It's not just sunbeams on your face and ice cream that represent summer. Even the warm summer nights when you can sit in the garden for a long time. Here are extra planting and lighting tips.
When the sun disappears below the horizon, the garden does not rest. Plants and animals, which are usually only active at night, wake up at dusk. Bats flapping in the moonlight, a screeching owl, the rustling of the bushes: many find it spooky to be in the garden at night. Melanie Konrad finds this time of day extremely exciting.
"When the noise of the day is less, we can perceive much more with our senses," says the garden expert of the German Nature Conservation Union (NABU). There is plenty to see, hear, taste and smell in the natural garden, even during the day. On mild summer evenings, around the time of the blue hour, heaven and earth are filled with noises and scents.
The chirping of nocturnal grasshoppers from the meadow grass mixes with the singing from the trees and bushes where blackbirds and nightingales are sitting. Fireflies light up hedges to attract mates. Common toads leave their hiding places under piles of wood and stones, newts leave the pond and go in search of snails, worms and insects.
And in the perennial bed, intensely fragrant flowers open at sunset: night violet (Hesperis matronalis), night phlox (Zaluzianskya capensis) and evening primrose (Oenothera biennis) therefore have this time of day in their names. They look beautiful, but above all their food supply is important for many insects.
"80 percent of moths are nocturnal," says Konrad. To be found by the pollinators, the plants do not only rely on scents. Moon bindweed (Ipomoea alba), nodding campion (Silene nutans) and white campion (Silene latifolia) stand out clearly from their dark surroundings with their bright flowers: they seem to glow. Biologist and garden planner Brigitte Kleinod knows why: "Evening and nocturnal blossoms contain pigments that reflect short-wave light."
Less for the insects, but very attractive to the human eye, are also sage (Salvia) and woolly ziest (Stachys byzantina) with their grey-silver shimmering leaves and perennials with white variegated foliage such as some hostas (Hosta) or the spotted lungwort ( Pulmonaria officinalis).
In order to be able to watch the hustle and bustle in the garden undisturbed in the evening, Kleinod recommends setting up seats directly in the garden - if you can, even with a view of the setting sun. "The sunset is one of the most beautiful moments in the evening", surely not only finds Kleinod. Depending on the season, rain or wind protection can also be useful here if you don't want to make do with appropriate clothing, blankets and umbrellas.
To ensure that the seating area also becomes an undisturbed resting place, the garden planner recommends a privacy screen behind which you can relax and end the day. Car noise and other disturbing background noises can be masked if necessary, for example with a splashing water feature. "First think about how you will use the garden before you design it," is Kleinod's advice.
Under a starry sky and moonlight, nightlife can be observed in the garden. But also on other evenings the lamps should stay switched off. "The eyes need about two minutes to get used to the darkness. Only then test how little light it can be," says Kleinod. And if they are necessary for your own feelings, the garden planner recommends lights that emit light downwards with the lowest possible light intensity.
Konrad recommends LED lights whose light has no blue component. Because this makes the light white and bright - and that has a direct effect on the environment. "Very bright light with a strong UV component strongly attracts the insects. As a result, they lose energy for finding partners and food," explains the NABU garden expert.
However, there are areas that need lighting for safety reasons, such as steps and basement entrances. Here, motion detectors can be used to ensure that the lamps are only on when we humans need them. "Set motion detectors so that the light only comes on when a person approaches and not a cat," advises Kleinod.
In the evening and at night, animal visitors can also be out and about that are not so welcome in the garden: snails, mosquitoes, rats and raccoons, for example. They too are mostly in search of food under cover of darkness.
You can do something about it without harming the animals. For example, thinning out the food source for rats and raccoons: the compost. "Don't dispose of any cooked leftovers in the compost, especially fish and meat," advises Konrad.
Mosquito larvae usually develop in standing water such as rain barrels or bird baths. Here it helps to cover the bins and change the water in the troughs daily. A near-natural pond with different water zones and corresponding plants, on the other hand, does not offer a home for mosquito larvae - at the latest when dragonflies move in. Mosquitoes are one of their main food sources.
Such natural opponents can also be found in snails, for example in the form of fireflies and hedgehogs. "The variety in a garden is crucial in preventing an animal from multiplying so rapidly," explains Konrad. It is therefore best to offer the opponents a home, for example in piles of dead wood, dry stone walls and other undisturbed wild corners, but also through non-toxic care.
Konrad's appeal: "Do without a robotic lawnmower - or only let it run in the midday hours when you're around. Robotic lawnmowers are particularly nasty for nocturnal animals like hedgehogs."
(This article was first published on Monday, July 18, 2022.)