White is a versatile color in the flower garden

By Lee Reich, AP Weekly Features
Saturday September 29, 2001

White flowers and leaves are not the first things that come to mind when planning a colorful garden. Nonetheless, they can really spruce up a flower bed. 

White mixes well with all colors and makes for harmonious transitions between colors that would otherwise clash. Picture a mass of red zinnias next to some blue lobelias. Disturbing, isn’t it? Put an island of white, perhaps something soft such as baby’s breath, between the zinnias and lobelias and they peacefully coexist. Use the soft whites of flowers, or plants with grayish leaves, to harmonize a garden’s many hues. 

White not only pacifies clashes, it also adds zest to already bright colors. The flowers of rose campion are pink-magenta, but they sparkle even more brightly against the plant’s silvery-white leaves. The same goes for the white, woolly leaves of dusty miller, which highlight bright red geraniums or blue salvias. 

White flowers also are useful for cheering up dark areas. White alyssum can brighten up a somber row of yews, and night-blooming white flowers, such as moonflower and nicotiana, seem to glow through the night. 

Although white flowers are useful as complements in a garden, they can also stand on their own. The different textures and shapes offer infinite variety: dainty lilies-of-the-valley, sunny daisies, corpulent peonies, eerie angel’s trumpets, spires of hollyhocks and spidery cleomes. There is also a broad range of white shades: a beige lily, a yellowish-white marigold, a bluish-white anemone, a greenish-white hydrangea. 

The renowned British writer and gardener Vita Sackville-West (1892-1962) planted a garden of only white flowers at her Sissinghurst Castle garden. The overcast, misty climate of Sackville-West’s England puts an extra glow into white flowers. On this side of the Atlantic, however, bright and sunny afternoons often wash the life out of whites. Here, whites are reliably at their best in the soft light of morning or evening.