How To Create An All White Garden


All-white garden by Here By Design

It’s true that we all see colors differently, but it’s rare to find someone who can’t see white. That’s because white, like sunlight, is composed of all the colors of the visible spectrum. In the garden, white plants reflect light, instantly brightening the look of shady spots. And an all-white garden is a symphony of light, where distinct parts of flowers and foliage join together in a timed succession of harmonious arrangements.

White is a great tool for designers. It attracts the eye and focuses attention on key areas of the garden. In a dark corner, it appears to move forward, while when juxtaposed with colorful plants, it acts as a beacon, calling attention to itself. The real beauty of white, though, is most apparent at night. That’s when white flowers take on an unearthly glow, shimmering like ghosts in the moonlight.

And, many of these nighttime blooms have intense, sweet smells that attract their own group of night pollinators, bringing an entirely new perspective to the garden.

cosmos at night

White cosmos at night


Since by definition a white garden is lacking in color, it naturally relies on shape, size and texture of the elements that make up its structure. Think of a black and white photograph: what makes it interesting?

The appeal of black and white photography lies in its ability to capture details without the distraction of color.

How does it do this? By playing up contrasts between dark and light, repeating lines and forms and demonstrating a strong interplay between foreground and background. These are the same elements that make the white garden interesting.


The interplay between dark and light make a white garden interesting

1. Choose a dark backdrop

To show white-blooming plants off to their best advantage, it helps to place them against a dark backdrop. Consider positioning your white garden in front of a dark green hedge formed of dense shrubs like boxwood, holly or yew or plant your garden in front of a deep red brick wall. Dark-toned doors, black gates, and houses painted in dark brown, green or gray all make stunning backdrops for white flowers.

bench against green hedge

White ‘pops’ against a dark green backdrop

The back of the border is the perfect place for medium-sized white-flowering shrubs such as Hydrangea arborescens ‘Annabelle’ and Philadelphus coronarius (Mock Orange.) Their soft mounding shapes give structure to the garden and make a great transition from a strong, dark backdrop to more delicate perennials.

2. Vary foliage

Focusing on leaves is a key way to add interest to a monochromatic garden. Not all leaves are created equal. Foliage can vary from light to dark green, be spiny or fern-like and exhibit a range of finishes anywhere from a dull matte to a dark glossy shine. Some greens are gray while others tend more towards blues or yellows. I always select a variety of white-flowering plants with different colored green foliage to add interest to a white garden.


A Mediterranean garden with different colored foliage

And, don’t overlook variegated foliage, which can perform the same function as white flowers. In the white garden, leaves with cream or white margins keep working long after other plants’ flowers have faded, brightening the garden all season long.


White-variegated foliage adds contrast

3. Vary shapes and sizes

Varying shapes and sizes of plants provides stark contrasts in the one-color garden. Mixing tall spires with rounded shapes, upright plants with low creeping ones and mounded forms with loose and rambling specimens enables white-flowering plants to be appreciated from many different perspectives.


Tall spires of white delphiniums

4. Repeat forms

Within the flower world, there are many species that resemble each other. To help unify an all-white garden, I often repeat forms by selecting plants that have flowers that look similar but are not necessarily of the same species.

For instance, peonies look a lot like roses and have a similar shape to the blooms of Hydrangea macrophylla ‘Annabelle’. Tiny Boltonia asteroides, looks like a miniature Shasta daisy, Leucanthemum. And within the iris family, the tall, elegant flowers of reblooming Iris ‘Immortality’ echo the shape of the smaller-sized Japanese iris ‘White Swirl’ to dramatic effect.

white peony

White peony

white rose

White rose

5. Add silvery highlights

Silvery plants act as transitional plants, helping to lead the eye around the space while adding structure to an all-white garden. I like to use groups of the velvety-soft greenish-silver ‘Big Ears’ lamb’s ear, Stachys byzantina, at the front of the border. For added drama, I’ll often plant the woody-based perennial Artemisia ‘Powis Castle’ in the mid section of the bed where its silvery, fern-like foliage provides a soft contrast to the other green-leafed perennials.


