If you work at a typical 9-to-5 job, you may feel that you are cheated out of garden time. But with a night garden, you don't ever have to feel this way again. There are a wide variety of flowers that dazzle in a night garden, and some of the best ones are the scented night-blooming flowers. I think one of the greatest pleasures in life is relaxing in a moonlit garden with a jasmine-scented summer breeze cooling me off. Many scented night-bloomers tend to be hidden from common knowledge, so I have provided a list of some of the best ones here.
Night-Blooming Jasmine (Cestrum nocturnum)
[Photo by Incredible India! (Flickr)]
Night-blooming jasmine, also known as night-scented jessamine and queen of the night, is more famous for its scent than its flowers. The small, tubular, star-shaped white or green flowers appear in clusters among evergreen foliage. Night-blooming jasmine is a tropical shrub that can reach up to 8 feet tall, and it is actually not a true jasmine at all. It thrives in a warm climate and does best in full sun; if you live above USDA zone 8, you will need to bring the shrub inside to overwinter. Night-blooming jasmine is widely used in India and Asia for perfume-making and religious ceremonies. Although this shrub is sweetly scented, it is toxic and produces berries that could be tempting to children. I would describe the scent as sweet and powerful; some say the scent can be overpowering, so if you are sensitive to fragrance, you may not want to plant this close to your window.
Flowering Tobacco (Nicotiana alata)
[Photo by Carl Lewis (Flickr)]
Flowering tobacco smells similar to jasmine and is more fragrant at night than during the day. The leaves are fuzzy and sticky like petunia leaves, while the trumpet-shaped flowers open to a five-petaled star and come in most shades except blue. The flowers attract hummingbirds and night pollinators like moths. Although flowering tobacco can reach up to 5 feet tall, the plants range in size depending on the variety; even dwarf varieties are available, but some varieties are more strongly scented than others. Plants flower more in full sun but will tolerate some shade, and they need regular watering.
Moonflower (Ipomoea alba)
Moonflower is in the same genus as morning glories, and they, too, are a vine with saucer-shaped flowers. Moonflower grows vigorously and produces large 5-to-6-inch fluted white flowers with an alluring perfume. The flowers bloom at dusk and last until morning, living only one night; however, the plant produces masses of flowers to make up for their short lives. I love planting moonflower near my windows so that I can open my windows and smell them in the evening. It is a tropical perennial in the south but is grown as an annual in colder regions. If starting from seed, be sure to nick the seed coat and soak before planting; also, the soil must be warm for the seeds to germinate. Plant the flowers in full sun to part shade, and be sure to provide supports for the plant to climb on. There are multiple plants called moonflower, so be sure you are buying Ipomoea alba; some other moonflowers are extremely poisonous.
Night-Blooming Water Lily, (Nymphaea species)
[Photo by Ben Yanis (Flickr)]
You may be surprised to learn that there are water lilies that bloom at night - I know I was when I first found out. Imagine gazing upon your pond in the evening and seeing these beauties in full bloom! They are definitely attention-getters in the night garden, particularly the white ones. They open at dusk, releasing a light fragrance, and close at mid-morning. There are several varieties of night-blooming water lilies, and they are all tropical, requiring water temperatures of 70 degrees or more to live and thrive. Nymphaea "Dentata Superba" is a nice white variety to try for the night garden.
Evening Primrose (Oenothera species)
[Photo by free photos & art (Flickr)]
This plant is famous for treating multiple health conditions - is there anyone who hasn't heard of evening primrose oil or capsules? However, evening primrose is equally useful in the scented night garden. Evening primrose is a hardy perennial with cup-shaped pink, white, yellow, or purple flowers that smell like honey or lemons. Be sure to choose a species that blooms at night for a night garden - Oenorthera caespitosa, or tufted evening primrose, bears white, fragrant, night-blooming flowers and only reaches 6 inches tall. This primrose would be perfect for rock gardens or the very front of a border. Evening primrose is native to the United States and is considered to be a weed by some.