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Home improvement: Design an evening garden

Summer offers an unending range of possibilities when it comes to enjoying the garden in the evenings,  so schedule in some time to enjoy outdoor living.  Joe Lamp'l shares smart gardening tips for creating a lush outside refuge.

Answer these questions: Do you entertain often after dark? Do your outdoor living spaces need a little sparkle? Then perhaps it's time to add drama into your garden lights, camera and action!

Home improvement stores are full of easy-to-install outdoor lighting these days. A good way to use these items is to highlight key elements in your garden. Focal points, such as statuary or fountains, are ideal, as are substantial trees and shrubs.

Choosing the right lightThe exterior of our homes is the ideal place to put lighting that compliments the garden and home style. When you choose lighting, you need to think beyond style; you also need to think about function: How much area will you be lighting? What is the purpose of the light?

A gas light is stylish and excellent for highlighting a door, but is not good for broadcasting a large and bright light to provide safety.

Note that when possible, changing from standard light bulbs to energy efficient fluorescents will conserve resources. 

Outdoor entertainingI am particularly interested in being a good steward of the environment, so when I learned about battery-operated LED lights that look like pillar and tea candles, I was wowed by the technology. These lights are long-lasting and pull very little energy. Additionally, LED lights give you the ambiance of candlelight but have no open flame, making them safer for your family. I have tried these out in my own garden and the guests gave them rave reviews. I usually cluster the LED tea lights on the table around a flower arrangement. The pillar candles are great on accent tables or buffets.

Night-blooming plants
You no doubt remember the song popular in the 70's, "I Love the Nightlife." Well, some plants have been singing that mantra for centuries. Night-blooming plants are increasingly popular as more and more of us are having less time during the daylight hours to really get out there and enjoy our gardens.

I think it's important to note that light-colored plants, especially white ones, sparkle at dusk, and that some insects are attracted specifically to night bloomers. Here are a few plants that I enjoy using for an after dark show in the garden:

EVENING PRIMROSE, Oenothera pallida: The cup-shaped blossoms of this plant fade from white to pink.  It has a pleasant almost honeysuckle fragrance.DATURA is a very poisonous plant if ingested but also an exotic beauty with large bell or trumpet shaped flowers. Common names for this plant include jimson weed, Hell's Bells, Devil's weed, Devil's cucumber, thorn-apple, pricklyburr, angel's trumpet and devil's trumpet.

NIGHT-SCENTED STOCK, Matthiola longipetala subsp. bicornis, has pink, white and lavender flowers that produce a spicy fragrance.  Wonderful as a cut flower, this plant thrives where summer nights are cool. 

FLOWERING TOBACCO, Nicotiana alata, produces white flowers in a tubular shape that stay closed during daylight hours but open in the evenings filling the air with a jasmine-like fragrance. 

FOUR O'CLOCKS, Mirabilis jalapa: Incredibly easy to grow, literally throw out a package of seeds and watch this old-fashioned favorite take off.  Flower blooms open during late afternoon.

MOONFLOWER, Ipomoea alba, are another that is easy to grow, just follow seed package directions and wait about 12 weeks.  The name comes from the flowers that are like the color of the summer moon, a clear white.  The vines can grow up to 12 feet or so.  NIGHT PHLOX, Zaluzianskya capensis is not only beautiful but fragrant.  Watch is beauty come alive at dusk.

“White” Bloomers
I think it’s important to note that light colored, especially white, plants sparkle at dusk.  Try some of these white or pale colored plants in your night garden.

White lilies or pale colored lilies: ‘Stargazer’ is always a popular and fragrant flower as is ‘Alba’.

White petunias:  ‘Supertunias Mini White’ has showed to be a tried and true favorite in my Southern garden. 

White phlox: ‘Intensia White’ is a great variety that attracts butterflies and seems to be tolerant of summer heat.  

White scaevola: ‘Whirlwind White’ has proven that it can recover from drought and still keep on producing.  

Joe Lamp'l is the founder of, a Web site and company dedicated to providing smart resources to gardeners of all levels. In addition, Joe is the host of two national television shows, “GardenSMART” on PBS and “Fresh from the Garden” on the DIY Network, an author, Master Gardener and a Certified Landscape Professional.  For more information, visit .