Tag Archives: white flowers

Shades of white in the world of flower gardens

“The arums make the white of Persicaria polymorpha a very definite cream and highlight the problem I had with Sissinghurst of putting too many whites together in one space. White flowers always have something else in them, be it blue, pink, mauve or even brown, and these off-whites soon look grubby when they are shown up by the purity of something like Zantedeschia aethiopica. A cream rose such as Rosa ‘Nevada’ needs to be with the right partners, and, since it fades to pink, it is a shame for this ageing process to feel muddied by wrongly placed companions.”

Natural Selection, A Year in the Garden by Dan Pearson (2017)

I have been drafting a piece about contemporary white gardens for a publication, so my mind has been on white blooms. Yesterday, in the post-election hiatus and the gloom of a wet, grey day, I headed round the garden with my vintage flower basket to pick a selection of white and largely white flowers.

Ringing in my ears were Dan Pearson’s words above, even though I had read them so really they should have been flashing in front of my eyes – visible rather than audible, so to speak. I had not really got my head around the different shades of white before. Neither, I am sure, had the many women whom we used to describe as being of the Remuera genre back in the 1990s, but who would be known as “ladies who lunch” these days. These were the ones who were hellbent on putting in a white garden, à la Sissinghurst. They were numerous and, in our peak retail days, we met a fair number of them. I recall some for whom white flushed pink was out of the question. Candidates for their white garden had to be pure in hue. White and nothing else. I wish I had the Pearson quote back then. There are many, many plants that open from a pink bud to a white bloom.

Never did I hear any of these women getting their heads around the different shades of white. Nor indeed the role of cream and where creamy white becomes more cream than white. Let alone where cream crosses over to palest yellow. It is spring here, so we have a number of rhododendrons in flower. Of the maybe ten different white rhododendrons I picked, only one was what I would call pure white.

Is Narcissus ‘Thalia’ (on the left) acceptable in a white garden, though it is cream, not white? If ‘Thalia’ is acceptable, how about the narcissus with the pale lemon corona and white petals? And if that lemon corona is still okay, does this go across to ‘Beryl’ and other poeticus hybrids with white petals and small coronas which are somewhat stronger coloured and into the yellows and oranges? Where is the cut-off point? I tell you, this white garden business is fraught with problems and judgement calls.

Are green flowers permissible? If so, why not the white Moraea villosa with blue peacock eye markings or Lachenalia contaminata or Onixotis triquetra which are white with maroon markings? If the latter two are not acceptable, does that rule out the white rhododendron with maroon spotting. Is it not sufficiently pure? Is it okay for a white rhododendron to open from a soft pink bud? No? How about a soft lemon bud or one with a green cast?

I laid all the whites out to peruse and Mark walked into the room. All he wanted to do was to add yellow to lift the scene. I have never wanted a colour themed, pure white garden. It is just not our style and it is hard to stop it being a little flat, a little lacking in energy or pzazz. But if you want one, maybe start considering the importance of different shades and textures of white.

White is not always whiter than white and not all whites are the same. Detail matters and never more so than when you are taking on somebody else’s idea in your garden. Without that attention to detail, you will only ever have an inferior interpretation of the original but without the originality.

Postscript: Should I mention to overseas readers that the white arum lily, Zantedeschia aethiopica, can be found listed on every weed reference site in New Zealand, though I am not sure how widely it has been banned outright at this point? It is generally seen as a sign of poor land management to be growing it. Pure white it may be, valued it is not. It joins the giant gunneras and even the erigeron daisy as a botanical crime here.  

Be bold with colour. White is not always right.

My first ever video upload (two minutes of a mass of tui in a campanulata cherry tree) and notes on the magnolias in flower have just been posted on www.jury.co.nz (our garden website).

Winter colour on the mandarin tree - and food for tui

Winter colour on the mandarin tree – and food for tui

It was most refreshing this week to receive an email from a reader seeking recommendations on a suitable sasanqua camellia for a hedge. “Anything but white,” was her request. I liked her instantly. White flowered camellia hedges can indeed look pretty and fresh but have become such a cliché in this country (especially as nine out of ten white sasanqua hedges are Setsugekka). It is most unusual for someone to specify colour.

We have a curious obsession with white flowers in this country. Why is Iceberg still the biggest selling rose here? Probably followed by the white Margaret Merrill or Rose Flower Carpet White. They are good plants but are they much better than other coloured options? No, they are just white. According to the Rose Flower Carpet agents, the coloured ones are much more popular overseas and it is mostly NZ that prizes the white. My informant put this down to our mild climate here and the fact that we are never snowbound. “If you spend months of the year looking at a white landscape,” he said, “the last thing you want is a garden of white flowers.”

