Winter White

If you live in Michigan, white figures prominently in your winter landscape. On sunny days, this is a blinding white; on gloomy days, a blue/grey white.  Chilly.  White in the spring or summer landscape can be fresh and crisp; this is a white of a different sort.  Our first snow fell fast and hard.  The temperatures were actually above freezing; that snow stuck to everything it touched.    

Driving was a challenge, but I am so glad I got to see these Himalayan white barked birch in a winter setting. I landscaped the common areas of this community a good many years ago.  The birch planted in irregular drifts are paired with scotch pine, placed in a similar fashion.  I like these two trees planted together.  The stout long needled evergreens are a beautiful foil for the wispy birch.  A green and white landscape.  This day, the white clearly had the upper hand. 

The birch are planted in a large square picture frame around the entrance building-three trees wide.  Planted on 12 foot centers, the lacy branches are beginning to meet overhead. My favorite part of the winter landscape is the ability to see the structure of woody plants.  Though I am unhappy to see burning bush and the like pruned into artificial shapes, the winter look of this style of pruning is interesting.  The overall shapes that many branches make can be be quite striking.     

These birch were planted in a loose grove, and left unpruned. The landscape is quietly beautiful on a snowy day. 

I use lots of birch branches in winter containers.  Their graceful and very twiggy appearance is in sharp contrast to the pole like stems of the willows. I am able to buy them from a farm in their natural state, and as lacquered natural branches.  That shine is useful in some places.  The branches are also available in a variety of colors-including white.  For the holidays, they are available in platinum, silver and gold.  This English antique oval wirework planter is 5 feet long, by about 30 inches wide-large.  A long and dense centerpiece of white birch branches and green eucalyptus was good with the length of the planter, but this composition needed much more in the way of height and scale.    

The long smooth branches-silver painted manzanita.  These thick and sculptural branches were individually set around and over the inner centerpiece.  Silver in a snowy setting such as this reads much like white.  A planter of this size benefits from a mix of greens.  Boxwood and noble fir contrast in color and texture.  This mix helps keep the surface of this container lively looking. 

Tall white birch branches and white frosted eucalyptus make a substantial statement in these square white wood boxes.  A layer of faux snowy white pine picks add another layer to the centerpiece.  A wide and low planter asks for some bulk around the middle.  

The faux branches have a windswept look that takes readily to a placement outdoors; they are convincing.  Low and layered evergreens in the same mix finish the composition.  Even on a very grey day like today these boxes have a festive winter look.

A small wire work planter gets a similar treatment, but in a wispy and scaled down way appropriate to the style and size of the planter. My client likes green and white, summer and winter.    

White will be the predominant color of the landscape here for months to come; this white wirework planter needs the green as much as it needs a large scale white element.  The white dining table overed in snow on this terrace- barely visible today.

White Trees


Some years ago I landscaped a gated community in our area.  I put all my visual bets on groves of scotch pine, and Himalayan white-barked birch.  Pinus Sylvestris and Betula Jacquemontii-sounds like an engagement announcement to me.  Both trees like sun, and perfectly drained soil.  The birch likes cool moist soil; a placement in a lawn panel that gets regular water.  The Scotch pine-placed ever so slightly out of range of the overhead irrigation-in drier locations.

Both species are doing just fine, but no doubt the Himalayan is the looker of the pair.  The whitest barked of all the birch, that white bark is evident at a very early age-unlike other species that have to grow up into the white. The striking color of this bark puts it on my dance card of white trees I  like to waltz around with.  Very susceptible to the bronze birch borer, they need care-just like everything else that is so worth the trouble.  

White flowering trees make the spring landscape spectacular.  The magnolias first up, the apples, the Bradford pears, the crabapples-the list of white spring flowering trees is considerable.  They bloom before they have foliage.  Take a minute to think about that phenomena.  Asleep all winter, they burst forth with their show like they have 10 minutes to live. This year the blooming was especially heavy.  I am not a big fan of Bradford pears, but my favorite thing about them is when their topmost branches start to green up, while the rest of the tree is still in bloom.  A gorgeous spring phase.

My dogwoods are coming on strong now. Cornus Florida-when they are good, they are excellent, and when they are bad, they are horrid.  I have one tree in the grove with 2 flowers-go figure.  They fade from fungus over the summer. They perpetually look wilted, and unhappy.  But today, I have no complaints.  The flowers keep me coming back for more. 

I have a particular interest in single flowers, for whatever reason.  Bloodroot, white hellebores, dogwood, white annual phlox, white pansies, daisies, Peony Krinkled White, white poppies, Nicotiana alata, Japanese anemones-you get the idea.  White single flowers are especially beautiful.  So simple, elegant, and satisfying to the eye.

The Venus dogwood is no doubt the most spectacular white flowering tree on the planet.  A cross between the Pacific dogwood, Cornus Nuttalli, and Cornus Kousa, it has the great characteristics of each, in addition to great hardiness, a fast growth rate, and the most spectacular white flowers I have ever seen.  The trees at the shop were in bloom a full month last year, start to finish.

The foliage is large and lush.  They do not fruit to speak of, which doesn’t turn me away from them much.  I like that I can place them in full sun in my zone, and see them thrive.  You can see the size of the trunk in this picture; even an immature tree puts on quite a show.

I typically buy them as 1″ or 1.5″ caliper trees in 25 gallon pots.  This makes it easier for a home gardener to plant them-although  those pots are terrifically heavy.  Even at this early age, each tree will sport upwards of 300 flowers.  Though magnolias can be every bit as willing to bloom, they are fussy about weather conditions.  In a warm year, they may drop their flowers in an instant.

The willingness to grow vigorously and bloom heavily for a long time makes “Venus” my favorite white tree. The trees at the shop are small, and quite green right now; they have inherited that later bloom characteristic from the Kousa parentage.  If you like dogwoods, a Venus will greatly extend the spring bloom season beyond Cornus Florida time. The Venus season is just about to begin.

This was my red white and blue view the other day.