Trip the light fantastic: Plants for a pretty, scented dusk

Hard at work all day? Then you'll need a garden that shines in the evening.
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The Independent Online

Long summer evenings are often the best times to enjoy the garden. For many of us, those precious moments at the end of the day are the only time in the working week when we can unwind, drink in hand, watering can, possibly, in the other.

This is when we need to be surrounded by delicious scents, harmonious sounds and an eye-soothing panorama of plants.

It helps, of course, if we can see our surroundings, rather than stumble around in the gloom, and the most effective – and romantic – way to do that is not with harsh artificial lighting, but with flowers. Those fashionable fiery colours – the clashing reds and yellows of summer bedding – lose their intensity as light levels drop, so if you want a garden that comes to life at night think light... and think white.

As Lia Leendertz says in her book Twilight Garden, a guide to making the most of your outdoor space in the evening: "All the finest moonlit evening gardens are filled with white, silver and palest yellow plants. Dark colours absorb light rather than reflect it. White, on the other hand, fires back at us every scrap of available light, so the white appears brighter as other colours fade."

Adding hits of white here and there to a border of colour, however, tends to be jarring, so instead, create a designated twilight zone: a small, concentrated area of flowers and foliage that surround patio or terrace, or even just a seat in a moonlit corner. That way you can build up, with container plantings and maybe a backdrop of white-flowered evergreen jasmine on a trellis, an enclosure of pale, light-reflecting plants that positively glow in the dark to create an enchanting summer space in your back garden.

A brugmansia – the tropical plant with pendulous trumpet flowers in white, peach or lemon – could be your equivalent of a floral chandelier to light the night in exotic fashion. The large, super-white flowers of New Guinea busy lizzies would make a fitting accompaniment. Pale blues and lilacs also look their best in fading light, so you could add some potted ice-blue agapanthus, the South African lily, with froths of palest blue lobelia around their base. A bower of lemon-and-white honeysuckle Lonicera halliana or opalescent, silvery-blue clematis such as Prince Charles would be heavenly.

If you have a gravel floor in your moonlit spot, plant an evening primrose or three to self-seed and spread themselves around; their pale lemon, ephemeral flowers are positively luminous in the dark, even when the moon is barely there.

Many white flowers hold all the cards in creating an evening garden because they also send out pulses of gloriously heady fragrance.

"White flowers are often pollinated by night-flying insects such as moths," explains Leendertz. "These insects use the flowers' night-time glow as well as their scent to help them navigate towards them."

Flowering tobacco, Nicotiana sylvestris, releases its sweet scent at dusk, when the tall, sharply white flowerheads on 5ft stems look magnificent in fading light.

White lilies are a must. The perfume of Lilium regale is intoxicating, and the white waxy flowers on tall stems are simply exquisite. For a special evening you could cheat and prod five or six florists' stems into the compost of a faux lead container. Augment the floral lighting with soft pools of light from candles in storm lanterns or glass jars of flickering night lights.

Paths and steps need to be lit for safety, but your special twilight zone should be more gently illuminated. Fairy lights around a convenient branch are the city substitute for glow worms.

Shimmering silk shawls draped over garden furniture lend night-time glamour; tubular wind chimes tinkling in the breeze, a little night music.

With such glorious surroundings, you might even consider garden glamping. There are worse ways of spending the night than sleeping under the stars, surrounded by fragrant lilies and scented jasmine.