in a Moonlight Garden. This plant will only bloom at night and shut its' flower in the morning.

Okay, we've explored the why and sentiment behind this idea.....what about the technical part?  What plants should someone use in their desert gardens?  Stick with plants that have white flowers or a silver grey color leaf.  Texas Sage and lavender are good examples of that silvery foliage I'm they have beautiful purple flowers during the day.  White oleander is a good shrub along a fenceline.  For cacti, we can use the Twin-Spined Cactus or the Night Blooming Cereus(several varieties of this plant).  For groundcover, there is the Tufted Evening Primrose and for a smaller bush, there is the Powis Castle Artemisia.  If you have planters and pots, a white datura is great.  Do not put this plant into the ground as it requires a lot of water!!!  I use datura for a single reason in our garden space......when I'm on vacation during the hot summer months, this plant tells my substitutes that the garden may need some water.  If the leaves droop, my gardening friends know it's time to water the pots around the property:)  Several other plants that are favorites for moonlight gardens are the Argentine giant cactus, dusty miller, foxglove, lamb's ear, silver torch cactus(MY FAVORITE!!), Texas Olive(messy), and yucca.  The key to creating this style of garden is A. Think of the leaf and how moonlight would reflect off of it...silver grey leaves will reflect the moonlight  B. White flowers that bloom at night and C. Cacti spines that will also reflect(sorry to write this again, but I love Silver Torch!!!).

Well, there you have it.....a Moonlight Garden for your desert space.  I am excited because my friend who introduced me to this idea is buying a new place and wants to implement this garden theme.  I love designing new spaces!!!  El Presidio is pretty much all a new garden area and design are fun to explore:) Until next time........


  1. Hi Chris, I guess you are a night owl. I've seen several beautiful photos of the moon from your blog. I am a morning person. I guess you can see that from my blog too.

  2. What good timing, with these milder nights. (well, still mostly cool here, but not as cold)

    You read my mind! I hope to soon post on moonlight gardens, but for the higher Chihuahuan Desert and foothills. Once the sun goes down, that is when the fragrances and mood only the desert has, all comes alive. Thanks for the ideas, gray and blueish leaves rule under the moon.


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