How to create a garden with a white palette
It’s a classic look that never falls out of favour, but there are a few techniques needed to create a great white palette garden.
This season is one of the best times of year to plant. In autumn, the soil is still warm, but the weather is cooler and generally wetter, helping plants to settle in nicely before the onset of winter.
If you’re planning a new garden or even just looking to update an established space, consider a white garden as your starting point. It has a universal appeal, easily lending itself to traditional, modern or cottage garden-style plantings.
“The simplicity of white gardens makes them very restful,” says Dee McQuillan, owner of Ivy & Bloom. “They’re also a clever way to make a small garden feel larger.” Often called a moon garden, its white flowers also stand out at night like a glowing beacon.
“The trick to creating a stunning white garden is to select plants that will give you interest throughout the year, not just for one season,” says Dee. “It’s also important to think about the form and shape of the various plants as these become more obvious when working within a monochromatic colour palette.”
Viburnum bushes with billowing white flower bunches, arranged near elegant and statuesque calla lilies, create variety and allow both to stand out distinctly. Tall, puffball-shaped agapanthus flowers catch the eye, while shorter, sophisticated white petunias provide warmth and cohesion.
“Choose different flower forms to provide texture and interest but place them carefully for maximum impact,” says Chris Prebble of Mosaic Design. “For example, smaller growing mophead hydrangeas at the front of a garden border work well against the spires of Digitalis (foxgloves) behind, set against a dark green hedge or black fence.”
Shades of white
The many shades of white available become apparent when planted side by side. Few flowers are solid white, the majority having a hint of another colour, or a yellow, green, brown or black centre. This can be used to your advantage. An overabundance of pure white plants can give the garden an unflattering glare.
“Too much white can be stark, so using plants with grey, silver or lime green foliage will soften the look while still emphasising the theme,” says Dee McQuillan. Also, “Don’t shy away from whites that have creamy yellow or blush undertones as this adds depth and interest to the flowers,” adds Chris Prebble.
Use a flower’s small differences and include other plants in the garden that highlight these attributes. For example, silver foliage is eye-catching when paired with cool white flowers. The frilly foliage of artemisia and the soft fuzziness of lamb’s ear (Stachys byzantina) also add good contrast.
“Silver foliage groundcovers such as snow-in-summer (Cerastium tomentosum), silverbush (Convolvulus cneorum) and rose campion (Lychnis coronaria) work beautifully in a white garden as they provide year-round foliage contrast when not in flower,” says Chris. Include white variegated plants for even more juxtaposition in the garden.
Add height and structure
“Use a feature tree for height with some structural planting such as hedges, shrubs or topiary that will hold their shape year-round,” says Dee. “Then use seasonal flowering plants – spring bulbs or summer annuals – as the filler to create that wow factor across the seasons. Climbing plants add vertical interest and make the garden planting seem full and abundant.”
Including planters creates an additional layer of contrast. Old washtubs and plain terracotta pots add dimension without stealing attention away from the white palette. “Add in some accessories to finish the look – a beautiful garden bench, perhaps, or some feature pots with pretty white annuals,” says Dee.
Any hardscaping design choices, such as gravel walkways or stone paths, should blend into the space and allow the white flowers to stand out. Light-coloured options are best, but not white, as that will give the garden a washed-out appearance.
Dark-coloured pergolas or outdoor furniture are fine, but should be used sparingly as they can draw attention away from the palette as the garden’s focal point.
If there’s brick or wood nearby, these can look great incorporated into a white palette. If the background doesn’t fit with the design, draw attention away from it. Planting tall, frilly white irises nearby, for example, can draw the eye away and maintain the focus on the garden itself.
Alternatively, use paint. “If you’re planting against a fence backdrop, you could either paint the fence black for a dramatic look that makes the plants pop, or a blue-toned grey for a softer, more romantic look,” suggests Dee.
Lead the way
“Guide your dinner guests to your front door by planting scented white flowers, such as gardenias or daphne (Daphne odora 'Alba'), which will glow in the evening light, along the edges of your pathway and in containers on either side of the door,” suggests Chris Prebble from Mosaic Design.
10 easy whites
Tall elegant spikes with two or three flushes per season (from mid-October through to June), peaking in December. In warmer areas, another flush of flowers often appears mid-June. Delphiniums last longer in cooler regions.
Look for the perennial type that blooms from spring to autumn. Once picked and dried, the flowers last forever.
Dipladenia (Mandevilla) ‘Jade White’
A small, prolific flowering perennial with evergreen leaves. Flowers for months. Frost tender.
Baby’s breath (Gypsophila elegans)
A hardy, easy-to-grow annual and a great filler. Likes the sun.
A hardy New Zealand native with small buxus-like leaves and a rounded habit. Showy white flowers in summer.
White Cosmos (Cosmos bipinnatus)
A prolific flowering annual with pure white blooms up to 130cm high. Deadhead flowers to promote continuous blooms.
An annual ground cover with a sweet fragrance. A mass of white flowers from early spring to late autumn.
Puawhananga (Clematis paniculata)
The showiest of our native clematis, with white blooms from spring to summer. A vigorous climber hardy to all parts of the country.
A semi-dwarf variety. Easy to grow, long flowering and hardy. Can be semi-deciduous in cool areas.
White iceberg rose
Comes in bush, standard or climbing forms to suit all garden situations. Flowers over many months and is disease resistant.
Find your flowers
Take a look at our wide range of plants and flowers and start planning your garden today.
Photography credit: Gap Photos, iStock, Getty Images, Stock Photo, iStock, Elke Borkowski, Anna Omiotek-Tott, Robert Mapic.