White Gardens

Tips for Designing a White Flower Garden

The White Garden at Sissinghurst Castle
The White Garden at Sissinghurst Castle shows that white and silver are used as focal points and accents, but not exclusively. H & D Zielske/LOOK-foto/Getty Images

Ever since Vita Sackville-West opened her white garden at Sissinghurst to visitors, gardeners have been taken with the idea of an all white design. There are certainly plenty of white flowers and plants to fill multiple gardens, but it can be a little tricky getting a combination you like. You never really notice how many shades of white there are until you start grouping them together. Fortunately, it's easier to pair flower colors than pulling together an all white outfit.

Most white flowers are not a pure white. They will have subtle shades of yellow, pink, green or blue. You will have to play with the plants and hold them next to each other, to really appreciate the differences. As you do, you'll discover what combinations work for you. There is no one way to create a white garden and more often than not, the addition of a secondary shade gives the garden dimension.

White can have a cooling effect, when paired with other colors, but an all white garden can become a glaring blur. Avoid monotony with contracting textures and forms, both in plant shapes and in flowers. For instance, tall, spiky, white iris with ruffled, white peonies or trumpet lilies, single-flowered white clematis and mop-head hydrangea. To break it up further, include plants with strong texture and plants with silver or gray leaves. These have the effect of softening the glare.

Silver foliage plants for a White Garden

  • Artemisia (Artemisia sp.)

White reflects light. That's why white flowers are favored in evening gardens. You can play up that feature by using low growing white flowers along walkways, particularly those paved in pale concrete or stone.

White Flowers for Edging

The same tenants of basic garden design apply to a design featuring white. You want varying heights, repetition of plants and shapes and some larger focal points. It's easy enough to fill out your white garden with tall plants, grasses, ground covers, seasonal blooms, and climbers. The list of white plants is too exhaustive to write here - and getting longer every year. I've listed some standards and some favorite white or variegated plants below, as a starting point.

One final thought to consider is winter interest. Silver evergreens can help fill the winter void, ​until your white garden sparkles again under a summer moon.

Silver/Blue Needled Evergreens

  • Weeping Blue Atlas Cedar - 10-15 ft. x 8-10 ft.; USDA Zones 6 - 8
  • 'Blue Star' Juniper - 2-3 ft. x 2-4 ft.; USDA Zones 4 - 8
  • 'Moonglow' Juniper - 12 ft. x 3 ft.; USDA Zones 3 - 7
  • Bruns Weeping Serbian Spruce - 15-30 ft. x 4-8 ft.;USDA Zones 4 - 8
  • Spruce 'Sester Dwarf' - 6-8 ft. x 2-3 ft.; USDA Zones 3 - 8

White Flowers and Foliage

White Climbers

  • Chinese Wisteria 'Alba' (Wisteria sinensis 'Alba')
  • Clematis armandii
  • Clematis montana
  • Climbing hydrangea (Hydrangea petiolaris)
  • Confederate/Star jasmine (Trachelospermum jasminoides)
  • Moonflower (Ipomoea violacea)

White Variegated Perennials

  • Bear's Britches 'Tasmanian Angel' (Acanthus mollis) USDA Zones 6 - 8
  • Cranesbill Geranium ‘Variegatum’ (Geranium macrorrhizum) Zones 4-–8
  • Hosta 'Patriot' USDA Zones 3 - 9
  • Iris pallida 'Variegata' USDA Zones 3 - 9
  • Jacob's Ladder 'Brise d'Anjou' (Polemonium caeruleum) USDA Zones 4 - 8
  • Sedum 'Frosty Morn' sedum (Sedum alboroseum), Zones 6-–9
  • Siberian Bugloss 'Jack Frost' (Brunnera macrophylla) USDA Zones 3 - 9
  • Solomon's Seal 'Variegatum' (Polygonatum odoratum) USDA Zones 3 - 8
  • Spotted Deadnettle (Lamium maculatum 'Pink chablis') USDA Zones 4 - 8
  • Variegated Lilyturf (Liriope muscari 'Variegata') USDA 6 - 10

White Variegated Shrubs

  • Daphne 'Summer Ice' (Daphne × transatlantica 'Summer Ice') - 3-6 ft. x 3-6 ft.; USDA Zones 6 - 9
  • Hydrangea macrophylla 'Variegata' - 3-6 ft. x 3-6 ft.; USDA Zones 5 - 9
  • Variegated Elderberry (Sambucus nigra 'Marginata') - 15-30 ft. x 15-30 ft.; USDA Zones 5 - 8
  • Variegated Red Twig Dogwood (Cornus alba 'Elegantissima') - 6-8 ft. x 2-4 ft.; USDA Zones 2 - 8
  • Variegated Willow (Salix integra 'Hakuro-nishiki') - 3-6 ft. x 3-6 ft.; USDA Zones 5 - 7

White Flowers for the Border