Using white flowers in the garden


My garden has been on a few different garden tours this past month which, despite the work involved in getting everything cleaned up, is always a fantastic opportunity to see my garden through others’ eyes.  Its always interesting to see which plants are a hit, and which ones seem to go unnoticed, and I’m often surprised with the results.

While I tend to think of my garden as colorful (sometimes a bit too much?) it was surprising to hear from more than just a few visitors that they liked my use of white in the garden.  Hmmm. White?  Not my fiery red and white ‘Fourth of July’ rose?  Not the deep maroon foliage of my Eupatorium ‘Chocolate’? Just regular ‘ol white?

I hadn’t really thought too much about it, but seeing my Philadelphus in full bloom (otherwise known as ‘Mock Orange’ which, by the way, shares the same common name with several other plants) I can see why everyone’s attention was focused on white.  Don’t get me wrong – I love the color and use it often.  But I clearly forgot it’s impact in the garden, able to hold its own against other more colorful neighbors.  So I thought I’d  take a step back from all the color, and focus a bit on white, and how I like to use it in the garden.



1.  Brighten up a shady spot

Philadelphus lewesii

If you happen to have a shady garden you’re probably all too familiar with the challenge of having it look bright and colorful versus dark and shadowy.  White, yellow and chartreuse plants are my go-to solutions for adding that critical pop of color.  Philadelphus are some of my favorite shrubs as they’re happy in both the sun as well as the shade.

In this shady corner of my garden you’ll notice there are several sources of white, coming not only from the flowers of the California native Philadelphus lewesii, but also from the blooms of neighboring Star Jasmine and Nandina.

Star JasmineNandina


2.  Break up the ‘sea of green’ effect

Euphorbia 'Glacier Blue'White flowers and foliage can add a welcome break from the common ‘sea of green’ effect of planting too many shrubs of the same color within close proximity.  Set against the dark green backdrop, the color seems to wave the proverbial white flag for all to see (yes, pun intended).

In this corner of my garden, despite the colorful flowers and berries from the Cestrum newlii, it’s the variegated foliage and creamy white flowers of the Euphorbia ‘Glacier Blue’ that steal the show.GreenBar

3.  Illuminate your garden

Salix integra Hakuro Nishiki copyWhen lit from behind from either the morning or afternoon sun, a shrub’s white flowers and foliage seems lit from within.

This is a spectacular effect in the garden resulting in ‘oohs’ and ‘aahs’ from all who are lucky enough to see it.GreenBarPhiladelphus 'Belle Etoile' This is the ‘Belle Etoile’ variety of Philadelphus, and is one of my Top 10 favorite shrubs.

Not only is it breathtaking backlit by the setting sun, but the center of each bloom is ringed with a soft dusky rose color.

And the profuse blooms smell exactly like Sweethearts candy.  In fact, when the neighborhood kids were young I would hold a sprig under their nose and ask them to identify the smell.  It would take them an average of two seconds to figure it out.GreenBar

3.  Add a touch of elegance

Lecia Davis's gardenLinda Allard's garden


GreenBarWhether a garden’s design is formal or casual by limiting the colors to green and white, the elegance factor will skyrocket upwards.  Personally, I could never stick to such a tight color palette in my own garden, but having designed gardens for others where the colors are restricted to green, white and chartreuse (with, perhaps, a bit of blue thrown in) I’ve seen first-hand what a serene and elegant combination this can be.  The effect is restrained, lush and refreshing – especially appreciated on a hot summer’s day.GreenBar

4.  Favorite white flowers in my garden

Having given more thought to the color white has reminded me why I appreciate it so much in my own garden.  Here are some of my personal favorites blooming away right now (hover your cursor over the photo to see the name)

Japanese Snowbell TreeFucshia 'Hawkhead' GreenBaroakleaf hydrangea 'Sikes Dwarf'Sweetspire 'Little Henry' GreenBarEvergreen Clematis 'Avalanche'Viburnum plicatum tomentosum 'Summer Snowflake' 2 copyGreenBarStar Jasmine (Trachelospermum jasminoides)Eupatorium rugosum 'Chocolate' copyZephranthes candida 'Alba'Carpenteria californica (Bush Anemone) GreenBar

I realize I’ve barely scratched the surface here, so I’m curious – what are some of your favorite white flowers?


