A green space for urban gardeners

Lights, climbers, action: building a twinkling, virtual garden wall

Net lights hung around the railing of the balcony make for a magical ambience.

Net lights hung around the railing of my city balcony make for nighttime ambiance.

Every summer the City of Chicago puts on a festival called Venetian Night, in which a host of boats tricked out in sparkling lights drift past the city’s shoreline. Did I mention — for those who have never visited Chicago — that the beach here is ACTUALLY DOWNTOWN? What more could an urban dweller ask for?

Technically, it’s lakefront, not beachfront. But, it’s a Great Lake, so it has the aspect of a beach, without the salt water. Anyway, the magical effect of those twinkling lights is what I try to evoke on my 5×12-foot balcony.

I make my brand of magic by attaching a length of clear net lights around the railing to create a glittering blanket that allows me to enjoy the garden from dusk to dawn, as well as during daylight hours. The net lights also create the perfect ladder for my morning glory and moonflower to grab hold of when climbing and spreading to form my virtual walled garden.

I alternate small terra cotta pots of the plants along the outer perimeter of the balcony and as they grow and fill in I get a wall of leafy foliage with beautiful blooms in the a.m. from the morning glory and at night from the moonflower. And, as we’ve discussed, with moonflower you also get the bonus of its fabulous fragrance tickling the senses.

This is the wall of foliage effect created by the morning glory and moonflower climbing up the net lights in a past summer's garden.

The wall of foliage effect created by the climb- ers attaching to the net lights in a past garden.

During cleanup, the dead vines from last year still held fast to the net light wires, so detaching them was a little time consuming. But, in the end, it was well worth the effort to be able to start with a clean slate. This year, I’ve had to replace a couple sections of the net lights where the bulbs were burnt out.

(By the way, before the lights were hung, nylon screening that disappears at a distance was woven tautly in-and-out around the bars for pet safety.)

If you’re lucky enough to have a yard garden with an actual wall or fencing, you can apply the same technique to soften the hardscape or to provide a lush, softly lit backdrop for shrubs, trees or flower beds.


  Lynne Jordan wrote @

Cool!! You are very creative! Can’t wait to do cocktails in your magic garden this summer!!

  Lynne Jordan wrote @

I used all types of candles in hurricane globes on stands for night ambiance. I don’t have the elevation you have, so the view is not nearly as lovely a distraction.

I imagine the cityscape as peeked thru a screen of “glittering lights.” Very romantic!

  Stephanie wrote @

This is a very good idea! Net lights… I never knew that it could hold twining vines too. Yeah, I can imagine how nice it would be at night. With the little bulbs glittering among the leaves. Beautiful! Very creative idea as well. Btw, Desert Rose is a succulent shrub 🙂

  Dawn wrote @

Lovely idea. However, the cocktails are an even lovelier idea. Is it an open invitation?! Guess distance may prove tricky though…

Also, v, interesting info on the festival. My current knowledge of CHicago is gleaned solely from JFK voting scandals, old mob photos and ER. I’m imagining this is a somewhat incomplete picture.


  Avis Weathersbee wrote @

I do make a mean mojito (with garden mint, of course)!

Chicago is festival central in the summer, and it’s really beautiful with all those activities unfolding in parks just steps from the lakefront.

  Jan (ThanksFor2Day) wrote @

I have about 5 packets of morning glory seeds to plant (all different colors)! I’ve been waiting to find the ‘right’ places for them-I’ve even been thinking about planting some near bushes to grow up and around the bush! Also, up some trees with low branches to start them out! I like your idea; I could even do that on my deck in some pots…not specifically using the lights you have–but you’ve inspired me to put a few of them in pots on my deck and see what happens! I can let them wrap themselves around the rail, perhaps! You have some great ideas;-)

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