Hello my dear gardening friends,
Beryl Harris

We think so much of the plants that bloom in the daytime that we forget that there is a whole other area of gardening that some of us are not really aware of and that is ...

“Night Gardening”

I have recently re-read that delightful little book called just that – “Night Gardening” the story of a stroke victim who regains her strength and vitality and even a little romance through gardening because the gardening is a secret from her family. She gardens at night. It is a delightful novel so do look for it, if the library does not have a copy then try Chapters – they seem to have everything that our hearts crave.

It is well worth to check out your own ‘night garden’ after the brilliant colours of daytime vanish and in the dark the white ones take centre stage.

With the full moon to which we are starting to say goodbye for another month, the white flowers take on a glow of their own. The sights and particularly the sounds are different at night. I hear the steady slap of water, not the same as the “waves” created by the boats of daytime, but natural undulation, maybe the slap of the beaver’s tail, and certainly the loons calling to each other. I haven’t heard my bull frog this year, I wonder if he ever perfected his croak?

After dark when flowers lose their luster and my nose takes over, it is the night blooming blossoms that one smells. Night flowers are large and have fragrances that are strange and very strong in order to attract night flying insects and our friends the bats. Seemingly these creatures of the night (as Dracula called them) prefer oversized and over fragrent blossoms, humans might find all this more than a little overwhelming.

I am, admittedly, a fan of Dracula. No garlic or crosses in my house! I think that the best known night bloomer is one belonging to the Cčreus family. (*Cactąceae – usually arboresscent, columnar cacti with the surface covered with spiny ribs and contain over 100 species).

The petals slowly unfurl after dark into many foot-wide blossoms that fade by daylight. Each blossom is a frilly mass of creamy white inner petals and powdery yellow stamens. Every flower sends out a sweet and cloying aroma to attract its specialized pollinators.

A Hylocčreus takes many years to reach blooming size. (*Cactąceae – a high-climbing cactus with stems three-angled or winged, adhering to walls and trees by aerial roots. Some 16 species are known of which one; usually under the wromg name, is grown, C. tricostatus) When it does bloom it is amazing. It is just another cactus that tolerates a dry home environment but does require a lot of bright light.The plant with its thick, three ridged stems is a little large for the average home, I have seen them growing in greenhouses in San Francisco and outside in Mexico.

Epiphżllum oxypétalum (*Cactąceae – very lerge, up to 20 feet long, with numerous short spineless side branches, thin and leaf-like) puts out similar flowers, sharing the same name of night blooming cčreus, but the plant itself is somewhat smaller, its broad flat stems are a little more suitable to our homes. It does put on a dramatic show. Cool temperatures trigger tiny buds, on this succulent, growing in the terminal notches of its leaves. The buds grow throughout the summer, but suddenly stop when they all become the same size. Then, when the temperatures start to drop in the fall, all the buds start to swell at the same time and a month later, when matured sufficiently, thay all open together, it is well worth the wait to see the dozens of highly fragrant flowers.
An equally famous bloomer is the popular Brassįvola nodosa (*orchidąceae) “Lady-of-the- Night”. This orchid has a profusion of white, spider-like blossoms and insipid scent. It remains open both day and night extending the chance to enjoy its beauty.

It is only scented after dark although it has beautiful three inch wide blossoms its smell is not that inviting, a sort of tawdry “come hither” quality. It is one of the easier plants to grow in a notoriously difficult family. It has a compact habit and actually thrives in the home environment. The Lady of the Night needs at least 5 hours of bright natural light daily, or 14 hours of flourescent light.

If you wire its small pseudo bulds to a bark slab, water thoroughly twice a week, allowing the back to dry out completely between watering. With correct care your Brassįvola will bloom in the fall. After blooming, rest the orchid for a couple of weeks and do not water during this period.

Allamįnda cathartica “Williamsii” is fragrant too. (*Apocynącea, a tropical shrub) This variety is a rambunctious vine; it climbs very quickly if trained into a bush form or onto a large trellis. Its four to five inch bright yellow, trumpet shaped flowers appear in masses throughout the year. By day the petal bend back, at night they lie flat and delicate, but with a delightful fragrance wafting from the blossoms.

Equally famous is the Angels Trumpet. These beautiful plants are in the Brugmansia genus and also known as Datura with oversized dangling trumpets. They come in several pastel shades, I love my white edged with pink one. It looks ghostly at night; a few stray blooms grow all the time in the summer, but on alternate full moons. Brugmansia suaveolens produce, literally hundreds of blooms from a small tree. Each flower glows and illuinated by the light of the moon they are spectacular. During the day the flowers are limp, but once it gets dark, they swell up and give of a musky honey scent that fills the night air.

Note well that every part of this plant is poisonous. It was once used in small dosages as anaesthetics during minor surgery. Eaten in large quantities can result in a deadly stupor. Primitive tribes employed members of this plant in their rituals. South American Indians gave it to their youth during initiation ceremonies. The drug induced comas in the young men during the time they were expected to forget their boyhood and be open to receive their for father’s teachings. In Columbia, a drink of Dratura was given to the wives and slaves of a dead man before they were buried alive in their master’s tomb. In South America people still believe that death will haunt anyone who sleeps under a Brugmansia tree.

They can grow very large, but bloom readily. They can be pruned to fit into any home; I bring mine inside in their pots for the winter. They need sun to bloom. Instead of constantly repotting, I just fertilize generously and keep them pot bound. Any roots that appear below the pot can be cut off, keep the top trimmed at the same time.

Another lovely plant is the night blooming Jasmine Cestrum Nocturnum. It has a delightfully sugar-sweet smell, it can be heady and a little ‘too much’ in large doses or in a small room. The flowers are somewhat insignificant especially compared to the other night bloomers. It is not related to the real Jasmine. It only smells the same and its tine sweet smelling flowers look like little oboes. It is a large bush that must be kept in check. It blooms in the summer, so it is safe to prune it heavily in the winter and then let the tips shoot out in June. It needs full sun to make it grow and produce its pretty blossoms.

Nocturnal aromas are only one of the small plant pleasures after dark. At night Nature puts on many shows, from the Northern Lights, to Lunar Moths and the heady smells of the flowers. Go for a walk, look at the beautiful night skies; you will soon be able to enjoy the showers of falling stars, think of all the wishes you will be able to make.


* = information as found in The Standars Cyclopedia of Horticulture by L. H. Bailey. Editor: Rad Dad