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.


Breaking Some Eggs

An old client with a new house-it happens on occasion. As I have lived in the same house for going on 18 years, I did not envy them this change. The old house and the new house are quite similar in size-not so the property.  They exchanged a very large, expansive, and private property for a city sized lot.  The back yard was very small; most of the space was taken up by a lap pool.  I knew we would have to break a few eggs before this landscape would pass muster.    


A really beautiful and old multitrunked magnolia was moved to the front yard.  We ditched a number of spireas, and a group of old and diseased evergreens.  The iron fence between the drive and the yard was removed, and stored.  At this point, the proximity of their house to others in the neighborhood became painfully obvious.  How could we arrange some privacy?  Privacy in an urban neighborhood is a relative thing.  Buck and I were privy to the music played graduation party given by our neighbors for their daughter.  We enjoyed that, but we also treasure our visual privacy.  

The lap pool was dug out; the hole was back filled.  We planted spruce along the back lot line, as we were able to secure trees with considerable height. Given that there was no room to maneuver a full sized tree spade, each tree was dug with a spade, balled and burlapped, then driven in and planted with the help of an excavator.

Those trees did a lot to screen the neighboring houses from view.  There was precious little space left over with which to design, but the walkway from the detached garage to the house would be a well used thoroughfare.  The walkway to the far library porch-equally important.   

The stonework took a lot of time.  The walkway to the sunken library terrace bumped out midway across the rear of the house.  This radiused terrace would provide a stopping point should there be a party or event.  No matter how small a yard, good and graceful circulation is important.

It seemed just about forever that this project was on hold, awaiting the completion of the stonework.   

Once the stonework was complete, we created a landscape bed in exactly the same radius as the leading edge of the terrace.  We planted a hedge of limelight hydrangeas-a favorite of this client.  A housewarming gift of 500 white tulips got planted in a space which would eventually be a collection of white flowering perennials. 

Great care was taken by the architect on this project to design a pergola which would connect the garage with the main house.  The main function of that pergola-to provide cover in that walk from the garage to the house in inclement weather.  My input-a clear polycarbonate roof.  No need for them to feel they were walking through a tunnel.  The pergola design got worked out.   DeGroot Spire arborvitae were planted as a green wall between the driveway, and the back yard.  They will tolerate the small space given to them, and will eventually be able to be pruned formally across the top. 

The original iron fence and gates have been reinstalled.  Today, there is no hint of what it took to transform this space.   

Small spaces are very hard to design, as every square foot counts.  There is no room for an unresolved issue or tentative solution.  Every element has to work, with every other element.  What you see here is the result of a client, an architect, the excavator who removed the pool, a stone mason, an electrician, a pergola construction company, the large tree moving and planting company, the air conditioning and generator people, the painters, and our landscape company-working together to produce a credible landscape project.     

There is no hint now of any broken eggs.  All of the discussions, revisions, and re-revisions are in the past.   

Of course there will be ongoing issues.  But there will also be ongoing pleasures.   

This brick wall to the west-my client had no love for the look of it.  She likes green.  Happily we were able to plant ivy grown on galvanized steel screens.  They are taking hold, and will cover this brick wall in no time. 


I am very pleased that this landscape renovation, which started late in 2010, is finally finished.  Big changes in a landscape take lots of time.  Change lives on a diet of time and more time.  I try to remember this.

Sodded Over

aug_7_10_am_015My last visit to the landscape at the Cranbrook Academy of Art was to deliver the flowers and decoration for a wedding and reception there in August of 2007.  I had for several years prior donated the summer planting around the Orpheus fountain; this was a job I loved doing.  This area adjacent to the stairs had been dirt and more dirt for some years; my client and I split the cost of a planting of a group of Limelight hydrangeas.  I am happy to see they seem to be doing fine. 

Six willows on standard in pots created an aisle for the bride and her wedding party.  No one could tell the white Hollywood roses were not in water; they perform so beautifully for a wedding.  Would that I could have been there the moment the bride stepped in front of that fountain.

aug_7_10_am_013The Art Museum is under extensive renovation, so this year, the garden areas are sodded over.  The fountain is closed. 

aug_7_10_am_014I try to tread lightly with the landscape where a sculpture is concerned.  How easy it is to cross over the line trying to compliment a sculpture, and end up confusing the visual issues.  Though I knew it would be closed, I was not prepared for how closed. But seeing it in its gardenless state, no water in the fountain, no sound and sparkle, had its good side.   Its always a good idea to consider whether an area is all the  better for your not touching it.   The simple word for this is “editing”; some days I am better at this than others.  Where flowers are concerned, I have a very tough time.  

cranbrook_05_2_39Planting white flowers is a good way to proceed cautiously.  Interestingly enough, I was told the traditonal summer planting here involved a short red salvia.  I had no problem ditching the red flower thing, but I thought a tall planting would compliment the sculpture and water better. I mitigated the risk with the white palette.

