The Garden In August

I have a hot mess of a perennial garden at home. I have tinkered with it for 20 years, and it still is a hot mess. Not that I mind the mess. Minding a garden is an ongoing experience like no other. The moves I have made towards a reasonably good design are as follows. My work life is incredibly busy in the early part of the season. I realized I have little time to tend or appreciate a perennial garden at home until later in the summer season. A summer or late summer garden would better suit my life. A garden that would look good very early in the morning, or very late in the day would even better suit my life. I go to work early, and come home late. Given this, I have been aiming for a late summer flowering garden replete with white flowers. I did cheat a little by planting some white David Austin roses, Winchester Cathedral, that bloom in June, but the majority of this garden looks its best in late July. That part makes sense. But why white flowers? White flowers shrug off the heat. They look cool and collected, even on a 90 degree day. They never look frazzled. I would not want a garden that looked like me at the end of the day. White flowers read beautifully from a distance.  And they are showy at dusk. This means that when I am fixing coffee at 5:00 am, I can see through the window what is happening in that garden. I might take a second look when I am cleaning up after dinner-at dusk.

I do have clients that favor white flowers in their containers, for no other reason than they like white flowers. I understand this. The white is crisp, and cooling to view. They are as striking and simple in a contemporary garden as they are in a traditional one. White in the garden provides a beautiful and strong contrast to every shade of green. The purple petunias in this container are more visually lively, given some white.

This Limelight hydrangea standard has flowers that are a creamy pale green. The bright white background provided by the house makes the subtle color of the hydrangeas pop. Pale and pastel flowers can provide the same punch as white flowers. Pale colors read strongly; the eye spots them first.  Containers to be viewed from the street, or gardens to be viewed from a distance benefit from the inclusion of some pastel blooming plants.

To my mind, nothing says summer in Michigan better than white petunias. They always look fresh.  Though some gardeners find them pedestrian, they can provide strong visual support to a composition.

Euphorbia Diamond Frost has to be one of the most beautiful and versatile white flowered annual plant for containers that it has ever been my pleasure to plant. I love how light and lacey it is. The thin stems and diminutive flowers lighten and loosen every plant in its vicinity.

See what I mean? Double petunias are scraggly and awkward growing plants. The euphorbia hides all of those ungainly stems. It could be that the pale green buds of this petunia are more beautiful than the flowers. The white helps that subtle color read clearly.

My color scheme for my containers this year was lime, pink-and white. These begonias are called Apple Blossom. The reverse of the petals is pink. The yellow centers of the white begonias relate to the yellow brick behind them. Pink and white begonias, white and pink Gingerland caladiums, lime green dieffenbachia, lime green ferns and variegated tradescantia – I have so enjoyed the various shades of green, the white, and the dashes of pink.

This color scheme is interesting and restrained.

apple blossom  begonia

I planted this annual garden at Cranbrook in 2005 for an evening event. At dusk, the forms of the plants and the flowers were easy to see.

white annual garden

white caladiums in the late day sun

The white caladiums highlight the dark rose pink color of the nicotiana in front of them, don’t they? White flowers and leaves in the background will highlight and better describe and illuminate darker colored plants placed in front of them.

This photograph of the front of the shop taken yesterday is not so sharply in focus. But that soft focus illustrates how white flowers can punctuate and enliven a garden.

Night before last I was late to tour the garden. The white and light flowers lighted my way. Truth be told, there was a time when white, light and pastel flowering plants did not much interest me. I am sure every gardener has that moment when their taste changes. White flowering plants in the landscape is an idea that has become more important to me, especially given my aging eyes.

So pleased to be able to see this.




















