How to Design a White Garden

Tips for Designing a White Flower Garden

The White Garden at Sissinghurst Castle
H & D Zielske/LOOK-foto/Getty Images

Ever the 1930s when the poet Vita Sackville-West opened her white garden at Sissinghurst Castle in the UK 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.

Options for Combining Whites and Colors

Most white flowers are not pure white; they 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 and makes the white more prominent. White can have a cooling effect when paired with other colors, but an all-white garden can easily become a glaring blur.

Avoid monotony in your white plants by using contrasting textures and forms, both in plant and flower shapes. 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 white variegated or silver or gray leaves. These have the effect of softening the glare.

The same tenets 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 huge and getting longer every year; below are listed some popular classic white or variegated plants, as a starting point.

Silver Foliage Plants for a White Garden

Many silver and gray foliage plants have fuzzy leaves that will provide a textural contrast to bright white flowers and create a backdrop that will make the white flowers even more eye-catching.

White Flowers for Edging Walkways

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. You can create a white walkway within or apart from an all-white garden.

Silver/Blue Needled Evergreens to Accent a White Garden

Silver evergreens can help fill the winter void until your white garden sparkles again under a summer moon. Options to consider include:

  • 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

Many of these plants are likely to do well in a white garden, depending on your geographical location. This list, however, is not exhaustive, so if you don't find a combination you like here, you can continue to explore options.

White Climbers

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