I think it is conservatism. For the same reason, the trend is to have a near absence of colour on interior walls of the house (usually off white because pure white can be too stark and clinical to live with). Too often we play it safe in the garden. The garden backdrop of green is, for some curious reason, perceived as colour neutral and into that we drop another neutral in the form of white flowers. Call it serene, restful, stylish and sophisticated if you wish. In the right hands and at its best, it is. In lesser hands, it can be bland and dull. But safe. You can always be confident that your garden will be perceived by some as being in good taste if you keep to white, maybe with just the occasional colour thrown in as a feature (but just one colour, mind).

Fewer try the monochromatic scheme in other colours – though it is of course bichromatic (is there such a word?) because they are all plus green. Sissinghurst has its purple border, Hidcote its red border and both are beautiful in full summer bloom, but in NZ we tend to keep to white.

You can never have too much blue in the garden - especially if it is meconopsis

You can never have too much blue in the garden – especially if it is meconopsis

My first ever colour managed garden was to be all pinks, blues and whites. It looked pretty, but flat. Mark stood looking and said, “You need a touch of yellow.” He was so right. These days that garden remains predominantly pink, blue and white but it is the lemon and cerise (the latter, a surprisingly common colour in flowers) that give it some zing. Hence my choice of the Gertrude Jekyll quote below. Pastel gardens tend to be very feminine but they can be a little too “pastelle”, bordering on bland unless you get it absolutely right.

If you are unsure, go back to the colour wheel. It is touches of the opposite colour that will provide contrast. So yellow will be highlighted by purple, red by green and blue by orange. It does work. That said, I think blue flowers and foliage fit in with everything and you can never have too much blue in a garden. There is no theory to back that one up so it is entirely my personal opinion.

Colour to brighten a gloomy day - Magnolia Vulcan

Colour to brighten a gloomy day – Magnolia Vulcan

On a wintery day, however, I don’t want pastels or unrelieved green. Give me colour. The mandarin trees are a bright spot on a gloomy day, especially when populated by tui sucking the juice from damaged fruit. Most of our early flowering magnolias are in strong colours and can lift the spirits wonderfully with their over the top displays. The early flowering campanulata cherries lean to bright candy pink and cerise colours which are certainly a startling colour combination with the bright gold narcissi in bloom. There is no subtlety in any of those but I am not going to trade them for refined white flowers instead.

There is nothing subtle about the bright yellow of early narcissus

There is nothing subtle about the bright yellow of early narcissus

First published in the Waikato Times and reproduced here with their permission.

Tikorangi Notes: Sunday 26 June, 2011

Latest Posts:

1) Growing citrus in the Taranaki garden – the first part of a random series drawing on our experience of growing fruit trees in the home garden here. With the abundance of tui in our garden, I did briefly ponder calling it the Tui Tikorangi Fruit Garden as a nod and a wink to the somewhat infamous publication from Penguin. Given that we also have a surprising and gratifying number of bellbirds or korimako in residence at the moment, Mark was of the opinion that I could instead draw on the common name for these songbirds – mockers. So, perhaps, The Mockers Tikorangi Fruit Garden. At least our advice is based on practical experience underpinned by some horticultural experience….

2) Meet Hedwhig the Morepork (our native owl, also called a ruru).

3) Tikorangi Diary – aka what we have been up to in the garden this week from pruning roses and wisteria to planting broad beans and peas with a bit more inbetween.

The lovely flowers of the early season michelias

The lovely flowers of the early season michelias

Tikorangi Diary: June 26, 2011

We New Zealanders have a love affair with white flowers. I was told that Rose Flower Carpet White is easily the biggest selling colour in this country but not internationally. My informant put this down to the fact that snow never settles here for long (except in alpine ski villages) and, indeed, most of the country never even sees snow. Winter white is a colour from a clothing catalogue, not the view from our windows. Which is by way of introducing two very different white flowered plants in bloom this week – the charming snowdrops (no snow, but growing here happily with cyclamen and lachenalias) and the white perfection of one of our early flowering michelias. One of the attributes of gardening in a soft climate such as ours is that we can have flowers for twelve months of the year in the garden. We tend to take it for granted until we see people gardening in much harsher climates. The corollary is that weeds and grass also keep growing all the time, but that is a small price to pay when mid-winter can still be brightened by the loveliest of blooms.

No snow, but we have plenty of snowdrops coming in to flower

No snow, but we have plenty of snowdrops coming in to flower