Long ago and far away, or less poetically but more accurately, in 1950 in Sissinghurst, England, Vita Sackville-West planted her White Garden.
I feel a special link to this lovely place through the six degrees of separation that supposedly link everyone in the world. My sister had an elderly friend, Jane Carrington, who was a niece of Dora Carrington the artist and member of the Bloomsbury Group in 19th century London. Another prominent member of the group was the writer and gardener Vita Sackville-West. So there it is in only four turns.
But that is beside the point, and not of any interest to anyone but me.
The topic today is the importance of white in the garden, and this seemed a good way to introduce it. The White Garden is a great tourist attraction and has been well maintained in the years since Vita and her husband, Sir Harold Nicholson, died.
One of the highlights of their garden is the Iceberg rose, classified as a floribunda. While they grow tall and strong at Sissinghurst, mine is straggly and subject to severe black spot. I think the English climate has something to do with it, as well as my rather erratic pruning.
There are many varieties of white roses which grace our gardens, including the beautiful Penelope. I am waiting for a white Knockout to complete my collection of these, the easiest to grow of shrub roses.
Limiting blossoms to white places emphasis on foliage, and gray as well as green becomes important. A number of white flowers have variegated leaves with white margins, or splotched with white or cream.
In this category, of course, the hostas shine.
Although we usually think of delphinium as blue, there are some white varieties with showy spires that make a striking display in mid-summer. The heavy blossom-laden stems need staking, and this is best done early, before flowering.
I dislike the appearance of straight sticks in the garden and have found the best supports are twigs and small branches pruned from trees and shrubs. These are readily available, and blend in the flower border beautifully.
Keep a watch on these stakes as summer progresses, as some twigs such as willow will root themselves easily and may be difficult to remove.
Artemesia lactiflora, or white mugwort, and goat's beard, are other tall beauties that will need staking as they grow and are good plants for the background. Other white perennials are peonies, lamium, astilbe and white cosmos.
Shasta daisies and marguerites are reliable and easy to grow, and there are white shrubs such as fothergilla, viburnum and oakleaf hydrangea if you want to go all the way.
The first white to appear in early spring will probably be the snowdrop.
In March, or even February in mild winters such as this one has been, they bloom close to the ground and only grow about 5 inches high. The bulbs are best planted in drifts and make an impact in clumps under deciduous trees or bushes.
White annuals are hard to find. I love white alyssum as a border around the front garden, and in containers on the front steps. It has a sweet fragrance and mixes well with lobelia in all shades from white to darkest blue.
Most of us will not attempt an entirely white garden, or even a border, but a few white flowers can light up a dark corner and provide an accent in a colorful medley of flowers.
Janet Del Turco is a local gardener and a graduate of the Ohio State University Master Gardener program. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.