Green And White

green and white (9)Green and white in a container garden can be spectacular. I have more than a few clients who request this cool and collected color palette. Summer in the mid west can be cruelly hot. A white garden always looks cool and crisp; white shrugs off the heat. White flowers read well from a distance, and are startlingly beautiful at dusk. When they are well grown, white flowers are stunning.  Among my favorites?  White hardy hibiscus, Visions in White astilbe, white anemones of any genus, white daffodils, white roses, need I go on?  Green is what gives a garden or landscape a living context. Living green is vastly different than green paint. Light endows green and white in a garden with as much visual energy as serenity. Odd, that. This client has a decidedly contemporary point of view, and a big love of white. I try to give that white to her with both reliable and unusual plants. The diminutive white and purple streptocarpus, the big leaved white caladiums and the white streaked watermelon pepperomia set the stage for this very shady set of boxes.

green and white (13)Birds nest ferns and variegated licorice provide the supporting cast. The white New Guinea impatiens are the most astrikingly white of the group, and they are thriving here.So happy to see them tolerating such a low light level.  This is the shadiest of my green and white containers for this client. I deliberately split up the white plants, to establish a lively rhythm.

green and white (8)The window boxes in front-I have no need to trick them out. A contemporary expression asks for simple.  White New Guinea impatiens in all of the boxes-perfect. Once they have a little time, and some more heat, they will thrive.

green and white (11)The rosemary standards were part of the spring planting.  There is no need to replace them.  The are growing.  I under planted them with scotch moss, just to give the trunks a little space. I have my fingers crosses that the water the moss wants will not be too much for the rosemary. Every container planting has its drama. The key will be thoughtful watering. The XXL dahlia series is the best medium height dahlias it has ever been my pleasure to grow. The stems are sturdy.  They are disease resistant.  They flower heavily early on. They are oh so showy.  White petunias in the front-ordinary as can be.  But paired with showy oregano, the relationship is a little more complicated and interesting.  green and white (14)My crew fusses that I post pictures during a planting.  They would rather I take pictures at the end, when everything is thoroughly watered and cleaned up.  I like the pictures with the dirt. I cannot really explain this, but I learned from my Mom that good friable soil that is loaded with organic material and drains well is clean. The dirt inside my socks and under my nails this time of year is a comfort.  It means all is right with my world.

green and white gardenThose dahlias laid out in a block awaiting planting are so incredibly beautiful. Showy white plants have their place in pots.  An ordinary container cannot hold enough Queen Anne’s Lace to make a statement.  Those airy blooming relatives of the common carrot belong in a field. Selecting white flowers for containers?  Try white dwarf cosmos or cleome, white angelonia, white New Guinea impatiens, Lanai white trailing verbena.  white geraniums-if you must. White zinnias, both dwarf and tall are great in containers. As a centerpiece, white mandevillea cannot be beat. Vinca vine-as ordinary as red geraniums. But skillfully used, it is a beautiful white accent in a container. We have on occasion wound it upwards on a plant climber.

green and white (6)This rosemary topiary did not ask for much fuss.  A collar of white petunias is enough.

green and white (2)I planted a tall cylindrical pot in deep shade with one of my favorite green plants-pepperomia. Trailing down the sides, the garden variety vinca vine, and a white variegated tradescantia. Once this grows out and up, it will do justice to this gorgeous contemporary Atelier Verkant container.

green and white (3)The mix of classical and contemporary containers here is striking.  A green and white planting is a great way to focus on the mix of container shapes and materials. In a month, the relationships the plants forge from one pot to the other will be much clearer.

green and white (10)This pot features a rosemary topiary surrounded by a giant collar of lavender.  I am quite sure that given some time, each of these elements will grow in to each other in an interesting proportion.  I do not mind the lavender in this green and white color scheme. A green and white rule is better when that rule is broken.

green and white (12)Should I ever plant a spike or a phormium in a container, Lucio ties up that cascading centerpiece, so he can plant all around it.  This is a picture not so much about design, but about how my crew and I work together. All of them to the last have a gift for planting and growing plants. This is his signature, which I greatly respect.


green and white (5)Every plant has a face. That face needs to be forward.  Every center plant needs to be perfectly placed in the middle. Every center plant needs to be oriented to the primary view. Some center plants need to be planted at the back of the container, depending on their placement. Some plants need to be pitched over the edges of a container. Others need to be planted vertically.  This is not so much about color, texture or mass as it is about planting technique. My crew never rushes a planting.  Watching them plant from a plan is the best part of my good life.

green and white (4)I am very pleased about this day’s work.

green and white (1)

green and white (16)Green and white. Pure delight.