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    • I just looked up serviceberry, Gina, and I love how it says ‘sun or shade’….’dry or moist’. Seems like an easy going plant, indeed – my favorite kind! 🙂

  • A very good post, thank you. I like ‘Iceberg’ rose which is so effortless here, and the ‘Shooting Stars’ Hydrangea. White really draws the eye.

    • I agree, Hoov – there’s something so simple and elegant about the white Iceberg roses, isn’t there? They’re always a hit and one of my favorite to plant in the garden.

    • It’s funny you mention Veronicastrum, Kathleen, as just yesterday I was at the nursery and was stopped in my tracks at some of the most beautiful ones I’ve ever seen!

  • The only white flower I can think of in my garden is potato vine (Solanum jasminoides). But I have a lot of white variegated and silver foliage, which I use to break up the sea of green too.

    • I love potato vine, Pam – especially when its green and lush and not having a ‘bad hair day’ like many seem to have out here! I don’t know what it is about those vines. Sometimes they’ll be lush and gorgeous and then the one next to it is wiry and stringy. How often do you prune yours??

      • Never, Rebecca. I almost never water it either (mine is in a lot of shade, so it survives), and the result is a lot of bad-hair days. But I still love those parachute flowers.

        • I didn’t know they could take a lot of shade – good to know, Pam!

  • Whenever I think of white, I think of my grandparents’ yard. Spring was beautiful there. Bridal bouquet flanked the front entrance and all the fruit trees had white blossoms. She also had white peonies that bloomed a little while later.

    • I’m not familiar with the Bridal bouquet, Diane – is it a variety of spirea? Or something else….intriguing, no doubt!!

  • Hydrandea’s Oak leaf and other white flowering varieties, caladiums and ditto on the citrus. I have a lemon and miniature orange that smells like heaven. Gardenias.

    • I’ve planted caladiums for the first time this year, Brenda, and after waiting for what seems an eternity am thrilled to see little shoots poking up through the ground. I’m really looking forward to the white ones!

  • I have a shady garden and I too love white and have a succession of plants that deliver. Most of mine are classics – dogwood, azalea, rhodys, mountain laurel, bridalveil spirea, summersweet, astilbe, clematis, leucothoe, pieris and my fave – peonies. This year’s standout though, was the doublefile viburnum which looked amazing. Love your garden pix. Very inspirational.

    • Thanks for the compliment, Rosemary. Your shady garden sounds gorgeous and I bet it’s breathtaking in the early evening with all of those beautiful white flowers! I love peonies, too, but unfortunately we can’t really grow them since its not cold enough. When people do try they usually gravitate towards the deep magenta colors – I must admit, I haven’t seen many white ones. I’d love to see yours…I bet they’re simply stunning against the dark green leaves!

  • Do you have a favorite climbing white flower? We built a pergola last year, and I’m looking for something to give it year-round appeal. We live in coastal North Carolina, zone 8a. Thanks!

    • Hi Heather – I do have an evergreen white flowered vine to recommend. It’s pandorea ‘Lady Di’ and if mine were blooming right now I would’ve taken a photo. It’s just about to start kicking out its beautiful snowy-white blooms that will last for many weeks at a time. And this vine also does quite well in partial shade, too.

  • White flowers are some of my favorites. I love the ‘Belle Etoile’ Philadelphus, but I think my favorite mock orange of them all is Philadelphus mexicana ‘Double Flowered Form’, because the fragrance is so heady, like Gardenia and Arabian Jasmine. Citrus blossoms, for their profusion, and the fragrance. Romneya coulteri, I love their height and how the flowers bob around in the breeze. Tanacetum niveum, for the millions of flowers it pumps out, it is a hard sight to miss! Just about any white flower with fragrance really!

    • Oooh, good to know about the Phil. mexicana, Max – thanks! I’ve never seen (or smelled) one of them and will now add it to my ‘must find’ list. And I’m not sure how I could’ve left out citrus blooms – they’re my very favorite scent of all. Thanks!


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