I plant a lot of white: plants with white flowers; plants with silver foliage. Why?
- Light coloured foliage can give a sense of depth to your view of a garden
- It is easy on the eye and cooling, especially on hot summer days
- It helps blend flowers and foliage colour that almost, but not quite, go together, such as different reds, crimsons and scarlets; or purple and blue
- It works well as a contrast with dominant colours such as a deep red
- It can spotlight dark corners or shaded spots under trees
- Plants with silver or grey foliage tend to cope well with summer heat and dry conditions
- White works beautifully in the evenings
- In its own right, white is a glorious thing.
(Above: Japanese windflowers - Anemone x hybrida - in a dark spot under a rock bank)
In The Sensuous Garden, Monty Don points out that most white flowers are not actually very close to pure white at all. Anyone who has ever had the misfortune of trying to choose a white paint from a colour card will understand this.
"I'll just paint it white," you think. "Simple." Oh no. No, no, no. There are whole colour cards in your paint shop of different shades of white; some yellow, some verging towards blue or pink; some warm; some cool; some cream, ivory, chalk, almost yellow.
(Above: White valerian mixing with red penstemon and English lavender)
Plants are the same, and of course when it comes to white flowers you are also dealing with something that is, let's face it, almost entirely green with white dots (and even those dots might be dotted with yellow or splashed with red). Convulvulus cneorum, otherwise known as rabbit's dessert around here, is both a lovely soft silver foliage with sharp white flowers, but more often you will find the lovely white flowers set against a deep green - for example on a Cistus ladaniferus (Rock Rose), on which you also get a deep red splodge.
You will have heard and seen photos, no doubt, of Vita Sackville-West's White Garden at Sissinghurst, with its white, cream, silver and grey plants. It wasn't the first single palette garden, but it is certainly one of the most famous, and it spawned a generation of copycats (fair enough, too), though this has made some gardeners wary of using much white.
But don't be afraid. Splash a bit around, like eau de cologne, and enjoy the light.