Night in a garden


As a kid I was afraid of the dark.  Many a summer night when I forgot to put away my bicycle or toy wagon I was told to “Go outside and put away my things!”  A dark night and only a small porch light to show me way, I stood trembling at the back door, holding my breath.  I would dash out, do the task and dash back in my heart racing.  Now night time outside in the garden is a favorite time for me.

Public Gardens are transformed by night lighting.  I discovered this years ago in the Villa d’Este in Tivoli, Italy.  Known to many as the garden setting for the film Three Coins in the Fountain this 16thcentury high Renaissance garden with its 100’s of fountains and pathways leading from one “room” to another is splendid at anytime of day.  My visit was at night when artistically placed lighting fell on statuary, stonework, fountains, sculpture and cascading water.  I wandered through in amazement.  Patches of gold light created lacy shadows.  Darkness still fell around me but the lighting encouraged me to sit and soak in the sounds of the garden at night.

Evening visits to public gardens are often less crowded as the tours buses are gone and the families have taken the children off to rest.  After 5 pm until closing can give you a personal experience in a very public garden.  One very busy garden is Buchart Gardens in Victoria, Canada.  At mid day you can barely move through the rose garden.  In the later hours of the day you can imagine it as your own private space.

Try this yourself at the Desert Botanical Gardens on Thursdays and Saturdays for the months of June, July & August when the gardens open for “Flashlight Tours.”  Last June my companion and I drove to the gardens with a dark monsoon cloud south of us. A large tire fire burning on the west side of Phoenix created smoke and dust between us and a very hot sun that glowed a fiery red in the sky.  We feared our night in the garden would be dashed by the storm and smoke.  Though after we arrived, and gathered in the garden for the orientation the clouds disappeared and a breeze in the garden turned the evening into perfect shirtsleeve weather for wandering.  The flashlight tours are a self-guided experience.  There are little teaching sessions scattered about the garden paths.  You can learn about mesquite beans, frogs, snakes, Gila monsters and more.

Wandering the familiar paths at this later hour of the day brought several surprises.  Listening to the cottonwood leaves rustling, the bullfrogs were singing in the little pond.  There were a few bats that flew overhead, an owl with tufted ears perched in a saguaro.

A group of high school students, participating in a university summer program tromped about alternately scaring away the nighttime creatures and scaring themselves by discoveries made at the teaching stations.  One student asked a docent if she would see a snake but the volunteer assured her that other than at the snake station if the girl stayed with her large group of friends she would most certainly be safe from snakes as the collection of pounding feet would warn away any snake in her path.  Another student looking at a plastic box holding a Palo Verde beetle was shocked to discover the beetle was “real dead” rather than a plastic model.

The tiny owl brought ooh’s and aw’s from the entire group.  Amazingly the owl simply sat and stared at the noisy groups of visitors.  One young girl exclaimed with great certainty “He winked at me!”  The students clumped away.  The sky darkened; the breeze cooled; there was a cactus wren chattering.  We sat on a stone bench and admired the spectacular succulent houses with their wonderful lighting.  These structures are wonderful by day but at night they are simply grand with the curved tops silhouetted by the darkening sky.  The succulents rise up seeming even taller and grander with the curving arch background.

Night in the garden is available here and in many gardens you will find in your travels. This summer, put away your things and go outside!

originally published 


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