Light Up the Night Garden with White Flowers and Plants

Ivory plants pop in the evening hours.


If you’re like most gardeners, you probably don’t often get to enjoy the fruits of your labor until evening after getting home from a long day at work. Fortunately, summertime and daylight saving time spoil us with some extra hours until darkness finally falls.

So why not extend those hours of enjoyment outdoors with plants that light up the night—many of which often are fragrant to boot? White- and pastel-blooming plants along with those featuring variegated and textured foliage pop in the shadows of evening, creating a romantic and relaxing atmosphere.

If you’ve ever had the good fortune to visit Sissinghurst Castle in the English countryside, you know what I’m talking about. There at the home of writer Vita Sackville-West is one of the most famous white gardens ever cultivated.

One visit had me hooked, and for years I sought to mimic it on a far more modest scale, of course. I’d spend hours scouring garden centers for white-flowering annuals and perennials, and plants with silver, gray or contrasting green-and-white variegated foliage. In my mind, I’d put on blinders while shopping, ignoring the rainbow of reds, oranges and purples in pursuit of white, white, and more white! It’s truly amazing how many white flowers exist when they become your mission, not to mention all the wonderful variegated foliage plants you discover along the way.

And here’s another plus: Because many of them flower only after dark, they’re fragrant, releasing their heady perfumes to attract pollinators. Here in the Southeast, the nighttime show begins in early spring when tea olive, Confederate jasmine and night-blooming jessamine unfurl their sweet white blooms. By summer, magnolias, crape myrtles, gardenias, four-o'clocks and 'Casa Blanca' lilies envelop the garden like a perfume factory, and as the dog days of August roll around, the bold white blossoms of moon vine and angel’s trumpets lure us in for a sniff. 

In addition to these fragrant bloomers, consider these white-flowering options: 

  • Impatiens
  • Vinca
  • Petunia
  • Penta
  • Butterfly bush
  • Daisies
  • Phlox
  • ‘Diamond Frost’ euphorbia

For contrasting textures, try these variegated plants: 

  • Caladiums
  • Plectranthus
  • Variegated ivy
  • Coleus
  • Variegated elephant’s ears
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