 The white amni majus, cleome  and impatiens are crisp; this area is incredible hot in the summer.  The blistered kale Nero di Toscano is good with the smooth sleek black sculpture, and it seems to intensify the whites.  

cranbrook_2005__3_1Another year I added an upright white datura, and white sonata cosmos to the mix.  The white petunias did a better job of softening the lawn line.

From this vantage point, the sculpture looks to have company, and good company at that.  The height of the plants in each quadrant drops gracefully where there is physical access to the rim of the fountain; in no way do the plantings obstruct the important view.  On an overcast day, the black figures appear a much softer blue-grey.  The lawn panels are effective in making a formal presentation of the sculpture and its environment.  However I mostly like how the lawn repeats the grid of the paving, and introduces the curve of the fountain rim.  The figures themselves describe a small circle with their feet, and a large, expanding circle with their heads.
cranbrook_6_8Yet another year, I added some verbena bonariensis,  some nicotiana langsdorfii, and some grey cirrus dusty miller to the predominantly white mix.  I do so like the cloud effect of the verbena flowers. 

cranbrook_6_1White gardens are however, unforgiving of a lack of maintenance.  Dead white flower heads do have a distinctively brown-dead appearance.  For this reason, I rarely plant white geraniums unless I am sure there is a maintenance fanatic waiting in the wings-and even then, a heavy rain will spoil the blooms in such a dramatic way. I knew the planting would not be the end of my involvement here.


I did go back regularly to do maintenance here, as I liked having it look good when I visited.  There was a day when every single nicotiana got its own stake.  That tedious job gets forgotten, sooner or later.  But the memory of all those dancing flower heads, those graceful figures,the water, and the white will stay with me a long time.

A Green and White Garden

Green and white gardens interest me more now, than they did twenty years ago. They have the same sophisticated visual appeal as a great black and white photograph.  Michael Kenna’s landscape photographs are breathtaking;  his view of the landscape is so much about the sculpture of green spaces.  The success of the great French landscapes has much to do with great, strictly edited design. I would call my personal point of view about landscape  hopelessly romantic Italian-I can get out of hand fast. When I hear green and white garden from a client, I think edited and sculptural.

aug4a_019These clients have lived many years in a lovely old Tudor style house built in the 1920’s.  However, they both have a love for clean,  modern and edited lines. Working with them has produced a garden that has elements both friendly to the architecture of the house, and  their point of view.  They were both clear that a green and white garden would suit them best. 

july23b_037The landscape of the front of the house was already in place when I met them.  My input involved the sizes of the flower beds, and the construction and installation of the window boxes.   The profusion of flowers is decidedly English in feeling, but the green and white has a crisply contemporary flavor. The strong, dark green horizontal line of the boxwood hedge contrasts and compliments the mass of the oval yews.  This element is balanced by the four columnar gingkos that frame the walk at the street. The simple steel windowbox is a focal point at the visual end of the walk. 


tThe flower beds were planted in stripes, perpendicular to the wall.  White dahlias are skirted with white polka-dot plant.  Striped of white New Guinea impatiens are bordered on both sides by simple rectangles of sagina subulata-Scotch moss.

aug4a_026The upper level is planted more freely, with variegated licorice, white petunias and more polka dots.  This bedding plant scheme derives more visual interest from its texture and layout than from the plant species.

july14_081The window boxes are lush with green angelina, euphorbia, and licorice.  The angular nicotiana alata white frames the more orderly growing Perfume nicotiana series  in white and lime green.

The landscape renovation of the rear yard fell to me.  They were certain that they wanted water in some form, and a more orderly, primarily green garden.  The shade had not been so friendly to their collection of perennials, and the winter interest was slight. The existing stone terrace off the porch was easy to dress up with Italian terra cotta pots devoted to green and white annual plants.�
There are plenty of white foliages plants-such as caladiums and hostas, that do well with this level of shade.  I did pay particular attention to planting green foliage plants of interest as well.

aug_7_10_am_033A custom made steel cistern positioned on axis to the porch, and the side walk organizes the space.  It was constructed with legs tall enough to hide the fountain pump, but also to provide for the eventual height of the boxwood surrounding it. Bordered in boxwood, a run of limelight hydrangeas provides another level of interest against the green arborvitae wall.


Variegated plectranthus, white New Guinea impatiens and the lime green scotch moss echo the porch plantings.

My clients do have a love for stone; the wall pictured above is but one example of the beautiful stonework on this property.  Previously obscured by perennials and boxwood, the view to the wall is now unobstructed.  A group of five columnar maples provide green screening above the wall.  We gently sloped the bed down from the wall, and planted the boxwood at the base of that bed. That wall has taken on a very clean sculptural look, its traditional granite  notwithstanding.  The mix of soft and strict is a pleasing one.