Moon gardens are what comes to mind when you think of the fairies in Shakespeare's "A Midsummer Night’s Dream". Also known as White Gardens, these nocturnal gardens are meant to be viewed in the cooling temperatures of twilight or under the moonlight. I cannot venture a guess to what extent Victorian England (and Shakespear’s play) was inspired by the Moon Gardens of India, but it is fun to think about.
For those of us that languish under the African sun, the hot and dusty Indian climate and the need for an evening getaway might seem very familiar. To take a stroll under the full moon and experience the wonder of a summer garden in all its glorious scented wonder is the beginnings of what a moon garden stands to be.
The History of Moon Gardens
The most renowned Moonlight Garden is, without a doubt, the Mehtab Bagh. A garden commissioned by the emperor of India Shah Jahan in the 1500s was the first of its kind. The emperor wanted a tranquil place from where to gaze upon the Taj Mahal (a mausoleum built in honour of his third beloved wife).
White plaster illuminated the walkways leading through the fragrant garden. Fountains cooled the air while pools mirrored the moon (and the Taj Mahal) on its surface. It is no wonder that Victorian England would find inspiration to create its own version of White Gardens 350 years after the Mehtab Bagh.
In the same way, we draw inspiration from these White Gardens to help you recreate a piece of history.
Evening Scented Plants
There is quite the number of plants that attract visitors by night. These evening scented wonders are a boon for any Moon garden.
Fun fact | Flowers that release a nocturnal scent are often colourless or white because they rely on their scent to attract pollinators like moths, bats, and night-active bees.
Some plants like Snow-in-summer, originate from the alpine regions of Europe, exhibiting beautiful white flowers that can even adapt to lower altitudes. Always keep an eye out for such gems to enhance your Moon garden.
Several Hoya species open flowers only at night and produce copious amounts of nectar.
Did you know? The epithet 'alba' refers to the white versions of these flowers.
Some indigenous creepers and climbers produce copious amounts of white blooms. Ideal for a white garden.
Non-scented moonlight flowers
There exist some equally breathtaking indigenous flowers with a less than discernible scent. These will add some texture, allowing you to create a layered border.
You are spoilt for choice as you can choose the slower-growing rambling roses or swing towards indigenous and go for a wild bindweed (Convolvulus sagittatus
There are a few key principles one needs to take into account when laying out a new section of a garden. Even an informal one can benefit from a few key elements, that will serve you well once everything is in place. Here are some suggestions:
When starting a Moon Garden, it is best to make sure the plants you select will fit your climate. Some bulbs will not be frost hardy and should be kept in containers that can be moved as winter approaches.
If you plan on designing the garden with a specific season in mind, make sure the bulbs you select will be in flower during that time.
You want your garden to look fabulous year-round, which is also a motivation to select a few key pieces that will be interesting as the months roll by. Once the flowers fade, some bulbs might die back, leaving openings in the border.
A Moon Garden is created to be viewed at night. It is therefore pivotal that you consider from which angle you will be viewing it from. If you create paths, they need to be lightly coloured or lit. If you want to view the garden from a terrace or balcony, make sure you create it with that in mind.
Lastly, make sure to add an element of water no matter how small it may be. Even a birdbath will bring you endless amounts of joy.
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Clark, E. B. (1925). Color in the garden II. White gardens and one-color gardens. Landscape Architecture, 15(2), 102-104.
Moynihan, E. B. (Ed.). (2000). The moonlight garden: new discoveries at the Taj Mahal. Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, Smithsonian Institution and the University of Washington Press, Seattle and London.
Shakespeare, William, 1564-1616. A Midsummer Night's Dream. New York :Signet Classic, 1998