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Pittsburgh area moon gardens come to life at twilight

Tribune-Review
| Saturday, July 27, 2013 7:58 p.m
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Eric Schmadel | Tribune-Review
Carmello Demoise walks along her moon garden on July 12, 2013 at her home in Acme.
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Eric Schmadel | Tribune-Review
White day lilies bloom in the moon garden at the home of Carmello Demoise on July 12, 2013 in Acme.
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Eric Schmadel | Tribune-Review
A cluster of hydrangea representing the moon hangs above the moon garden at the home of Carmello Demoise on July 12, 2013 in Acme.
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Eric Schmadel | Tribune-Review
Carmello Demoise checks the blooms on her magnolia tree on July 12, 2013 at her home in Acme.
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Eric Schmadel | Tribune-Review
White Easter lilies bloom in the moon garden at the home of Carmello Demoise on July 12, 2013 in Acme.
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Philip G. Pavely | Tribune-Review
Annual dianthus grows in Martha Swiss' moon garden Monday July 15, 2013 in Coraopolis.
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Philip G. Pavely | Tribune-Review
Phlox grows in Martha Swiss' moon garden Monday July 15, 2013 in Coraopolis.

As the sun dips toward the horizon at day’s end, you’ll often find Acme resident Carmella Demoise sitting on her porch, admiring the sights and scents of her crescent-shaped moon garden.

Most summer evenings Martha Swiss and her husband, Larry Ivkovich, a pair of busy professionals who live in Robinson, enjoy having dinner on their patio where the table sits within inches of Swiss’ moon garden.

Also known as white flower gardens, these carefully tended single-color plots are filled with spiky-petaled daisies, snowballs of hydrangea and Astilbe that delight the eye when they almost glow in twilight.

But the gardens also play to the senses with a Sweet Bay Magnolia, petunias and dianthus that perfume the night air.

Long popular as a formal garden in England, the idea first arrived in this country in the 1930s when William Harris and his wife, Jane Grant, introduced that English model by planting an all-white flower garden in Litchfield, Conn.

“They planted it as a reflecting garden, because they had read about moon gardens in England,” says Barbara Pierson, nursery manager at White Flower Farm in Litchfield.

That garden and the couple’s interest in plants and gardening eventually grew into White Flower Farm, a commercial nursery and mail-order business that still maintains a 100-foot-by-10-foot garden of white blooms.

Recently, white flower gardens as well as other single-color plots have become a huge, and still growing, trend in the gardening industry, Pierson says: “Tone-on-tone is a huge industry decorating trend, and gardening trends reflect (interior) decorating trends.”

Gardeners who have seen decorating articles with grey-on-grey bedrooms or living rooms in varying shades of cream or white carry those images with them when they go outdoors, Pierson says.

They’re also popular with people who work long hours, but want a garden they can relax and spend time in, even if it’s getting dark when they get home.

“This is the cocktail garden,” Pierson says.

That’s one reason Swiss decided to create a moon garden soon after she and her husband moved to Robinson in 1998.

The garden has grown more complex over the years. Now, a birdbath with a gently spouting fountain is a focal point for the circular planting area filled with a diverse collection of flowers that display an impressive variety of hues and textures among their white blossoms and green leaves.

“We both work full time and enjoy spending a lot of time here. In the evening, the white flowers show up (attractively) and a lot are fragrant,” Swiss says. “It is restful when you are sitting and relaxing on the patio surrounded by calm, serene white.”

Curiosity prompted Demoise to start hers.

“I thought it was unusual. I wanted to see what it would look like, and I do like the look of white and green together,” she says.

She’s glad she did.

“The deer show up around twilight,” Demoise says. “And I can smell the flowers from my porch.”

Alice T. Carter is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-320-7808 or acarter@tribweb.com.

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