If you are one of those who works fairly late, or busy being a taxicab for children, or just busy with lots of other activities, and thus has only parts of the weekends to visit the garden, there is a garden you can enjoy after it is dark. This column is about having a “Night Garden”.  Many think of a “Night Garden” with lights. I am not going to talk about lights at this time as that is a whole separate topic. I want to share about plants that show up at night.

          It is a bit cooler after dark, and it is too dark to weed, so all you need to do in your “Night Garden” is relax and enjoy. If you have ‘Bee Balm’ (Monardia sp.) in your garden, take a flashlight along.  Bumble bees like to sleep in the blossom and won’t be bothered if you flash a light on them. 

          White flowers, variegated leaves, and perfume makers should be a large part of your plants in a “Night Garden”. There are a number of flowers that open only at night and some that close when the sun goes down. The ‘Moonvine’ (Ipomea alba) that climbs up and over anything nearby is fragrant and waits not for sundown (or a very cloudy day) but true darkness.  The ‘Moon Flower’ (Datura species) in fertile soil grows 4 feet by 4 feet and opens as it darkens.  It is also fragrant with bees hovering nearby to get the nectar.

          Most of us have tried to catch fire flies and carried a jar at night.  Each species of fly has a special flashing signal so that they will mate only with their own group. Try while you are there to catch the number and length of the flashes.  On a damp evening, near the outside edge of shrubs you can scratch away the mulch or top soil (not too deep now, just scratch) and you may find the larvae that are already practicing their flashes. It used to be in certain parts of the United States that kids could catch the fire flies and be paid for them.  The chemicals used to create the light were used to manufacture certain products. So now you are carrying a jar and a flashlight.

          If the moon is shining your garden gets even more interesting. ‘Snakeroot’ (Cimicifuga species) is a perennial that likes partial shade and damp soil. It grows only about 2 to 2 ½ feet tall and wide but sends up a long slender bloom that has given the plant the name of ‘Fairy Candle’.

          The tall white ‘Flowering Tobacco Plant’ (Nicotiana sylvestris) is a good background plant with its long tubular flowers (6 inches) that opens at night and gives off perfume. Its big leaves are quite dramatic, and it is an annual that produces zillion of seeds. Another tall one is the ‘Regal Lily’. Mine grew about 5 feet tall and could be smelled from the street with their big 5 inch waxy blooms.

          When I was a kid (many years ago) one of the first shrubs I met was a ‘Snowball’, so it was the first shrub I had to have.  Then I found out there are many Viburnums, many of which have snowballs of some shape. Much work has been done in this family the last few years and the newest one I acquired this last year is ‘Forever Summer’. Now I have five different species of “Vibes”, and all of them look good at night especially when used as a background to white flowers. Several of them are highly perfumed. My original ‘Snowball’ has been smashed twice by storms and falling limbs but I cut it off to the ground and it springs back as if nothing happens. Aphids love it in the spring and can distort the leaves if you are not watching.  Lady bugs will get them or you can hit them with a strong spray of water.  All of my “Vibes” recover from being entirely cut back and some, like ‘Annabelle’, bloom every year while some take two years.

          I have been wanting for years to get some of these lights that recharge themselves during the sunlight and then turn themselves on at dark.  They are short (2 foot or so), and are used to edge pathways.  Just think how these night flowers would look. But that is another article.  

          For now take your jar, your light, and your lemonade, and sit under the big, old cottonwood and listen to its leaves rattle and talk to you, while you enjoy your “Night Garden”.



          From time to time I will write a “Pest Alert”. A “Pest Alert” will contain information from the Cooperative Extension Division of the University of Nebraska at Lincoln. The information sent to Master Gardeners in Lancaster County this past week alerted us to general discoloration of tall fescue lawns. “It appears to be the results of a brown patch infection that occurred last fall. As the turf begins to green up, most lawns will grow themselves out of the disease and its symptoms. The first mowing should be low to remove the damaged leaves. These leaves should be collected and removed from the lawn.  If environmental conditions favor brown patch later in the spring, homeowners may need to treat the disease with a fungicide.”

          Remember there is a difference between brown patch (a leaf disease) and summer patch (a crown disease). Brown patch is easy to control with a fungicide spray when symptoms appear. Summer patch is hard to control after symptoms appear. A granular systemic fungicide should be applied May 1st and a second application 3 weeks later as a preventative in areas infected last year. Contact your local County Cooperative Extension Educator or a full service garden center specialist for a diagnosis.

          For more information you can also go on line to Type in Brown Patch Disease of Turfgrass (NebGuide G84-688-A) for further recommendations or type in lawn diseases for more information and recommendations.