The white garden, white flowering perennials

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The white garden at dusk
(Henri Le Sidaner – 1912)

The best example of the monochromatic garden is at Sissinghurst Castle in Kent, created by poet and gardener Vita Sackville-West (1892-1962).

Whether it’s considered as a minimalist response to the exuberant colours of Impressionism or the expression of a desire for peace at the dawn of the twentieth century, the white garden focuses on the symbolic values of white in Western culture.

More than just a colour, white symbolises purity, peace, innocence and life.


A white garden is meant to be experienced in diffuse evening light, at twilight on moonlit nights. As a setting for intimate and delicate emotions, a white garden is small and structured. It is not meant to be theatrical or a passage-way, but rather a space to inhabit for precious moments.
Simple and refreshing, a white garden is above all a green garden. Happily, white flowering perennials and green foliage plants abound in the gardener’s palette.

Daucus carotta and Echinacea 'Green Jewel' Credit: Le jardin c’est tout

Daucus carotta and Echinacea ‘Green Jewel’

“Lacy clouds of wild carrot (Daucus carotta) dance carefree at the foot of shiny young birch trees. The faint light of the shadows bounced off the white disc umbels. Their airy, wild foliage playfully enveloped the rather strait-laced Echinacea ‘Green Jewel’. Despite the approach of autumn, the joyful freshness of this special place made me think it was spring time.”

Sophie Le Jardin c’est tout – Sept 2012.

 

The only difficulty is to maintain flowering continuity. Spring-flowering bulbs and annuals are therefore unavoidable additions.

Creating a backdrop for the white garden

The backdrop for a monochromatic garden can be a trimmed hedge with dark foliage (yew, hornbeam), evergreen shrubs (Viburnum, Camelia, Prunus), interesting foliage (Eucalyptus, Sambucus nigra, copper beech, Pyrus salicifolia ‘Pendula’), or an old moss-covered wall.

Choosing white flowering perennials

There are many white flowering perennials to choose from. However, depending on whether you live in Normandy or near the Mount Sainte Victoire in Provence, the choice of species will be quite different.

In the first instance, you should choose plants which thrive in good garden soil with some coolness in summer and which have generous foliage and superb white flowers (Hosta, Brunnera). In the second instance you should choose native Mediterranean plants. Plants with silver foliage are more suitable here.

Spring-flowering bulbs (tulips, daffodils, grape hyacinths) can decorate the bed throughout the year. Annuals are useful for their long summer flowering period and are easy to sow (white myosotis, tobacco, white nigella, white cosmos). They will flower continuously throughout the summer.

White blooms, silver,sometimes dark or variegated foliage. But that’s not all! A few carefully chosen touches of soft colour (cream, light blue, soft pink) will enhance your plant compositions.

For a garden in Normandy: good, humus-rich soil, cool in the summer with some shade:

Spring flowering: Anemone sylvestris, Campanula punctata ‘Wedding Bells’, Cymbalaria pallida ‘Albiflora’, Dicentra spectabilis ‘Alba’, Digitalis ‘Snow Thimble’, Orlaya grandiflora, Leucojum aestivum ‘Gravetye Giant’, Ipheion uniflorum ‘Alberto Castillo’, Galanthus, Galium odoratum, Polygonatum multiflorum, Phlox stolonnifera ‘Ariane’,Primula ‘Dawn Ansell’, Veronica gentianoides, Helleborus orientalis ‘White Lady Spoted‘, Arenaria montana, Cerastium, Allium ‘Mount Everest’, Iberis, Iris.

