Books & Prose


The Night Garden

Sometimes at night I go down the back stairs and into the garden. I am drawn outside by the smell and sound of what is alive in the dark. Voices may echo over the houses and a car may rumble up the street, but the night garden holds a dreamlike intensity.            

I sit on the bench as if I’ve been invited to the tea party the toys have while we are sleeping. At first, the night garden is quiet. The plants are indistinct except where a neighbor’s porch or room light cuts across the yard. My eyes adjust slowly, and this is part of the magic. The black angles of shadows from the house and garage gradually fill with gray shapes--spikes or feathers or ripples of leaves and blossoms, and the light areas lose some of their contrasting brightness. Branch and flower patterns come forward, and the garden assumes the depth and story of a ailk jacard. The sense of looking into darkness and seeing its shadowed paths makes me feel as if I have stepped into another world.

Rustlings start up. From different corners come the sounds of quite determined activities, faint, dry cracklings or scrapings. It sounds like some creature is sorting the dry oak leaves, or something even smaller, a beetle perhaps, searches for a meal through the detritus over by the bricks. A few times I’ve actually seen an animal. Once, an opossum, snuffing  the ground on its evening stroll, came directly toward me and stopped only inches from my feet when it suddenly realized that the quiet thing was not just a garden bench but a person. It skedaddled, leaving me laughing.            

What do the plants do at night? They absorb water, nutrients--the sun-wilted restore themselves. With capillary action, the cells channel plant saps throughout stems and leaves. The leaves breathe. I can feel in the cool, moist air this turgid restoration of plant structure.

Plants also measure the night. We take for granted that they follow the sun, but plants are also exquisitely sensitive to darkness. Indeed, studies indicate that plants measure the dark hours rather than daylight, thus determining when to bloom--spring bloomers know the darkness is decreasing, a chrysanthemum’s chemistry tells it to bloom as the hours of darkness increase. Sitting still, familiar now with the textures, putterings, and humid structures  of the night graden, I can sense the activity in the breathing green around me.            

The night garden tells me that the life force doesn’t sleep. I need reminding, because I tend to acquaint living with consciousness, and when I’m done with a busy day, I sleep. Plants are not “done.” In their night world there is a juicy vibrancy that informs the night air, and as I take deep breaths, it restores me.

© Anna M. Warrock

Originally published in the Somerville Garden Club newsletter 1999