The White Garden in June

Monday, June 22, 2015 - by Timothy Fraser

We are now approaching mid-summer and the White Garden is beginning to reveal its delights.


The hybrid musk rose Moonlight normally flowers until Christmas in the White Garden.

The ambience of this garden is best appreciated on a dewy, misty early morning, a dull day when grey clouds are hanging above or, best of all, approaching dusk when the light thickens and the whites truly become pronounced.

Of all our garden rooms, this is the smallest. Yet, by employing a few clever garden design tricks, it deceives the eye and convinces the observer into believing that it is much larger.

Creamy filaments of meadow rue - thalictrum aquilegiifolium

Creamy filaments of meadow rue - thalictrum aquilegiifolium

The most important and influential colour in the White Garden is, curiously, green; followed by grey/silver. Indeed, large areas of the planting contain no white flowers at all.

The success of the design depends on texture of foliage and form, much of which is confined by formal box hedging. This, together with the tall hedges that form the exterior ‘walls’ of the room, gives it a great sense of enclosure and the resulting illusion of being bigger. Without these design elements, the White Garden would just be a collection of white flowering plants with no sense of harmony or fellowship.

A corner of the White Garden in June

White is the most difficult of colours to work in a garden. No two whites are alike. If pure white is placed next to off-white, the latter will almost always just look dirty, or even aged and yellow. To avoid this, the different whites need to be separated by green, grey or silver foliage.

thalictrum aquilegiifolium album with ox-eyed daisies and scented phlox diffused in the background

thalictrum aquilegiifolium album with ox-eyed daises and scented phlox diffused in the background

White form of valeriana

White form of valeriana

Consequently, in our White Garden, we have employed the use of abrupt and stark contrast - of foliage and of flower shape, size and type. These design principles are the antithesis of those applied in the Rose Garden, where planting is amorphous and consciously avoids obvious contrast, in order to enhance the care-free, romantic and overblown feel.

In the White Garden, there is no distraction of colour – every minute attribute is more easily perceived, contrasts between foliage and floret emphasise each individually.

astrantia major combining both green and white into its flowers

astrantia major combining both green and white into its flowers

Removing the distraction of colour allows, for instance, daisy-like flowers and spine-type flowers to each be spotlighted in their own right, as oppose to competing with each other.

 rosa 'Iceberg' after a light summer shower with silver pear tree pyrus salicifolia pendula 

rosa 'Iceberg' after a light summer shower with silver pear tree pyrus salicifolia pendula

rosa Iceberg reaching towards grey skies after a light shower

rosa Iceberg reaching towards grey skies after a light shower

Rosa ‘Iceberg’ and Rosa ‘Glamis Castle’ were the varieties chosen to be planted in the parterre of the White Garden. Within such a small garden, roses with a longer flowering period were always going to be a more valuable attribute. So regrettably, historic white roses, because of their shorter flowering period, have had to take a position on the substitutes’ bench.

rosa 'Glamis Castle'

rosa Glamis Castle

Creamy rosa 'Glamis Castle' following a light summer shower

Creamy rosa Glamis Castle following a light summer shower

Rosa ‘Iceberg’ is a floribunda rose and is not pruned in the traditional way, but left to grow as a shrub, with only dead and diseased wood being removed in the winter. A generous dose of compost in the winter and regular spraying with RoseClear will ensure superlative blooms throughout the summer and to the end of autumn.

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