Last weekend my cousin Jay married the beautiful Juliet in a white garden designed by Robin Kramer, the owner of the house where the wedding took place. A summer wedding could ask no more beautiful setting than a white garden such as this.
White gardens seem to have a place all their own in garden literature. I suppose one reason is that there are so many flowers, shrubs, vines and trees that bloom in shades of white that limiting oneself to a white palette is easy to do, while still incorporating a wide variety of plants.
Robin Kramer looked at her difficult site with its steep slopes and dramatic huge boulders and chose to limit her white palette. At this time of the year Annabelle hydrangeas, white with a slightly greenish cast, were the stars.
Annabelles lined the steep stone and gravel stairway that led guests from the Forecourt where the ceremony itself was held, up to a grassy walk. On one side of the walk enormous boulders loomed behind more Annabelles interspersed with white physostegia (obedient plant). The ladylike abandon of the hydrangeas and airy effect of the physostegia were held in check by the low trimmed boxwood hedges.
On the other side of the walk was another boxwood hedge that kept guests from tumbling down the steeply terraced hill that ended at the stone piazza where guests could visit in sun or shade. The terraced hill held still more Annabelles.
Kramer said her aim was to create hospitable spaces for people to enter and enjoy. Her skill showed in the way the piazza welcomed the 130 wedding guests, but it was not a large public space. It also allowed for intimate family gatherings of four. She said she felt strongly that “gardens are about connections”. Those connections begin with childhood memories and extend into the present, the connections shared by family and friends.
While Annabelle stars in the summer, Kramer’s white garden begins in the spring with a mass planting of white tulips, then white alliums, followed by white peonies, and finally the hydrangeas that will be attractive into the all. All of these perennial and long lived plants are in place on the terraced slope and need little maintenance over the season.
While I did not get to question Kramer about her maintenance schedule we can take as given the necessity for deadheading plants when they are done blooming. If it were my garden I would also add a top dressing of compost every autumn.
Not all of us would want to devote our whole garden to white flowers. Vita Sackville West, the famous British gardener and friend of Virginia Woolf, described her own white garden as essentially a large bed. It was partially enclosed and clearly delineated.
In a January 1950 column she wrote for The Observer she described her plan for what she described as a grey, green and white garden. She hoped for success in this experiment but said, “ One’s best ideas seldom play up in practice to one’s expectations, especially in gardening, where everything looks so well on paper and in the catalogues, but fails so lamentably in fulfilment after you have tucked your plans into the soil. Still, one hopes.”
She goes on to describe her vision, “. . . I hope you will survey a low sea of grey clumps of foliage, pierced here and there with tall white flowers. I visualize the white trumpets of dozens of Regale lilies . . coming up through the grey of southernwood and artemisia and cotton-lavender, with grey-and-white edging plants such as Dianthus Mrs. Sinkins and the silvery mats of Stachys Lanata, more familiar and so much nicer under its English names of Rabbits’ Ears or Saviour’s Flannel. There will be white pansies, and white peonies, and white irises with their grey leaves… at least, I hope there will be all these things.”
When I visited this garden many years ago, I also remember a climbing white rose. Gardens rarely turn out exactly as we plan them, and always change over time.
In her book Theme Gardens gardener and author Barbara Damrosch describes a Moon Garden. I cannot find my copy, but as I recall she suggested a crescent moon shaped bed that included a moonflower vine. This beautiful vine is similar to the morning glory in form, and in habit, except that in blooms at night.
The plants she chose were similar to Sackville-West’s but with the addition of annuals like cosmos and white chrysanthemums.
I can think of many flowers that have white forms, astilbe, anemones, veronica, phlox and shasta daisies.
I think Damrosch was aware that white gardens, or moon shaped beds of white flowers come into their own at dusk, as the darkness falls. In the gloaming and by moonlight white flowers can shimmer and glow romantically in the summer night.
None of these three women mention the ease of planning a single color garden, but for me, who has trouble working with colors, the idea of a white garden has great appeal. The white garden might be a stepping stone to a two color garden – blue and white, or pink/red and white. Or I can remain happy with my crazy quilt.
Gardens of every color feed the soul, but bellies need feeding too. The Belly Bus has come and gone from the Greenfield Common, but we all still have a chance to donate surplus produce to local food pantries and meal sites. For a complete list of these log on to the Hunger Task Force’s website www.plantarowwmass.blogspot.com.
August 15, 2009 Between the Rows