Anyone else have night owl children right now? I think my kids are practicing for their college days. In fact my daughter, in light of the fact that schedules are changing, just asked if night school would be a choice in the fall. The reason I bring this up is to point out that yes, there is cool stuff to do out in the garden, even when the sun goes down! There are many flowers that bloom and are at their full glory at night such as moonflowers, evening primoses, and nicotiana. They usually give off a strong, sweet scent that helps them attract the attention of pollinators such as moths and bats.
Speaking of moths, this week is National Moth Week and a perfect time to go on a hunt for these nocturnal creatures. They can be distinguished from their butterfly relatives because they are usually out at night, they have feathery antenna and in their pupa stage they transform in cocoons whereas a butterfly transforms in a chrysalis. That’s right folks, The Very Hungry Caterpillar has mixed it up for us! Most moths spend time as a cocoon and most butterflies as a chrysalis (although there are certainly exceptions, you can read Eric Carle's explanation about why he wrote it that way). This was one of my son’s favorite books when he was young and I love it too, but I did swap out chrysalis for cocoon when I read it to him. I thought it sounded just fine that way.
Back on topic though, moths are pretty cool. From yellow spots that make them look like they have owl eyes, to mottled colored wings, moths have some of the most remarkable and fun camouflage adaptations. If your kids are up like mine tonight, go out and see what you might find. Moths are frequently attracted to porch lights, so you might want to start there. Also while you are out there, make sure to enjoy the evening chorus of critters who sing throughout the night during summer months.
Above is a picture of an Imperial moth, a common visitor to our school garden. They frequently spend the day resting on the brick of our school building and the kids get such a kick out of finding them. They are well camouflaged, but different enough from the red/brown brick to draw attention. Their larval form eats on pine and other trees, which means they do not cause any damage in the garden (unlike the long-tailed skipper caterpillars which keep eating all of our bean foliage). We also sometimes spy luna moths which are really cool too.
Another great kid-friendly night garden resource you may want to check out is Our Shadow Garden by Cherie Foster Colburn. A very touching story about a grandchild creating a special garden with his grandfather for his grandmother who has cancer and is unable to garden during the day, the book’s illustrations were drawn by children who were patients at M.D. Anderson Cancer Center. It's another book I love!
Cooler temperatures, a non-electronic environment, and sensory engaging activities are just some of the benefits you can reap from a night-themed garden. Make sure to keep an eye out for garden friends you might want to avoid (in Texas we have to watch out for copperheads, skunks, and mosquitoes). It’s a whole different world out there when the lights go out and another fun way to teach kids to appreciate and respect the beauty and intricacies of relationships in nature.