As I look out at the newly white fields, I cannot help but think about the white flowers that bloom in the spring. There are so many, from shrubs, tall perennials, and low blooming groundcovers. White flowers bring a cool serenity to the garden and they are visible after sunset in the gloaming.
Many of us have a desk or a favorite chair by a window where we read or do other close work like quilting. When we look up from our work the view out that window gives our eyes a chance to rest on the longer view and our mind is refreshed by the peacefulness of that view. Over recent years I have become very aware of the views from my windows which are large expansive views across broad fields, but I am beginning to think about smaller, more intimate views that may be framed by new windows.
Some people love white flowers so much that they create a White Garden composed of foliage and a collection of white flowers that will bloom from spring into the fall. Sissinghurst, Vita Sackville West’s White Garden in England is one of the world’s most famous gardens. But you don’t need a whole garden designed around white flowers. White flowers will happily bloom alone or in joyous community with other color.
If you want a white garden that will glow in the gloaming, it is best to choose plants, including shrubs, that have some substance. I have three white lilacs that bloom in mid-May. One is the hedge of nameless white lilacs that have been growing and blooming here at the end of the road for decades. I bought Beauty of Moscow with its fat pale pink buds that open into double white blossoms locally, and the third is Miss Ellen Willmott, named for the woman who created the great gardens at Warley Place, a gift from a friend.
Lilacs are familiar to everyone, but a more unusual spring blooming shrub is fothergilla which reaches a height of about three to four feet and produces bottle brush blossoms in early to mid-May, when the foliage is just beginning to appear. There is a fothergilla on the Bridge of Flowers and it never fails to attract the attention of visitors.
Another suggestion from the Bridge of Flowers might be the stark white double bloodroot, a low growing native plant that begins blooming at the end of April. The double bloodroot is most definitely a substantial flower that spreads in the shade and would be noticeable from some distance away. This looks like a delicate spring flower but it is very hardy.
As far as I am concerned peonies share a great deal with lilacs. Both are tough carefree perennials that are subject to few diseases or insects. They are very hardy and will thrive for generations with little care. Festiva Maxima is an old white variety with a few crimson flecks among the petals. It is fragrant, as tough as they come, and among the first peonies to bloom in late May or early June. Bowl of Cream is another fragrant older variety; like Festiva Maxima the heavy blossoms are eight inches across.
There are many white peonies, old and new, that bloom in early, mid and late seasons. One of the benefits of peonies is how handsome the foliage remains after bloom is finished. It stays clean and green and makes a good background for other flowers perennial or annual, you may wish to plant in front.
Of course, one cannot talk about spring bloomers without talking about bulbs. Mount Hood is a tall trumpet daffodil with creamy buds that open pure white. This is a daff that makes a definite statement. Weena is a daff of similar size, pristine white with a rolled rim trumpet. If you enjoy a bit of pink with your white daff, Pink Silk has a pale pink trumpet surrounded by white petals. Any daffodils should be planted in a generous group, or graceful waves.
All the plants that I have listed as spring bloomers have what I call substantial bloom that can be seen from a distance, from a house window or across a garden expanse. Still we do not want our gardens to bloom all in one note or one texture. There are more delicate whites that bloom as well. Snow Baby is a 4-8 inch pure white miniature trumpet daff that blooms very early in the spring. A clump of these would be lovely.
Cantabricus, from Brent and Becky, is even tinier than Snow Baby with white blossoms described as being megaphone shaped.
Brent and Becky’s Bulbs and OldHouseGardens are two companies that have excellent and varied bulb collections, offering fall planted and summer blooming bulbs.
I have a group of white Siberian irises planted around out old dug well. They are so dainty looking but they are extremely hardy and carefree, spreading freely. These were growing in front of the house when we bought it and so are nameless. Snow Queen is a tall, three to four foot Siberian iris that you might find in nurseries now. An extra benefit of Siberian irises is that they do not mind damp sites, although they do perfectly well where it is drier.
Dodecatheon meadia or shooting star is another delicate native perennial with sharply reflexed petals that always gets attention on the Bridge of Flowers in mid-May.
This is hardly a definitive list of white flowers, and yet I have only touched on white spring bloomers. There are so many other white flowers that I will continue with summer and fall bloomers next week.
Between the Rows January 31, 2015