White In The Garden

white (5)My current garden is all about the snow, and not much else.  16 inches of snow has managed to turn everything in the landscape ground plane into a collection of wind whipped white blobs. On the roads, dirty white.  In the shade, blue white.  In the sun, blinding white.  It’s enough white to keep me blinking.  Unlike this once in a blue moon snow fest, white in the garden is a crisp and fresh color choice.  The white umbrellas in this picture-refreshingly white. I took this picture on a blisteringly hot and overcast July day.  The white umbrellas look as cool as can be.  I could imagine how they would reflect the heat once opened. White in the heat of the summer means respite, as white reflects heat.

white (1)A white house could be coolly contemporary.  A whitewashed shingle style house, with white trim, and white window boxes is a traditional architectural expression one might find in any city.  A white farm house, or Greek revival house is an architectural classic.  The White House-a national treasure.  White appeals to many, and looks great in widely divergent circumstances.  All white-stark, even chilly.  White washed-soft.  Paint color books seem to have more versions of white than any other color-funny, that.

July 23, 2013 (13)I have several clients who are enthusiastic about any  plant, as long as it blooms white.  And clients who favor white container plantings.  White gardens of necessity feature lots of green.  White foliage indicates an absence of chlorophyll.  Nearly all white foliaged plants have enough green to permit photosynthesis to some degree.  Any white garden is truly a green and white garden.  Green and white-a glorious color combination. Some white flowered perennial and annual cultivars are weak growers, but there are enough vigorous white plants to round out a planting palette.  In  the early spring, white hellebores, snowdrops, crocus, daffodils, and tulips.  The white leaved brunnera Jack Frost has a gorgeous white frosted leaf, and amazingly,  tolerates a lot of sun.  Magnolia Stellata, Magnolia Ivory Prince, Venus dogwood, white crab apple “Snowdrift”-there are so many choices of white flowering spring blooming trees.

white-petunias.jpgWhite petunias may be pedestrian, but they deliver.  This container gets barely 4 hours of indirect sun a day.  I would call that willing. Early season white perennials-I am picky.  Geranium lancastriense alba, anemone sylvestris, white variegated thyme, white siberian iris and white foxglove so well for me.  Plant choices are entirely based on what does well for me.  White poppies-so so.

white-geraniums.jpgWhite geraniums are beautiful.  That said, geraniums are heavy feeders.  They need to be deadheaded.  Their blooms are spoiled by rain-they need a daily once over.  What you have time for should guide your choices.

white-daisies.jpgThe wilding oxeye daisy, leucanthemum vulgare, is a favorite of mine.  I like its messy habit, and I don’t mind the seeding.  They are short and sweet.   Daisies are a flower form near and dear to my heart.  Shasta daisies, and boltonia are also white flowering daisies that are vigorous to boot. White cosmos are so beautiful-as is Queen Anne’s Lace.  I welcome gooseneck loosestrife in the garden, as long as it has a little shade and somewhat dry conditions to slow down its spread. Some white flowering plants ask for lots of room-sometimes more room than I have available at home.

white-hibiscus.jpgWhite flowering hardy hibiscus are very well behaved.  When they are happy, they form large clumps that bloom late in the year.  I have a special affection for late blooming white flowers.  My spring season is so busy at work, I barely have time to enjoy my garden at home. My Limelight hydrangeas might be my favorite late blooming white flowered plant.  I have 2 blocks of plants that are 12 years old.  They never fail to enchant. Late summer and fall perennials – including the hibiscus, white phlox,platycodon, and white Japanese anemone – these are crown growing perennials that are well suited for my garden.  I have a small urban property.  I limit my spreading white flowering plants to those plants that cover the ground.   Sweet woodriff and sagina can spread wherever they want.  Campanula carpatica alba is beautiful, but not long lived for me.  White peonies-breathtaking in the late May garden.

Sally-Holmes-roses.jpgI consider the rose Sally Holmes to be a white rose, though the buds are a warm peach.  These white flowers provide welcome relief to all of my pink roses.  I am partial to single white flowers.  The most magnificent of all the white single flowers-a mature sweet autumn clematis vine in full bloom.

white-Japanese-anemone.jpgPlanted between my roses, the white Japanese anemone, Honorine Jobert.  It may be my favorite flower.  Some years are better blooming than others, but it is entirely hardy.  Along with the asparagus and boltonia, they represent in spite of the roses.

