Gardeners have long been inspired by white flowers and gardens. Sissinghurst in England (which I have visited) and the moonlit pleasure garden of the Taj Mahal are two very famous white gardens. The latter garden was completed in 1652 in honor of Muntaz Mahal, who died in childbirth, by her husband. The garden is located on the opposite side of the Yamuna River so that the moonlit Taj is reflected in its garden pools. Vita Sackville-West, a gardener, garden writer, and poet wrote about the joy and inspiration of her white garden (completed 1949-1950) at Sissinghurst as an opportunity to explore the non-colored aspects of garden design…such as form, texture, and the shape of plants. In addition to white/pale flowers, she utilized many shades of silver foliaged plants.
White Annual Poppy ( hope it self-seeds!)
Does the universal appeal of white gardens reflect (no pun intended) on our cultural connections to that color? The color white is used in different cultures to symbolize peace, purity, mourning. Colors create moods, and white, with these meaningful associations, is particularly impactful.
Normally I reject rules about what should or should not be included in a garden, preferring spaces that have a natural and unforced quality. That said, the few white gardens I have visited have brought me joy, and I am without doubt smitten by the white flowers in my own garden. For these reasons, I have considered creating a white garden space of my own.
I wish I were more knowledgeable in the science of color. How would that understanding influence the delight I experience when viewing a garden? Would I see and utilize colors differently? The color wheel, beautiful as it is, has always felt overwhelming. Reading about color theory in Wikipedia, even though poorly comprehended on my part, has served to confirm the miraculous world we live in, and the centuries-old interest in how we see our world.
I value the importance of “color” (the ability to play a note with varying quality of sound) in music. It has taken many years of my own piano study and attending live musical performances to more fully understand what artists do to create color in sound. For me, this added knowledge has led to greater pleasure when listening to music. I deeply respect this gift that musicians share with us, recognizing the effort and skill required in creating their unique sound palette. I am fascinated that the use of color in the arts has principles in the mathematical/scientific world, yet is simultaneously experienced on such a primal emotional level.
I do not recall giving much attention to color in my early gardening life. Flowers bloom for such a short time in a plant’s life, and I often selected plants for their leaf color, shape, texture and perhaps fragrance! Shortly after our move to Nelson, Greg’s mother (a graphic artist) was visiting. Looking out at my garden, her poignant comment, “You have no white,” has long reverberated in my ears and influenced my eyes in a meaningful way. Even earlier in my garden experience, a former patient/gardener/nursery owner in Chatham, NY encouraged me to acquire a creamy white daylily. He said it would help bridge colors that might not otherwise “work” together. As I write this, that unnamed “off white” daylily is doing just that.
I have enjoyed acquiring white flowers and discovering their impact in my garden. White reflects all the colors of the rainbow, and as a consequence adds brightness. Our eyes automatically follow to these areas. White color and light effectively guide our eyes through the visual space. In my large, and often cacophonous garden, I am counting on the color white to make my garden experience feel a little more “orchestrated.” Perhaps there is even a conductor: me!
Equally appealing, the reflective quality of white makes magic in the darkness of night. Moonlight creates a mystical feeling as the white flowers glow. I peer out my windows in the evening and night hours to savor the serene mood. White flowers are often fragrant. This year, I planted nicotiana alata near my outdoor sitting /eating area in order to experience their intoxicating fragrance for those moments of utmost relaxation after a day’s work in the garden. What if white flowers could also keep those biting insects away?
I hope my enthusiasm for white colored flowers is contagious and that you experience gardens a little differently. The included photos represent some of my favorites.
White daisies, a gift from Julie Pakradooni. Perfection in bloom
White Perennial Oriental Poppy with Rick Church’s (probably) honeybee.
White clematis….a variety blooming on new growth, dies to the ground in winter. No special pruning required.
Plants with silver-colored leaves are often utilized in “white” gardens. This is Brunnera macrophylla (Siberian bugloss), which I saw on a recent garden nursery visit. It is now on my wish list. In spring, it has pretty blue Forget-Me-Not-like flowers.
The garden cacophony…… I cannot imagine gardening without the color white.