The white flower garden, soothing in daylight and luminous at dusk, has an air of understated elegance and ethereal calm.
The idea of planting a white garden was first introduced by design doyenne Gertude Jekyll in the early 20th century, as a reaction to the Victorians’ habit of using opulent colour to show off their wealth.
Learn how to create a white flower garden full of scent and style.
Pictured: white scabiosa and sweet peas are perfect for the border and for picking. Both prefer full sun and well-drained soil.
Creating a monochrome effect did not mean avoiding richly fragrant or exotic-looking plants. The white lily, a feature of iconic artworks such as Fra Angelico’s Virgin Mary at her Annunciation, and Lilium longiflorum in particular, was a Jekyll favourite.
Pictured: pale lemon markings through the petals of Lilium ‘Gizmo’ (longiflorum x oriental hybrid) add a show-stopping detail to this otherwise pure white lily. Pot it up and then slip the pots into the border to fill gaps in high summer.
White flowers have long played a symbolic role in gardens, religious paintings and tapestries alike, but Jekyll was the first to use white in isolation. White gardens and borders grew in popularity, created by Lady Burnett at Crathes Castle, Phyllis Reiss at Tintinhull and by Lawrence Johnston at Hidcote.
Pictured: the annual Cosmos bipinnatus Purity is a good-value plant that will flower right through the summer and into autumn.
One of the most famous white flower displays can be found at Sissinghurst, in Vita Sackville-Wests White Garden.
Pictured: Carpenteria californica is an evergreen, summer-flowering shrub, which grows best in a sheltered position against a south-facing wall. Its yellow stamens add another dimension to an all-white theme.
Native to southern Africas marshlands, the Zantedeschia aethiopica, or arum lily, is in fact not a lily at all but an aroid, bearing green berries which turn orange at the base when ripe.
Pictured: in a pool or damp area, the pearl-white goblets of Zantedeschia aethiopica (arum lilies) look triumphantly beautiful.
Sackville-Wests display triumphantly demonstrates how well white works against contrasting dark and silver-grey foliage.
Pictured: Rosa Flower Carpet White Noaschnee is a ground-cover rose with sparkling white flowers. After blooming, its petals fall to the ground like snow.
Author and garden designer Christopher Holliday suggests this recipe for a long-flowering spring white garden:
– Malus hupehensis
– Anthemis punctata subsp cupaniana
– Rhododendron Loderi King George’
Pictured: the aromatic, drooping racemes of Wisteria floribunda Alba are tinged with the faintest suggestion of lilac.
Garden designer and lecturer Susan Chivers underlines the charm of the white garden: ‘A white theme never shouts for attention. It will satisfy those wanting a garden that relaxes rather than excites.’
Pictured: Paeonia Duchesse de Nemours is prized by gardeners for its scent, its soft, many-layered flowers and its divided leaves, which provide good colour in autumn.
Gardener at Apple Court in Hampshire, Angela Meads, recognises the importance of form and scent in her recipe for a stylish white summer garden:
– Philadelphys coronarius Aureus (gorgeous scent with golden leaves)
– Papaver orientale Perrys White
– Cornus controversa Variegata
– Clematis florida var. flore-pleno (greeny white)
Pictured: the bright white papery flowers of Cistus (rock rose) make a striking contrast against the softer white tassels of Wisteria floribunda Alba.
For autumn, Christopher Holliday recommends Fuchsia ‘Hawksheadand Fatsia japonica.
To get you through the winter months, Angela Meads suggests Miscanthus sinensis Dixieland or Morning Light.
Pictured: sweet-scented stocks will fill a white garden with fragrance throughout the summer.
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