Designing a White Garden

//Designing a White Garden

Since publishing my article in the April Edition on John Brookes, he has died on the 16th March. I was lucky enough to interview him and meet this pioneer of garden design. His garden at Denmans is now run by a trust and will be opening in June.

Creating a White Garden

In the 1930’s Vita Sackville-West began to renovate the gardens at Sissinghurst Castle. She became famous for her newspaper columns on what was possible to do with plants and different spaces. She created many outdoor ‘rooms’ in her own garden, including The White Garden’. This has inspired designers ever since.

Small is Beautiful

You don’t have to have a huge space to create a white garden. The impact will be powerful enough. It can simply consist of a border along the house or a path. If you have a larger garden with deep beds a white garden will be a complete show stopper. It is especially striking if the area has a little shade where the bright white blooms can light up the space.


White comes into its own in contrast with darker toned foliage plants. The classic foil for delicate white flowers is Yew hedging. This well knitted, intense dark green is a strong backdrop and retains its form in the Winter. Recently we used 6 foot cylindrical Yew columns rhythmically spaced along a deep border and used white Rosa rugosa to flow around them with their great blousy rose blooms. The contract in tone and shape really caught the eye.

Other plants to use for tone are the Spruces like Weeping Blue Atlas Cedar, Blue Star Juniper and Moonglow Juniper. Viburnum can act both as a dark tonal plant as well as itself having white flowers. Box and Ilex crenata can be used for hedging as well as dark purple foliage plants like the beautiful Anthriscus “Ravenswing”. This last plant can be used to weave amongst other plants and create a frothy plume of white in the Summer.

Cool v Warm

There are different shades of white and to make things simple you could look at them in terms of cool whites that have echoes of blue and silver in them, and warm whites which have a more creamy yellow hue. Eg the warm ever so slight apricot centre of Rosa Claire Austin compared to the bright, titanium white of Rosa Queen of Sweden.

On the cooler side we have the Sea Hollies, especially Miss Willmot’s Ghost, Weeping Silver Pear and Dianthus Mrs Sinkins. This is a good opportunity here to include the silver foliage plants that can compliment the cooler whites: Artermis Powis Castle, Costa Royal Standard, Lychnis Alba and of course Lamb’s Ear.

Flowers and foliage for the warmer palate can include: Hydrangea “Annabelle”, Peony ‘Chedder Gold”, Ammi visage, Fennel, the creamy range of Foxgloves like ‘Dalmation’s Cream’ and warmer olive greens can be used as a backdrop like Hornbeam and Beech.


Jasmine offinalis, Wysteria Alba and night scented white Stocks will give you lot of Summer fragrance.

Shape and texture.

Just because you are limiting your colour scheme doesn’t mean you don’t have access to a range of wonderful perennial shapes. As I have discussed in previous articles a perennial border works best if you include a range of shapes. For example, an interesting design might include the white horizontal platelets of Achillea millifolium , the tall spires of Delphiniums, the Japanese Iris ‘The White Swan’ and the perfect globes of Allium Mt Everest with a few foxgloves and some fat leaved white flowering Hostas to complete the picture.

Specific plants


Birch trees, esp Betula jacquemontii obviously look splendid and white as snow but in most gardens they grow to unmanageable heights.


Lots to choose from here- Hydrangea Bombshell, Daphne Summer Ice, Philadelphus, Rosa rugosa ‘Alba’ and Smabucus marginata.


The title of queen of the white climbers goes to Wysteria Alba. Climbing Hydrangea and Trachelospurmum jasmnoide are two great sturdy plants especially for a north wall, with large climbers like Clematis armando and Clematis montana great for a long fence or shed that needs hiding.

Some lovely perennials

Try Aquilegia ‘Tower White’, Phlox ‘David’, Leucanthemum ‘Summer Snowball’ and Salvia ‘Summer Jewel White’ and just like Anthriscus ‘Ravenswing’, Selenium can be used as a plant that weaves and binds the rest of the planting together with its delicate Cow Parsley effects.


As well as Snowdrops and white Crocus, white Tulips and Hyacinths can be planted randomly in the bed as well as the robust Agapantha ‘White Heaven’.

Other colours.

Just because you are creating a white border doesn’t mean you have an absence of other colours. Already we have talked about the different whites that can be used and the different shades of green. Small additions of red, pink, purple or even orange can make the whites appear even whiter and fresher.

Where to visit in May

Make a visit to Sissinghurst. You will need a whole day as there are lots of places to sit and reflect. It is a beautifully thought out and intimate space with many memorable and unique spaces. There is also a good quality cafe and temporary exhibitions.

What to do in your garden in May

There is an old gardener’s adage that ‘ one looses the gardens in May’.

There is so much to do.

Annual flowers and other frost sensitive plants like vegetable plugs- tomatoes, runner beans, peppers, aubergines and chillies – can be bought and planted now if you didn’t have the opportunity to grow them indoors this year.

Feed and mow lawns

Water any new plants and fertilise and water pot plants

If Penstemons show lots of new basal growth prune them back to the fresh green shoots

Thin out the Clematis that have already flowered this year.

Hoe weeds to save you having to get on your hands and knees – little and often

By |2019-03-05T04:14:02+00:00March 5th, 2019|Articles|Comments Off on Designing a White Garden

About the Author:

In 2006 I formed Glorious Gardens, gathering together skilled practitioners to offer not just design but implementation of these designs and maintenance packages where we could look after the gardens once we had created them. Throughout my career I have designed gardens to inspire people with the heart aching beauty of nature, with shapes, colours, moods and proportions to pleasure the body and calm and delight the mind. I am also an artist who works with colour and abstract shapes and I bring this sensitivity to the 4 dimensions of a garden. I am very good at listening to clients and I’m able to draw out the essence of what a client wants for their outdoor space.