Bright Whites in the Garden

White caladiums are stars of the evening garden.

White is a cooling color in the summertime landscape. It’s pristine and refreshing. But if it’s overused it can become cold and overpowering. Such it is with white variegated plants used by themselves in big masses. Whites usually look best when featured against dark greens for contrast.

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Don’t mix white flowers randomly with other colors. I was sitting in a national conference waiting to speak, and the man who spoke just before me made a comment I’ve never forgotten. That was 40 years ago, back when our talks were all given with 35mm projectors and most of us favored Kodachrome slides. Dr. Darrell Apps of Longwood Gardens said, “Having white flowers in a big bed of colored blooms is like having a hole in your Kodachrome slide.” Think about that when you see a white moss rose or a white pansy plant in a mixture of many colors. Or white tulips stirred into a bed of mixed colors.

White shows up so brilliantly, that white-flowering plants don’t need to be used in huge numbers. Use pockets of white planted in front of dark evergreen foliage. They’ll shine like bright beacons. That’s the perfect way to showcase white-variegated shrubs and groundcovers. Plant them in front of junipers or hollies – plants with deep green foliage.

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If you’re trying to decorate a backyard for a big event, visit several garden centers. You’ll find white-flowering and white-leafed plants that can be taken out of their pots and hanging baskets and planted directly into large pots. You’ll have instant great looks. Put Boston ferns alongside them. Protect them from direct sunlight, and you’ll be ready to welcome your guests. Decorating finished in just a couple of hours!

A Few Great White Plants
I thought it might be helpful if I named some of my own personal favorite white-flowering and white-leafed plants. I was going to give brief descriptions until I realized how very many there are.

Blue and white fanflowers with wax begonias.

For annuals, I choose from caladiums, wax begonias, and flowering tobacco for shade or part shade. For sun, I use fanflowers, white Cora XDR vincas, trailing lantana, pentas, spider flowers, hybrid purslane, white morning glories, and moon vine.

Variegated Japanese Silvergrass.
Solomons seal.

My list of white perennials includes variegated Japanese silvergrass, various hostas, Solomon’s seal, moonflower (Datura), Brugmansias, white forms of purple coneflowers, various salvias (sages), and hardy hibiscus (mallows).

White brugmansia will turn pink by the next morning.
Datura (Jimson weed) blooms in late afternoon. Flowers close by mid-morning the next day.

These lists are miles from complete, but they’ll get you started. Imagine those lovely plants in your nighttime garden highlighted by well-placed and subtle landscape lighting. What charm that brings to your surroundings!

Posted by Neil Sperry
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