Imagine coming home from work, or walking around your garden in the evening, and admiring your moonlight garden just as the sun begins to set or during the early evening.
Moonlight gardens are planted purposefully so they can be enjoyed during twilight. Planting one is easy, and it’s a clever way to design or redesign a section of your yard.
Depending on the size of your yard, you can create a large or tiny moonlight garden. One of my favorite places to design moonlight gardens is in shady spots. Full shade areas, such as under a live oak tree, can be inviting spaces for moonlight gardens in hot Florida temperatures.
To get started, think about what kinds of plants look bright or interesting at dusk or in the evening.
One of my most beloved plants is a poet’s jasmine Jasminum officinale, a vine I purchased from a local nursery years ago. This vine blooms in part shade or even full shade. It has delicate, ferny foliage. The star-shaped, white flowers of poet’s jasmine bloom during summer, and its subtle fragrance scents the evening air. Once established, you can propagate cuttings and give them away to friends.
Never forget to add clumps of white flowers. White flowers not only make the moonlight garden pop; they also help Florida gardens feel cooler in hot weather. One showstopper is pinwheel jasmine. Pinwheel jasmine grows in sun or shade, making it an ideal plant for gardens like mine that have both sunny and shady areas. Pinwheel jasmine shrubs bloom with profuse, white flowers that fall to the ground after blooming. When not in bloom, the plant’s glossy, green leaves provide interest.
Include many different colors and textures of green. Different shades of green provide a beautiful and subtle backdrop for your moonlight garden plants. Plant leaves can be light green, dark green, shiny, variegated, and even lime or chartreuse.
Some of my favorite green plants for moonlight gardens include ferns, with delicate and arching light and dark green leaves, spiky irises, glossy ‘Awabuki’ viburnums, large palm trees (think fishtail palm or the graceful Areca palm), peace lilies, shell ginger, dark mondo grass, foxtail ferns, and Jasmine minima groundcover.
Variegated shefflera, variegated Jasmine minima, and even ‘Gold Dust’ yellow and green crotons can liven up a dark, shaded area or a sunny location. As a bonus, ‘Gold Dust’ crotons are resistant to nematodes, making them a great plant for Florida’s sandy soils where nematodes are often present.
Check out some of the beautiful caladium cultivars, and sprinkle the tubers throughout your garden. Caladiums always surprise me because I often forget where I planted them. You can find pink, green, white, and red caladiums in fancy- or lance-leaf types. Caladiums also come in a variety of sizes. Some of the cultivars released by the University of Florida include ‘White Butterfly’, ‘Tapestry’, ‘Florida White Ruffles’ and ‘Florida Moonlight.’
Spice up the moonlight effect by adding clay, plastic or concrete pots that are either white in color, or that contain green leafy plants, or white or yellow flowers. Consider adding a white or pale pink arbor for vines to climb. Moonflower vines grow easily from seed and resemble a large, white morning glory.
Children especially like to grow moonflowers, waiting to see the flowers unfurl in the evening. The surprise is the pale, cream-colored star in the center of the flowers. Grow small plants such as jewel orchids and Cryptanthus in pots and place them in your garden or on your patio. Another name for Cryptanthus is earth stars. How appropriate for a moonlight garden!
When designing your moonlight garden, choose a few plants based on height and light preferences. I like to plant large groups of a single kind of plant, so the groupings make a big impact.
Now is a great time to plant a beautiful, Florida moonlight garden.
I would love to hear about your favorite moonlight garden plants. Please send me an email with your suggestions.
References for this column were:
Leymaster, Keri. (n.d.). Creating a Tropical Shade Garden. UF/IFAS Extension Orange County. Fact Sheet Horticulture – 009. Retrieved from
Park Brown, Sydney. (2015). Landscaping in Florida Shade. IFAS Publication Number ENH-1196. Gainesville: University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences. Retrieved from http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/ep457.
Park Brown, Sydney. (2014). Gardening with Perennials in Florida. IFAS Publication Number ENH-68. Gainesville: University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences. Retrieved from http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/mg035.
Published November 9, 2016