I am the first to admit that my garden
is not meticulously planned. The broad outlines and color
themes are established, but I do not usually draw up complicated
planting diagrams. This is partly due to laziness, and partly
due to the fact that my garden is an evolving entity. I know
myself and therefore like to allow room for random plant purchases,
love affairs (however short) with specific cultivars, and
plant sales that are too good to pass up. Needless to say,
it takes lots of white flowers to help tie things together.
Horticultural fashion mavens and writers of catalog prose
have decreed this “The Year of the Daisy”. Certainly there
are lots of white flowers with daisy-like blossoms. Shasta
daisies and white cosmos come to mind immediately, and I always
use them both. I have to–I have established clumps of Shastas
that multiply like rabbits.
But this year I find myself drawn to a slightly different
flower form. The pointed petals of the daisies and their relatives
seem less appealing than the looser, more rounded petals of
poppies and similarly configured blossoms. White single flowers
of this type are lush without being ostentatious and simple
without being boring. They float on the spring and summer
breezes like white handkerchiefs, and mix well in bouquets.
As my catalog orders go out and my credit card balances go
up, I am laying in a supply of various poppy-like cultivars
for three seasons of interest.
In the first season that I tended my former garden I
installed a couple of specimens of wood anemone (Anemone sylvestris).
Eight years later, I had at least one hundred plants. Wood
anemones are white, and rise on slender stems, flourishing
to the points of invasiveness, even in partial shade. They
bloom in May and often repeat in the fall. In my experience,
they don’t last long after they have been cut, but if you
don’t mind their ephemeral nature, they make lovely nosegays.
If you want to take a break from big blowsy roses and
peonies, there are several white, single-flowered varieties
within each genus. ‘Krinkled White’ is a huge showy peony,
with crepe-like petals and a large boss of golden stamens
in the center. A bouquet of ‘Krinkled White’ in a clear glass
vase has real dramatic impact, whether your décor is
English chintz or starkly modern.
There are certain times and places where nothing works as
well as rugosa roses At the shore, the pink single ones grow
prolifically by the dunes. White rugosas, such as Rosa rugosa
alba, tolerate absolutely terrible soil as long as they have
ample sunshine. The rugosas’ stems are unbearably thorny,
but the blossoms’ spicy scent is worth the hazard. All rugosas
produce large orange hips in the fall. It’s a double blessing
to have a plant that provides both cool respites on hot summer
days and warm accents when the weather turns cool.
Another intensely fragrant white rose with a “nearly single”
petal array is Rosa alba semi-plena. This alba rose also has
impressive golden stamens. In Eastern Europe the petals are
used in perfume making.
If there is a dry sunny spot somewhere on your property,
or you are looking for something to grow in a large pot in
full sun, try potentilla. These shrubby plants most often
appear garbed in yellow flowers, but there is a white form,
Potentilla alba ‘Snow White’. These are smallish plants, only
6-inches tall and 12-inches wide that sport sharply dissected
gray-green foliage. Potentilla doesn’t really care for high
humidity, but if it is happy it will flower repeatedly throughout
the summer. If you have a rock garden, potentilla is a wonderful
plant to include in your plans.
Summer would not be summer without the various members of
the mallow family and their look-alike cousins of the hibiscus
clan. My favorite is Malva moschata ‘Alba’, which has white
hollyhock-like flowers atop 24-36-inch stems. They are not
as statuesque as true hollyhocks, but fill the middle of a
mixed border admirably. They also have the hollyhock’s promiscuous
tendency to self-seed. This is not a problem in my garden,
but you can remedy the situation by removing the seed heads
before they ripen.
Summer is also the time for poppies. In the last few
years, Eschscholzia californica ‘White Linen’, a new creamy
white California poppy cultivar, has appeared in the catalogs.
These annuals have delicate flowers, and the typical ferny
grayish foliage of many poppies and poppy relatives. ‘White
Linen’ plants appear rather spindly and frail, but sprinkled
among their orange flowered kin, they make a nice counterpoint.
Fall brings other members of the anemone family to provide
a cool antedote to all those dark reds, golds and bronzes.
Japanese anemones such as ‘Honorine Joubert’ and Anemone x
hybrida ‘Alba’ stand out amidst the asters and mums.
Most of us can never aspire to be like Vita Sackville-West,
the English aristocrat celebrated for her horticultural writing,
idiosyncratic lifestyle and all-white garden. But all of us
can walk briefly in her sensible garden shoes by cultivating
a few single white blossoms to add notes of brightness to