Use white to soothe or sparkle
White is as mistake-proof as a color can be. I use it in bold strokes to liven up the garden, or in quiet flourishes to cool it down. White, if used with some restraint, easily plays a starring role. When I put large, eye-catching white flowers like hydrangeas or lilies at center stage, I avoid placing other whites around them for fear they might look muddy or bluish in comparison. Instead, I surround my star player with foliage, and let it shine.
White can also play a supporting role. Smaller white flowers, such as Geranium incanum ‘Album’, weaving in and out of plantings, perk up other colors. Plants blooming with a haze of tiny white flowers, such as baby’s breath (Gypsophila spp.) and Crambe cordifolia, create a softening scrim for bolder, brasher colors. Those floral veils can be used to hide something or to create an alluring, see-through effect. Baby’s breath, for example, makes a fine, gauzy skirt when planted about the homely stems of leggy plants like roses, while crambe looks best at mid-border so that big, back-of-the-border plants can be viewed through its haze of flowers. White is just as adept as a bit (yet crucial) player; think of the white eye sparkling in the center of a purple delphinium.therein lies the flower’s buzz, its energy.
Like green, white is actually a whole range of color. Have you ever tried to match a white paint chip? There are hundreds of tints, hues, and shades of warm or cool gray, yellow, or pink. I avoid cooler, muddier tones and favor glowing whites, such as ‘Iceberg’ roses or potato vine (Solanum jasminoides).
I’ve found that white can soothe or sparkle. What looks more cool and restful than an all-white garden? For sparkle, flowers of clean white and foliage in hues of silvery gray harmonize with all other colors and bring unity and elegance to planting schemes. Whenever a bed or border looks too busy, I pull out colors and replace them with the simplicity of white flowers or white-variegated foliage. Without the distraction of colors other than white, the subtle interplay of foliage colors becomes more apparent, and the form and textures of plants are more clearly visible.
Bold or subtle, white gets attention. The doublefile viburnum (Viburnum plicatum f. tomentosum) flowers above take a starring role.
Photo/Illustration: Allan Mandell
A sea lavender’s (Limonium aureum ‘Supernova’) veil of white calyces adds intrigue to a silvery Plectranthus argentatus.
Photo/Illustration: Steve Silk