Moonlit Magic

This is the tale of a moon garden, a garden to be enjoyed after the sun goes down as well as during the day. This three chapter story of those shrubs, vines and perennials, all white and mostly fragrant, that light up the garden at night spans the growing seasons – Spring, Summer, and Fall.

The Spring Moon Garden

To give the spring moon garden strong bones Viburnum carlesii is a must-have shrub.

Topping out at about 5 feet tall, this spicy scented viburnum is covered with snowball-like flowers in early spring that morph into red berries as the seasons age. The Korean Spice Viburnum is not particular about soil, and although it prefers full sun, it will tolerate part shade, but be warned – the deeper the shade, the fewer the flowers.

For a spring blooming white vine a fine choice is the fast growing Wisteria macrostachaya ‘Clara Mack’.

This Kentucky native wants full sun, and as with all wisterias, patience is a gardener’s virtue; it may take a couple of seasons before it rewards you with its fragrant white flowers. As for care, if you must, prune your wisteria in early spring before the new growth appears, and during its growing season give it a couple of shots of a fertilizer with a high middle number such as 10-30-20 (that is, 10% nitrogen, 30% phosphorus and 20% potash).

Save some space in your spring garden for that queen of perennials, the peony, and the old-fashioned ‘Duchesse de Nemours’ still reigns as the supreme white more than century after its introduction. Its brilliant ruffled petals will set the night garden aglow, and like all peonies the Duchess must have full sun and a regular feeding program.

One tough perennial for a difficult site is Snow-in-Summer, Cerastium tomentosum, which relishes rocky, dry soil and sunny conditions.

In late spring through early summer its fuzzy grey-green foliage is almost obscured by masses of dainty white flowers. Tough though it is, this perennial hates heat, humidity (a no-go in the Deep South) and wet feet, but if you can give it sharp drainage, you will be rewarded with a profusion of offspring. Shear the spent flowers if you want to curb its self-sowing enthusiasm

As described in a previous blog post, Not Your Granny’s Groundcovers, the groundcover of choice for a moon garden is Galium odoratum, or Sweet Woodruff.

Forming a vigorous mat of shiny whorls of deep green leaves it is dotted with tiny clusters of white flowers early in the season. This is a true woodland plant thriving in moist shady spots.

The Summer Moon Garden

Summer is usually the season when many blooming perennial plants and shrubs bow out and cede the garden stage to showy annuals. However with the exception of the annual Moon Flower this discussion focuses on perennials that bloom in summer and warrant a spot in a summer moon garden.

The sturdy stems of Hydrangea arborescens ‘Annabelle’ support massive snow-white flowers that appear in late June and continue well into summer.

Although it can take full sun, it shines in part shade, and do keep it well watered – it hates to dry out. One final note: since ‘Annabelle’ is a member of the aborescens species, it blooms on new wood so to keep it tidy, prune it hard in late winter before the new growth appears.

A true moon garden must include the annual Moon Flower, Ipomoea alba, a white morning glory whose fragrant blossoms only open when the sun goes down.

This fast growing growing member of the sweet potato family can reach 20 feet in a single season so it needs to be supported by a trellis or a rock wall. A dose of fertilizer with a high middle number (phosphorus) and full sun will guarantee a profusion of flowers.

The daylilies never disappoint in the heat of summer, and the choice daylily for a summer moon garden is the intensely fragrant Hemerocallis ‘White Temptation’. Its pure white ruffled flowers with creamy centers attract butterflies and humming birds, and like its brethren, this Hemerocallis can take full sun or part shade and is not fussy about water. A tough plant, it even flourishes in polluted cities.

To enjoy your moon garden indoors, Lilium ‘Casa Blanca’ is a stunning cut flower boasting as many as 8 pure white blooms on each 4 foot stem. Like all lilies ‘Casa Blanca’ can be started from a bulb, but site the bulb where it will receive full sun and mulch the plant to keep the roots cool. Beware: these lilies are beloved by deer.

The final choice for a summer moon garden is the native Phlox paniculata ‘David’ which needs full sun to put on its best display. Bushy clusters of fragrant white flowers will illuminate the moon garden from July until well past Labor Day if the gardener is diligent and shears off spent blooms. Although ‘David’ is one of the phloxes most resistant to powdery mildew, space the plants well apart for good air circulation and never water from above.

The Fall Moon Garden

Here’s an oxymoron – an azalea that blooms in the fall. Actually ‘Autumn Angel’ blooms for about nine months of the year, taking a time out only in deep winter. And even then unlike many of its relatives it does not shed its leaves but remains attractive year round. Hardy in all but the most northern states (USDA Zones 6-10) this compact beauty will be happy in full sun to part shade and would welcome a regular fertilizer diet formulated for rhododendrons and azaleas.

A fast growing vigorous vine Clematis virginiana tops out at about 20 feet, and demands sturdy support such as a chimney or split rail fence, although some gardeners are happy to let it ramble through a neighboring shrub.

Covered with masses of fragrant tiny white flowers from August to October, this native even blooms in deep shade. Once the flowers have faded, silky seed heads, a characteristic of the clematis family, hang on through the winter months. Give it plenty of water and then step aside.

Another standout for the fall moon garden, the Montauk Daisy or Nipponanthemum nipponicum (quite a handle for a humble daisy) begins to put on a show in midsummer and, if deadheaded, the show will continue well into the fall months.

A profusion of snow white daisies with yellow eyes rise above glossy green leaves, a draw for both bees and butterflies. Give your Montauk Daisy full sun except in the southern zones and moderate water. To ensure it doesn’t get leggy, whack it back in early spring to about 6 inches, and continue to pinch off new growth until mid-July. Then sit back and enjoy the show.

For a spot at the back of a shady garden that needs a stately anchor, look no further than the native Actaea racemosa (formerly Cimicifuga racemosa).

Thriving in moist woodland conditions, spires of fuzzy white flowers crown wiry graceful stems throughout early fall filling the night air with their fragrance.

That’s the end of the tale of the moon garden. With a bit of planning, enjoyment of the garden need not be confined to the daylight hours. Whether you have sun or shade, dry or moist soil, the plant world offers many opportunities to extend the garden’s pleasures well after the sun goes down.

Plant Sources


White Flower Farm

Niche Gardens

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