Summer-flowering perennials: Echinacea ‘Fragant Angel’, Filipendulina ulmaria ‘Plena’, Echinacea ‘Meringue’, Galega officinalis, Sanguisorba tenuifolia ‘Alba’, Persicaria scoparium, Lysimachia clethroides, Aster ‘Monte Cassino’, Kalimeris incisa ‘Alba’, Achillea ‘Alabaster’, Chrysanthemum maximum ‘Brightside’, Lathyrus latifolius ‘White Pearl’, Valeriana officinalis, Selinum wallichium, Achillée ptarmica, Astrancia, Aruncus dioicus ‘Sylvestris’, Galtonia candicans, Arum, Phlox paniculata ‘David’, Centhranthus ruber ‘Album’, Veronicastrum virginicum ‘Album’.

Autumn-flowering perennials: Anemone ‘Honorine Jobert’, Leucanthemella serotina, Aster turbinellus, Aster ericoides ‘Snow Flurry’, Lilium formosanum.

Foliage plants: Hosta sieboldiana, Hosta ‘Alcyon’, Brunnera, Alchemilla mollis, Artemisia ‘Powis Castle’, Onopordium acanthium, Artemisia ‘Valerie Finnis’, Santolina, Acorus, Phalaris, Lamium.

A garden in Provence: sunny exposure with poor, dry soil

Spring flowering: Allium ‘Mount Everest’, Dianthus, Gypsophila cerastioides, Matricaria, Leucojum aestivum, Viola odorata ‘Alba’, Iberis.

Summer flowering: Agapanthus, Lavandula ‘Edelweiss‘, Anthemis carpatica, Allium pulchellum ‘Album’, Aster ‘Monte Cassino‘, Chamaemelum nobile, Convolvulus cneorum, Dierama pulcherrimum ‘Album’, Lathyrus ‘White Pearl’, Sedum spectabile ‘Stard Dust’, Senecio cineraria ‘Silverdust’, Silene maritima ‘Swan Lake’, Lychnis coronaria ‘Alba’, Ballota.>

Autumn-flowering perennials: Satureja alternipilosa, Aster ericoides ‘Prostratus’, Nippothemum nipponicum.

Plant association: Monochromatic white flower bed

All the plants selected are suitable for sunny beds with good garden soil, which is reasonably cool in the summer. You will need a space 4m x 4m.

Our plant association marries silvery bluish foliage plants with the sumptuous white flowers of Echinacea ‘Fragrant Angel’ and Phlox paniculata ‘David’.

This elegant and refined composition comes into play with the flowering of the hellebores, bulbs and Primula ‘Dawn Ansell’ and ends on a high note with a white avalanche of Leucanthemella and Japanese anemones ‘Honorine Jobert’.

We can enjoy summer evenings sitting in this bower of plant purity and smell the delicate scent of the Phlox, Echinacea and Dianthus.

Other white flowering plants, with silvery bluish foliage can be associated to suit your needs without forgetting bulbs (narcissus, tulip, muscari, etc.) which will open the ball on the first days of spring.

For complementary information please look at our selection of white flowering plants and use our advanced search facility The Right Plant in the Right Place It’s an indispensable tool to choose plant associations.

Our example of a white garden with good garden soil can be added to with several other white flowering varieties or silvery bluish foliage plants, bulbs and border annuals.

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1 Leucanthemella serotinia, 2. Anemone ‘Honorine Jobert’, 3. Hosta sieboldiana ‘Elegans’, 4. Artemisia ‘Valerie Finnis’, 5. Cymbalaria pallida ‘Albiflora’, 6. Digitalis ‘Snow Thimble’,7. Phlox paniculata ‘David’, 8. Lysimachia celthroides 9. Phalaris ‘Luteopicta’, 10. Veronicastrum virginicum ‘Album’.

In a border you can also add Primula ‘Dawn Ansell’, Helleborus ‘White Lady Spotted’, Viola, Muscari, Pulmonaria, Hosta ‘Blue Cadet’, Alchemilla mollis, Leucojum

and in the middle of a bed: Brunnera ‘Jack Frost’, Artemisia ‘Powis Castle’, Echinacea, Orlaya, Aster ‘Monte Cassino’, Chrysanthemum.

At the back of a bed: Boltonia, Aster turbinellus.