Moonlit Water-Wise Garden
Updated: Feb 11
(Originally published in the Napa Valley Register)
In my last column, I wrote about the perils of switching to a water-wise garden. The greatest peril is replacing lawn with a hodge-podge of incompatible plants, boulders, and cutesy stuff – with a good chance of it all being out of scale. To quote myself, “Think before you dig. Plan before you purchase. Keep it simple”. Focus on your front yard where curb appeal makes or breaks the attractiveness of your home as well as your neighborhood.
During your thinking and planning stages, decide what kind of water-wise garden appeals to you. It’s important to take the architectural style of your house into consideration. Desert grasses and succulents would look out of place in front of a Victorian or a Cape Cod cottage, for instance. But virtually all styles look stunning with a white or “moonlit” garden. To oversimplify, this consists of white flowers and grey-leafed shrubs or grasses that reflect in the moonlight and best present themselves in the evening when you’re home to enjoy them.
There are enough species of flowers, shrubs and trees to accommodate different styles of moonlit gardens – from classic, romantic and fragrant to rustic and textural. The choice stems back to the architectural style of your house.
Think of your front yard as a blank canvas. Just as a water-color artist may start a landscape with broad strokes of sky blue paint as the background, we can start with mulch. Ground zero, so to speak, of your color scheme – that is, light, medium or dark mulch affects the color and contrast of trees, shrubs and flowers.
Shredded hardwood bark mulch comes from hardwood trees. Just as it provides nutrients to trees, it also provides nutrients to soil. Therefore, it’s an excellent choice especially if located next to living matter. It comes in a few natural tones. The darker the better for drama and contrast in a moonlit garden.
Although the color of deep, black mulch is rich, some are really just dyed, shredded wood chips. If you have a mature garden that doesn’t need many nutrients, or have an area that just needs covering, this is an option – although it tends to float.
Pea gravel and decomposed granite come in natural colors and are nice compliments to mulch. Laid in linear or curving shapes, they add architectural interest and draw attention to winding trails, bordered flower beds, and sitting areas. I love the crunching sound under my feet – but don’t put it too close to an entry door because it can stick to your shoes and scratch your floors.
To facilitate the reflection from ambient light in a white garden, use grey or black concrete pads, white, grey or black gravel, crushed granite and dark hardwood bark. The trick is in the contrast.
For a rustic and textural moonlit garden, consider these grasses: Japanese Silver, Morning Light Silver, Mexican Feather, Black Mondo, Oriental Fountain, Blue Fescue and for height, a Mexican Blue Palm tree.
A more traditional moonlit garden could include fragrant flowers, and, it’s okay to substitute grey-leafed plants for deeper yellowy-green ones. Some of my favorite shrubs are: Silver Wormwood, Mexican Orange, Crimson Spot Rockrose, Greek Myrtle, Star Jasmine, Karo Pittosporum, Pyracantha, Common Lilac, White Monkey Flower, Boxwood paired with Italian Cypress trees, white geraniums, white roses, and Alyssum.
In my last water-wise column I wrote that we have a tendency to overfill and over decorate. To clarify, I’m not advocating a scattering of plants amidst bald patches of mulch but suggesting a limit (okay, I really mean a ban) to tchotchkes and trinkets. They really do detract and lessen the quality of your landscape.
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