White In The Garden
"Are you pondering what I am pondering?"
This is exactly what my 6-year-old son asked me recently, and I have been pondering
his question ever since. At the time I was standing in the kitchen staring out
a dark window. I could barely see a thing, but my thoughts had quickly drifted
to the garden when he reminded me, oh so eloquently, that I should be concentrating
on helping with homework.
Perhaps a few snowflakes diverted my attention, I
am not sure, but I have been thinking about white in the garden ever since. This
incredibly strong color can be beautiful, but in a small garden a little goes
a long way. Too much white can be distracting, diverting your attention away from
the total beauty. I prefer to use it strategically as a bright accent point. If
you have a large garden you can get away with using a lot more white. You may
even have the space to put in a white garden, which is quite stunning to walk
through in the moonlight.
As you start to look around for plants with white
flowers you will find a lot to choose from, including annuals, perennials, trees,
shrubs, and even vines. I like to choose plants with white flowers where the petals
drop cleanly just as the bloom is finished. White petals that hang on after blooming,
like those on the butterfly bush, can appear dirty or unkempt in the garden.
I would encourage you to search out something
a little more unusual. One of my favorites, and certainly the most difficult
to find, would be the ‘Silver Fountain’ serviceberry, Amelanchier arborea.
This plant with its unusual weeping form was a selection by Kentucky plantsman
Theodore Klein. The flowers are borne in early April and are quite delicate.
Typical serviceberries have stunning consistent yellow-to-orange fall color.
Something a little easier to find might be Cornus
kousa, kousa dogwood. Its white flowers are borne in late May, unlike Cornus
florida, flowering dogwood, which blooms in April. It is also more disease-
, drought- , and heat-resistant than C. florida. This small tree can
grow quite wide with age, generally as wide as it is tall, ranging anywhere
from 15 to 25 feet depending upon location. Several excellent cultivars are
available, such as Milky Way, as well as several new hybrids, such as Aurora
There are so many great white flowering trees it
is hard to narrow it down, but I would like to mention one more, Magnolia
x loebneri ‘Spring Snow.’ This large 25- to 30-foot magnolia has fragrant
pure-white flowers. It blooms slightly later, in late April, helping it to escape
a heavy frost that could destroy the bloom show.
For shrubby plants with white flowers my list
is even longer, but Fothergilla gardenii, Dwarf Fothergilla, is still
at the top. Blooming in April just as the leaves begin to unfurl, the showy
parts of this flower are not petals at all but are the stamens, which bear the
pollen, making them look like tiny bottlebrushes. Fothergilla grows slowly to
a height of 3 to 4 feet tall and prefers acidic soils. It’s a great plant for
that sunny spot where you need something small.
Second on my list and also easily found is Clethra
alnifolia, Summersweet Clethra. This upright plant grows 4 to 6 feet tall
and almost as wide. The fragrant white spikes are borne in July to early August
in our area. This is a great plant for a wet site and will grow equally well
in sun or shade, but blooms best with a little more sun.
Each day I sit down at my computer at home located
near three windows so that I may look out into my garden as I work and write.
I sit and ponder about my love for plants and gardening, wondering how it could
distract me, if only for a few seconds, from my children. I was born to be a
gardener-from that first earthworm I discovered and held so proudly until now.
My window, I realize, allows me to watch my children grow, as well as my garden,
and it helps me grow along with them.