Venus-dogwoods-blooming.jpgThough I doubt I would ever personally subscribe to an all white garden, I like what white flowers do for a garden.  They read from a distance. They are especially beautiful at dusk.  They shrug off a wearying heat.  White makes every other color so much more vibrant.  Cool, crisp, and fresh-that would be white.


Summer Whites

white flowers 

I I have planted many a white annual or perennial garden for a client.  White and summer-made for each other.  White reflects heat and light.    It looks cool and crisp in the hottest weather.  Anything white looks freshing. Too sophisticated for sweat. These boxwood spheres got a little dress up from some Lamium White Nancy and white petunias.  I am sure there are those who would think the pots and spheres are enough to satisfy, but these white tutus manage to make a little fun of the heat. 

white flowers

I have a few clients that want white, and nothing else, in their containers.  This year, I applaud their choice.  Though I was perspiring to beat the band when I took this picture, I see no signs of stress in this container.  I am sure anyone growing white mandevillea this year will be rewarded with strong growth and lots of flowers.  They also seen to do well with a little bit of shade. Keep in mind they bloom on new growth, so feed them.  It interests me, how weather can affect our perception of color.  In a cooler season, white can look chilly and remote.  In a very hot year, white provides relief to the eye.    

white nicotiana

Nicotiana loves cooler weather.  To my surprise, my nicotiana at the shop is blooming profusely in our heat.  Maybe how careful we are about providing adequate moisture helps.  

espaliered fruit trees

Susie’s apple espalier has no problem with the heat.  The spring blooms were protected from the April frosts such that she has lots of fruit ripening.  The white petunias are thriving.  Petunias of all types like heat, and soil kept on the dry side.  They certainly seem to be the happiest plants in the container.  Unlike a lot of white flowering perennials, white petunias are tough and reliable.  I do like white echinacea, but I have yet to ever see a stand of them that could compare to the pink cultivars.   

sonata cosmos

I am frankly surprised at our long run of sunny days.  Relentless, this year, the sun.  I have yet to photograph most of our spring and early summer projects-glaring and bright sun is not so friendly to taking pictures.  But these Sonata cosmos and these white petunias handle the sunny glare of this pool deck with aplomb. 

white flowering perennials.jpg

There are a number of great white flowering perennials.  My favorite-the Becky shasta daisy.  So fresh, so willing-so easy to grow.  The white phlox David-very good.  White echinacea-beautiful, but not so easy to cultivate.  White perennial hibiscus-gorgeous, and easy. Cimicifuga racemosa-the white flowering snakeroot tolerates some shade.  There are so many cultivars of white astilbe-all of them shine.  The white Japanese Anemone Honorine Jobert is a favorite.  I like using white foliage plants in white perennial gardens.  Brunnera Jack Frost is a good performer, and will tolerate a fair amount of sun.  Variegated Solomon’s Seal is as robust as it is elegant.      

silver foliage plants

There are those plants whose silver foliage could pass for white on a bright and sunny day.  The vigorously growing Grey Shield plectranthus, a silver trailing artemesia, 4″ pot starts of a white variegated miscanthus, and variegated licorice are a greenish white. 

garden furniture

Garden furniture-there is lots out there from which to choose.  This  contemporary settee upholstered in white cotton duck makes a big statement about summer white.  Devilish to keep clean, furniture with white cushions look great in a garden.        

white container planting

This concrete and gravel sellette made in Paris has an incredibly small planting area. I wouls say 8″ by 8″ by 10″ deep. We planted it with drought resistant, and heat loving white plants.  Angelonia-bring on the heat.  Trailing white verbena and petunias-ditto.  The creeping jenny-my client is a gifted waterer.  I suspect she gives the jenny a little more water than the rest.  Selectively watering plants in a container can produce stellar results.  Very few plants wnat exactly the same conditions.   

White house.  White doors.  I might add the white house and doors are impeccably maintained. White limestone.  White impatiens and white variegated ivy in the white glazed pots.  This is a refreshingly cool look.   

white container plantings 
The right hand sellette looks just as good as its companion on the left.  The creamy white sticks provide some support to the angelonia. The flowers are all simple and ordinary-the look is smashing.

The nicotiana alata blooming at the shop right now-astonishingly fresh and beautiful-especially the white.