What do you see outside your windows at night as you glance across your landscape? Is it complete darkness until you turn on the floodlights? Almost 90 percent of our sensory perception is through sight and that dwindles down to 12 percent in the dark. What if you could look out and see the darkness illuminated in ways that establish a canvas of shapes and shadows. What if you could enhance the experience even more with sound and scent? What if the garden at night drew you out of the house and into it?

Many of us are not at home during the day. In winter months, we may leave for work in the dark and return home in the dark. In the summer months, it’s not cool enough to want to be outdoors until dusk. So the landscape goes unnoticed for hours and days until it is time to weed or mow or perform some other type of maintenance. That’s a tragedy. A garden can come alive at night. It should be alive at night. Just a few simple steps can change what you see, what you hear and how you feel.


Focal glow is a method of lighting that illuminates a specific item upon which attention will be focused. Spotlighting uses direct lighting to emphasize a tree, fountain, statue or entryway. Silhouetting shows off the shape of an object by placing the light source behind an object and pointing the beam on a vertical surface. The dark silhouette of the object stands out against the lit background. Shadowing does the opposite. The light source is placed in front of the object and as the light passes around and through, the shadow of the object is emphasized on the flat surface behind it. It’s a great way to display interesting branching habits. Grazing light accents the texture of a tree trunk, wall or walkway. The light source is angled to enhance contrast within the subject itself.

Ambient luminescence uses low contrast lighting to illuminate an entire area for either working in or traveling through. Uplighting refers to lighting from below, resulting in a spectacular effect, such as when used on a grove of live oaks. Downlighting is a general term for lighting from above giving the appearance of natural sun or moonlight. It can be soft and diffused if placed high in a tree or strong and intense when used for security or safety lighting along buildings and paths. Diffuse lighting is the result of something translucent being placed in front of the light source such as lathwork, tree, shrub, frosted glass, canvas panel or anything that breaks up the light pattern. Background lighting focuses on brightly lighting the background vista and downplaying the foreground.

Play of brilliants emphasizes the play of water and/or its movement through the landscape by using either uplighting to capture the brilliance of water droplets of a fountain or downlighting to capture the flow of water along a stream or waterway.


Simply put, plants with white flowers or foliage glow in the dusk, under the moonlight or with creative lighting. Since I walk at dusk, I notice the natural landscape at night. The white daisy blooms of beggar’s tick (Bidens pilosa) line the path as do the trailing and tumbling white blooms of dewberry (Rubus flagellaris) and white milkpea (Galactia elliotii). Upwards, depending on the time of year, the large blooms of Southern magnolia (Magnolia grandiflora) and the smaller Loblolly bay (Gordonia lasianthus) appear like lanterns against the tree foliage. In the home landscape, there is a vast array of choices for white flowers and foliage that come in all sizes and shapes including caladium (foliage), alyssum, begonia, cosmos, marigold, yarrow, Madagascar periwinkle, petunia, rose, calla lily, hibiscus, hydrangea, gardenia, Confederate jasmine, gardenia, camellia, Angel’s trumpet (Brugmansia sp), magnolia, yucca, moon flower (Ipomoea alba), various citrus.


Don’t overlook fragrance. It’s a powerful element of landscape design. Combine white with fragrance with roses, magnolia, gardenia, Confederate jasmine, moon flower, Angel trumpet, various citrus. Some plants like sweet olive (Osmanthus sp.) have small flowers but offer up a powerful perfume.


We may have reduced our landscape size but we haven’t overlooked our need for sound. Homemade wind chimes constructed by a musical friend to play the chord of C (yes, a gifted craftsman and musician can do many things!) are located on two house corners (northwest and southeast) so whether we are sitting on the front porch swing or on our back deck, we hear music. Our fountain is on all the time and the sound of water softly splashing across discarded Carolina flagstone into a recycled bird bath basin (with drill holes) is soothing to the psyche. Also possible is real music played from an iPhone and a small portable Bose speaker.

Hopefully, this has given you some thought to reassess your landscape design so that its beauty extends into the evening darkness, engaging you and drawing you outdoors.