Silvery stachys provides soft contrast in a white garden in Maryland

6. Deadhead regularly and infill with annuals

White flowers, when they fade, can turn into a less attractive form of brown. I deadhead my white flowers regularly to keep them looking their best. Once groups of perennials have stopped flowering, I cut them to the ground (unless their foliage remains attractive) and fill in with white-flowering annuals like snapdragons, sweet alyssum, nicotiana alata, verbena, angelonia and white pompom dahlias. Click here for my post on how to deadhead and maximize blooms.


White snapdragon

Great Plants for White Gardens

Here are some of my favorite shrubs and perennials for creating a white garden.


  • Hydrangea arborescens, ‘Annabelle’
  • Mock Orange ‘Snow White Sensation’
  • Potentilla ‘Abbotswood’
  • Azalea ‘Delaware Valley White’
  • Common Snowball Viburnum
  • Gardenia ‘Crown Jewel’
  • ‘Iceberg’ floribunda rose


  • Delphinium ‘Centurion White’
  • Phlox paniculata ‘David’
  • Iris germanica ‘Immortality’
  • Allium ‘Mount Everest’
  • Leucanthemum x superbum ‘Summer Snowball’
  • Iris reticulata (Siberian) ‘White Caucasaus’
  • Paeonia ‘Duchesse de Nemours’
  • Salvia ‘Summer Jewel White’
  • Anenome ‘Honorine Jobert’
  • Aquilegia ‘Tower White’
  • Iberis sempervirens ‘Snowflake’
  • White yarrow
  • Hemerocallis ‘Gentle Shepherd’
  • Hosta ‘Francee’

Weed ID: Get To Know What You’re Pulling

“My flower is an educated weed.” – Luther Burbank

Summer is coming and many of our plants are bursting into flower. But while we celebrate, there’s another less attractive family of plants that is springing into life as well. These are the dark cousins of our ornamentals: the perennial and annual weeds. The bane of all gardeners, they stubbornly crop up each year, seemingly unfazed by our attempts to remove them.

I started delving into the shadowy world of weeds a few years ago when a member of my garden club gave us an odd assignment. She handed each of us a sheet of paper on which were illustrated a dozen garden-variety weeds. Then, she asked us to “locate” them in her garden. Needless to say, we pulled a lot of weeds that day. I wasn’t thrilled.

However, the experience ended up peaking my interest in this unwelcome form of vegetation.

Weeds are fierce competitors

Weeds compete with other garden plants for water, sunlight and nutrients, often in very aggressive ways. In Maryland, Creeping Charlie is one such example, as it delights in spreading rapidly by runners and carpeting the garden with its fan shaped leaves. (Though pulling it can be particularly satisfying because it comes up in large mats.) Other weeds like crabgrass, or worse, hairy bittercress that spits up tiny seeds if you touch it, are hard to eradicate and decidedly much less satisfying to remove.

It’s important to remember that, just like ornamental plants, weeds are classified by their life spans. They’re either annual (growing from seeds spread the previous year), biennial (completing their vegetative growth in the first season and flowering in the second) or perennial (springing up from established roots that survived the winter.) Herbicides are generally targeted to annual species, while perennial varieties can be much harder to kill. Perennial weeds, in fact, can easily regrow from seemingly dormant stolons, rhizomes, tubers and of course seeds.

Unlike our finicky ornamentals, weeds can grow anywhere

Over the past few years, I’ve compiled a list of the more obnoxious weeds that show up uninvited in my garden. It has helped me get to know the different species and understand when and why they appear. Somehow just knowing the names of what I’m removing has made the whole process a bit more satisfying.

