We are in the midst of simmer now. Did I say simmer? I mean to say “summer” of course. The weather is hot, and yet I love being out doors. I have never quite understood how the first day of summer coincides with the shortening length of the day, but there it is and no denying it. The impact on me is subtle, yet sure. Regardless of the heat, I want to stay out side as long as possible, and I have found a cool garden style that extends my leisure time. I have joined the night shift.
My garden and patio offer the usual amenities of a contemporary outdoor room. We have the group seating, grill station, fire pit and outdoor speakers, so entertaining several people is easy on the weekends. During the week, we are left to ourselves. However, the outdoor room used for entertaining groups of friends seems too big for “just us”. We light a candle or two at the patio, but move past it, out beyond the fire pit, to the moon garden.
The moon garden is a garden space designed with varying shades of green, silver and blue foliage and white flowers. Sun light reflected from the moon illuminates the space. Lounging in a moon garden is as different from group grilling at the fire pit, as well, night from day. The moon mood is quiet, romantic, and mystical. The tempo slows as you walk on the bright white limestone steppers leading away from the house. For some unspoken reason you feel it best not to step into the grass; it is a dark and unknowable void. Better to place each step carefully on the center of each stone.
You turn the corner along the hedge and instantly all the house lights and patio candles are masked in shadow. Our eyes slowly focus on the sudden silver shapes of the white Adirondack chairs. Our hands and legs feel the smooth cold wood as we sit. Good thing you brought your beach towel to pad the seat because we will probably spend an hour sitting here, soaking up the secrete atmosphere of the shy night things. It is better to sit and take it all in, although in a large garden with light colored paths, strolling could be an option; some people say a moon garden should have artificial lighting, but I am a purist. I like my moon gardens to rely on the moon.
In the moon garden, “smelling” is elevated to entertainment. While your eyes are adjusting to the pale lunar light, breathe deeply and savor the scent of the night blooming __________. Fill in the blank: it could be nicotiana, datura, jasmine, sweet autumn clematis, ipomoeas or some other white petaled, fragrant bloom. The point is to maximize the sense of smell. In a successful moon garden you will have one major scent noticeable at a time. In the same way that several conflicting scents of soap, perfume and shampoo can combine to produce a sort of Yuk smell on people, too many conflicting scents in the garden can repulse rather than refresh. Another option for entertainment provided by the moon garden is moth watching (for those that tend the fragrant night blooming flowers).
Something about the dark of the night causes us to lower our voices, and that is a good thing, because it opens our ears to the sounds of the moon garden. There are the insects of course, and the occasional night bird song, but there is also the rustle of the breeze in the leaves of grasses, pines and the taller trees. If you are quiet enough you can hear the faint clinking of the small wind chime, and the steady burble of the waterfall. The feeling is one of calm, and yet the unexpected seems just about to happen.
As we become accustomed to the cool glow, we see how the blooms of the white flowers around us seem to float in space. That is because the darker stems and leaves recede into the dark background. Our depth perception seems out of whack, another delight caused by the lunar light. The mottled trunks of the sycamore trees at the far end of the lawn sometimes seem too close for comfort. I have used several sizes and shapes of bloom, as well as foliage plants with silvery and variegated leaves. The differing sizes of blooms mess with our perception of the space, sometimes making the smaller blooms seem far away. Shadows and light on the variegated leaves of hosta and liriope give the illusion of movement in my peripheral vision. The silvery lamb’s ears and Artemisia take on the look of cold stone. Finally, the peacefulness of it overtakes me and I am ready to go inside to bed. Another day is done.
The night shift isn’t for everyone, that’s true. The ghostly allure that I find soothing may be too dramatic for some. The good news is that during the day a moon garden will look like a white garden, an elegant retreat that anyone seeking a relaxed atmosphere can enjoy. It will still be a space that cools the senses, giving us visual relief from the sun’s simmer.