In some Lowcountry gardens, the real fun doesn't begin until the sun goes down.
Evening gardens, or "moon gardens," feature flowers that bloom only at night. The flowers reflect the moonlight and emit unusual fragrances, creating a romantic setting that puts the magic of the garden on full display.
"Moths pollinate the flowers at night just like bees and butterflies pollinate the flowers during the day. They bloom at night to feed night-flying creatures like moths, bats and some insects, but mostly moths," said Master Gardener Sandra Educate, who will offer advice on moon gardening this Saturday during the ongoing Lunch and Learn lecture series at Heritage Park in Port Royal. The free presentation by the Lowcountry Master Gardeners Association begins at 11:30 a.m.
"When the sun loses intensity, that is the beginning of flowers' night," she said.
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Any flower that reflects moonlight is considered to be an integral part of a moon garden.
"They include any white flower that reflect moonlight such as petunias, white impatiens, white lilies and white angel trumpets, which elongate at night and grow more turgid as their little skirts flare," Educate said.
She also recommends Casa Blanca Oriental Lilies, though they may be difficult to grow here.
If you like to actually watch a flower bloom, consider a moon vine (Ipomoea alba). Just as the sun begins to set, the white cigar-shaped petals of the moon vine begin a slow process of three- to five-minutes of unfurling into giant white blooms.
To watch moon vines bloom in the summer, seeds have to be planted in February. It is safe to plant the vine when the nights are warmer than 50 degrees to ensure blooms by mid- to late-summer.
Four O'Clocks stay closed during the day, but typically bloom later than their moniker suggests. The small flowers that bloom very late in the evening are also a part of Educate's garden. She said Four O'Clocks are self-seeders and should return each year on their own.
"When the seed pods burst, they fall on the ground and nature germinates them," Educate said.
A moon garden would not be complete without plants that release special fragrances at night. The Rangoon Creeper offers a fragrance lighter than that of a gardenia.
"It is a gorgeous plant by day," Educate said.
The Rangoon Creeper puts out the scents of citrus and cloves as soon as the sun goes down and the temperature changes. Educate keeps a creeper just outside her back door so that the aroma enters the house with incoming breezes.
"Sometimes some of these flowers are intoxicating. You just go 'Ahhhh,' " she said.
"Some are very heavy and some are very elusive. Sometimes when the temperature is right and the breeze is right, they are all very different and can be overwhelming."
A sweet almond bush, another flower with white blooms in Educate's yard, is fragrant both night and day.
"I can smell it halfway across the yard," she said.
The Lady of the Night (brunsfelsia americana), which can grow as a house plant or as a shrub, blooms during the day and releases its fragrance at night, shd. Night Blooming Jasmine (Cestrum nocturnum) can offer yet another scent to a garden.
Educate is pouring over garden seed catalogs now in anticipation of expanding her moon garden next year.
"There is always something new that you want in your garden," she said.