Here are the top ten weeds I’ll be pulling this season


Smooth green, finger-like leaves of crabgrass

Long considered a major problem weed in North America, crabgrass can produce up to 150,000 seeds per season all of which germinate in late spring and early summer. The clumping annual grass can be distinguished by its slender, finger-like leaves that spread by side shoots from a central hub. Growing to form larger and larger clumps in star-shaped patterns, crabgrass eventually becomes a dense mat that smothers grass and other weeds.

Interestingly, crabgrass is considered a symptom (and not the cause) of poor lawn health as it thrives in sparse grass that is under watered and not well fed.


Goosegrass is one of the hardest to remove

Also known as silver crabgrass, goosegrass is a prostrate, bunching grass that spreads by seed and usually emerges a few weeks after its smooth green cousin. It has dark green, thick, flattened leaves and whitish stems that radiate from a central point (which makes it easy to identify.) Small, flattened flowers emerge on stiff spikes from July to September. Unlike crabgrass, goosegrass is very difficult to remove and its seeds spread easily by wind.


Hairy bittercress spits its seeds when you pull it

A member of the mustard family, hairy bittercress has heart-shaped leaves with scalloped margins that grow from a basal rosette. The largest leaves are at the base of the plants. The weed produces tiny white flowers from spring to fall and spits its dried seeds into the air when disturbed. If you can dodge the seeds, hair bittercress is actually easy to pull from wet soil, roots and all. Just give it a good yank on the stalk.


The candle-like inflorescences of broadleaf plantain

Broadleaf plantain has large, oval-shaped leaves that grow in a ground-hugging rosette. The leaves are attached to thick green stems that resemble celery when shredded. Long slender spikes of inconspicuous tiny green flowers spring from the base of the weed from April to September. Broadleaf plantain is actually edible (as are many weeds) and is chock full of iron, minerals and vitamins. The smallest leaves (harvested in the spring) are the tastiest, imparting an asparagus-like flavor. Fresh leaves can also be crushed to treat burns, insect bites and wounds.


Bindweed is a member of the morning glory family

This perennial weed has a spade-shaped leaf with rounded tip and two pointed lobes at the base. Erect seedlings spring from underground stems that can grow to several feet long, causing the plant to bend over and begin its vine-like growth. Whitish/pink, trumpet-shaped flowers, which close each afternoon and reopen the following day, bloom from April to October. Bindweed spreads from both underground horizontal stems and seed and is considered one of the most troublesome weeds in the U.S.


The clear blue flowers of chicory

Of Mediterranean origin, chicory was grown for centuries as a salad green before it started showing up all over our lawns and roads. It has one of the truest blue flowers around. The hardy perennial grows from a deep taproot that forms a prostrate rosette of hairy leaves. From June to September, clusters of daisy-like flowers appear on stiff hairy stalks, opening early in the morning and closing about 5 hours later. In addition to the many medicinal uses for chicory, the weed’s long taproot can serve as a coffee substitute when dried.


Delicate brown flower of yellow nutsedge 

Native to North America and parts of Eurasia, yellow nutsedge is a grass-like perennial with shiny yellowish-green leaves and golden brown flower heads. The plant spreads by producing tubers from a complex shallow root system. It can grow in just about any soil or surface, including my driveway.


Mat-forming mouse-ear chickweed

Mouse-ear chickweed is a low-growing, mat-forming perennial with oval, dark grey-green leaves. The leaves are attached directly to the stem, which can be green or purple. Tiny clusters of white, star-like flowers bloom on erect 4″ stems throughout the summer. Mouse-ear chickweed forms dense mats with trailing stems.


Easy-to-pull Creeping Charlie has violet flowers

Creeping Charlie, also known as Creeping Jenny or ground ivy, lives up to its name; it creeps. It has small, fan-shaped leaves with round-toothed edges, which emit a minty scent when crushed. Tiny blue-violet flowers appear in the spring, which look quite pretty wrapped around other garden perennials. Don’t let it get out of control, though, Creeping Charlie spreads rapidly to form dense mats, setting down roots all along its stems.


