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.
White cosmos at night
6 TIPS FOR DESIGNING AN ALL WHITE GARDEN
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.
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.
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.
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’