Don’t forget white in the garden!

Flower Carpet rose

White Flower Carpet roses in pots adorning natural stone stairs.

Several years ago, as a Gannett Newspapers garden writer, I had the opportunity to profile the garden of Charles Arena, my favorite florist in the Rochester, NY area.

Renowned for his Willy Wonka colors and designs at Arena’s Florist, you can’t image how surprised I was to find that his garden at home was … all white.

His garden, he explained, was about “a lack of color” – about textures, shapes and contrast. For him, it was also a relief from the bright, bold colors he worked with all day long. And he loved the challenge of using all kinds of shades and textures of the same hue.

I’ve thought often about his “shades of white” – the pink-tinged magnolias, the silvery-white caladiums and the pure white of his tree hydrangeas. I’ve also thought about the all-white “Moonlight Garden” at Sonnenberg Gardens and Mansion in Canandaigua, NY. Given unlimited time and a budget, I too, would like to challenge myself with an all-white garden.  In reality, however, I’ll probably keep using white for a number of reasons:

  • As a great way to bring light to shady parts of the garden, especially with variegated varieties.
  • To lend contrast or a “pop” to darker or more colorful plants in the landscape.
  • To give the eye a place to rest when it tires of color.
Volcano Phlox White

Volcano® White phlox with artemesia and Coral  Flower Carpet roses.

And to think – I’ve heard that some gardeners HATE white in the garden. I’ve even heard this is a regional thing, although I’m not sure which region eschews white (the most neutral of all neutrals!) And I think some folks in some parts off the world (Europe?) even hate variegated varieties, describing the effect as something similar to vomit.

Well, everybody’s got their own taste. That’s what makes gardening so wonderful. But I hope to persuade those who poo-poo white (or white variegation) in the garden with just a few inspirational images:

Here’s a white form of campion I totally fell in love with at a kiddie golf course in Whitinsville, Massachusetts. My sister, who isn’t even really that into plants, just kept talking about it the whole way home. White blooms plus silver foliage? Magical. Just magical.

White form of campion.

And while white works as a great foil for colors in the garden, I have to admit, I love white-on-white, as seen in this image of topiary trees of Flower Carpet White roses atop Snow Storm agapanthus lining a walkway. I picture this as the entrance to the White Queen’s castle in Alice in Wonderland:

Snow Storm and Flower Carpet standards

Snow Storm agapanthus along walkway, flanked with Flower Carpet White “standards” or tree roses

White looks especially nice contrasted with dark colors, like the white mums here with Tropicanna Black canna in a black-and-white container I experimented with last fall:

And here’s white lobelia topped by dark-red, glossy Festival Burgundy cordyline:

Festival 'Burgundy' cordyline

White lobelia is a perfect compliment to Festival Burgundy.

So how do you use white in the garden? A simple drift of Shasta daisies? A feathery plume of white astilbe? Or the creamy white margins of your favorite hosta? Post a comment and tell me about it!

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One Response to Don’t forget white in the garden!

  1. Graciebelle November 8, 2012 at 12:19 am #

    I love white in the garden -and it looks especially nice on full moon nights. I’ve found that the old fashioned white varieties of flowering tobacco plants have a lovely scent in the evening too.

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