Tiny fruits of mock strawberry make it easy to distinguish

Resembling common strawberry, mock Strawberry is a ground-hugging plant that spreads by hairy runners and forms crowns at nodes. Its leaves are toothed and have dense hairs on the upper surface. Yellow flowers with five petals appear from April-June followed by tiny red strawberries. The fruits are edible, but have very little taste. The plant has been used for centuries for medicinal purposes, including as a fever reducer and antiseptic.

A portion of my lawn (below) is currently being invaded by mock strawberry.

Of course, there are so many other weeds to pull, including clover, ragweed and dandelions, to name just a few. This list is by no means exhaustive. NOTE:  Remember to pull weeds when the ground is wet- it makes it a lot easier and you’re more likely to get the entire plant instead of leaving part of it in the ground. Click here for a great tutorial on fast and easy ways to remove weeds from the garden.


10 Great Plants For A Care-Free Spring Garden

A spring garden brings renewed hope in all things growing

There’s nothing quite like the look of spring flowers. Bursting to life on the heels of winter, the delicate forms are so fresh as to almost seem edible. That, compounded by the returning sun and its impact on color, and spring gardens bring hope this time of year, renewing our faith in life and everything growing. Continue reading

6 Top Monardas Join The Resistance Against Powdery Mildew

Monarda didyma, Scarlet bee balm

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Gardening For The Soul: Ten Steps To A Happy Life

View from atop the Bavarian Alps

Spring is a good time to start fresh and focus on what’s really important in life. For me, the month of April is a time of introspection. I make a mental list of what parts of my life need to be reorganized, adjusted or just plain thrown out.  Then I replenish my house with a happy mind. Continue reading

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“Sometimes the best thing you can do is…. nothing. –Oliver Kellhammer, Ecological Artist 

There’s a lesser-known field of botany called the study of ruderal plants, or plants that grow on waste ground, ruins or rubble. Borne by birds, wind or other animals, the weed-like species are the first to colonize lands disturbed by wildfires, avalanches, construction and other ecological disasters. The plants self-sow in abandoned areas, forming impromptu gardens and forests over time, in a clear demonstration of what Mother Nature can do when left to her own devices. Continue reading

New York City’s Flower District: Green Oasis In A Concrete Jungle


New York City’s historic flower district

It’s not every day you visit a city and wind up in a jungle. But that’s exactly the case if you happen to be walking along a certain stretch of New York City’s West 28th street in Manhattan. There, amidst the hustle and bustle of big city life, a vibrant community of plant wholesalers and retailers set up shop each morning, transforming the city’s teeming sidewalks into a bona fide urban jungle. Continue reading

Orchids 101 (For Beginners Only)

Paphiopedium orchid at Pennyslvania’s Longwood Gardens

Years ago I was touring the Filoli mansion in Woodside, California when I came across an unusual flowering plant. It was perched on a table in an upstairs hallway and sported tiny, reddish-brown blossoms. Plunging my nose into the petals, I discovered its flowers smelled exactly like chocolate. Continue reading

True-Blue Flowers: A Dozen Of The Best And Brightest

Himalayan Blue Poppy at Pennsylvania’s Longwood Gardens/Kari Wilner

Years ago, in an effort to distract my middle-school aged daughters, I dragged them to an avant-garde exhibit at Washington, DC’s Hirshhorn Museum. The show was a one-color retrospective on the works of the French artist, Yves Klein (1928-1962) and it focused on the color blue; specifically, a supersaturated deep blue created by Klein that made you feel like you had been sucked out to sea and were drowning. Needless to say, it left an indelible impression on all of us. Continue reading

USPS Puts Its Stamp On America’s Most Beautiful Blooms

Floral stamp from the USPS Pollinator stamp series

You may think that gardens and the U.S. Postal Service (USPS) have little in common, but The National Postal Museum, located in Washington, DC, is currently challenging that point of view. It recently opened an exhibition featuring the botanical art behind 50 years worth of floral stamps. And it’s delivered the goods just in time for the spring season. Continue reading