Moon gardens: a contemporary source for meditation through ancient mythology & ethereal magic.
Traditionally, people are quite aware and well versed in the many plants that only offer splendor during the daylight hours. However, unless one is retired to the tending of a garden or has a work-at-home job, it is seldom that a chance presents itself to appreciate the common daylight garden to its fullest. For the most part people have only the evening and nighttime to sit and enjoy the environment in which they are sitting. In this case, consideration of moon garden aspects is important, and can help to pay homage to the Lady Luna herself.
Primary plants that bear the moon's magical trademark include the wormwoods and mugworts, as they bear the botanical name of the Greek Goddess Artemis (Artemisia spp.). These wonderful plants, with their silver foliage, reflect the moon's light and help to guide the participant along a glowing path of silvery-blue. Other silver-leafed plants, such as snow-in-summer (Cerastium tomentosum), lamb's ears (Stachys byzantina), lavender cotton (Santolina chamaecyparissus) and dusty miller (Senecio cineraria) offer a similar tribute to the moon's presence in the garden. One can only assume that our 'pre-electric' ancestors, who wandered into the primordial woods and meadows, used these plants as guiding beacons in the moonlight. Hence, the very devotion towards Wood Spirits and Plant Devas may have been born. But the magic does not stop there.
Someone sitting quietly and still in the garden during the brightest summer moon would begin to hear the smallest creature in the garden more clearly. They would smell the tantalizing array of sweet smelling, night-blooming flowers and more readily experience the flashing lights of fireflies and the movement of moths from flower to flower. All this activity is the likely origin of the fairy folk, garden elves and the more active woodland imps that grace the pages of many folkloric epics and sagas. Add a gentle breeze, causing leaves to rustle, and the white flowering plants begin their nocturnal dance. Unfamiliar, yet pleasant fragrances from the flowers in the garden become more pronounced as the sense of sight diminishes in the darkness, adding to the overall drama upon the stage that the moon has set.
These finely tuned and choreographed nuances, under the pale blue haze of the moon's light, make it clear that the ancients had it right. The moon is a woman who knows just how to tranquilize and calm the spirit within a man.
One plant, in particular that holds a place in many moonlit gardens is gooseneck loosestrife (Lysimachia clethroides). As the wind blows through a garden, under the light of the full moon their downward curved, 'S'-shaped spikes bob back and forth; resembling a gaggle of geese as they strut their stuff through the garden. It is not something that one would normally experience in the light of day. However, at night under the full moon, it can be easily imagined why the ancients felt that there was some feminine force gathering these mystical flowers like geese towards a common direction. Whether it was goddesses of the night such as Aphrodite, Psyche, Titania, Kwan Yin or Zoria (whom many evening blooming plants are revered to), gooseneck loosestrife heralds her presence in the garden in a majestic and mystical way.
Some other notable plants which have a powerful presence in the Moon Garden are Helen Campbell spider flower (Cleome spinosa 'Helen Campbell'), Casablanca and Aphrodite lilies (Lilium hybridum cult.), and the towering bell clusters of the sweet-scented tobacco (Nicotiana sylvestris). Nicotiana also yields a fine scent similar to honey infused jasmine. Similarly scented with a nighttime aroma is the basswood tree (Tilia americana). Yet another plant, which by day is passed up due its commonality in the garden, though at night it imparts with aroma so strong that you cannot believe that there isn't a garden gnome lurking around it and teasing you with the sweet scent of honey, by which this plant gets its name, is the Honeybell plantain lily (Hosta plantaginea 'Honeybells'). Finally, no moon garden can be complete without a moonflower (Ipomoea alba). Its large blossoms swell with anticipation of releasing its fragrance from large 12.5 to 15 cm (5 to 6") blooms as they spiral open in a thrilling progression from bud to silvery-white flower.
But the presence of the moon in the garden needn't stop with the plants. Even the very way the garden is oriented is important to ensure the fullest impact. Eastward exposure is paramount to herald the moon's light upon the garden as it follows the path of the sun and rises in the east. Building materials are important as they can either complement or detract from the setting. Stucco walls, whitewashed fences and pergolas can be distracting as they add too much white to the overall setting. However, stone can add to the mystery of the moon garden by juxtaposing white or very light stepping stones on a dark surface or the exact opposite. In one case the feeling is like walking on an elevated bridge through the garden, making you remember your mortality. But to step on dark or black stones in a bed of scented, soft silvery leaves like thyme or oregano will elevate the participant to being one with the very gods and deities which float through the garden during the night.
Strolling through different gardens under the reflection of the moon can provide a deeper and more sophisticated admiration for the gardens we cultivate. Remember, at that time of the day, one is likely walking with the fairy folk, garden devas, and the gods of the ancients. Of course with a glass of Malbec or Merlot in hand, that god could only be Bacchus or Dionysus, to whom goatsbeard (Aruncus dioicus) is sacred. As for me, the moon has captured my interest many times now, and since this initial experience of moonlight in my garden one summer's evening some 12 years ago, I have been an advocate for gardening that uses the moonlight to advantage.
Stefan Fediuk, is the Chief Editorial Director for Northscaping Inc. and Landscape Architect/Urban Designer for the City of Winnipeg. The moon garden he contributed in developing at the English Garden in a Assiniboine Park is a testament to the magic of garden myth associate with moonlight devotions. Photo by Stefan Fediuk.