Home & Design

Green Acre #62: The White Garden

This house in Washington DC has captured the magic of the white garden. / Photo by Stephanie Cavanaugh.

I KNOW I SAID I’d write more about pools this week, but it’s too hot. Join a pool. Fill a copper horse trough and splash about. Run through a sprinkler. Think cool thoughts. A white garden helps with that.

If you’re otherwise occupied during summer days when the flowers bloom,  and as often as not away on weekends or busy being air conditioned, a white garden brings magic to the night.

A few blocks from me on Capitol Hill in Washington DC is a small frame house, painted white, with black shutters and a red door, very country in the city. A long brick path leads from the front gate, wandering through a border that only flowers white, from early spring through fall.

The mix of blossoms is simple enough: The early peonies are met by great sprays of white clematis with faces the size of salad plates; these tumble together with repeat-blooming white roses over the black wrought-iron fencing, then frolic their

Vigorous vines of clematis can easily wend their way around the garden so as to interact with other white blossoms. / Photo by Stephanie Cavanaugh.

way through the border greenery, with dusty miller providing a silvery accent.

Pots of white impatiens stationed along the walk can be moved here and there to fill in the inevitable gaps left by a summer vacation.

A helpful sign is posted on the gate, explaining what you’re plainly seeing but, given the oven-like heat, may not have the mental energy to comprehend:

“The white garden is an informal gardening style that is similar in design to the English cottage garden. The open and informal design creates associations with romance, peace and elegance. The white flowers are mildly and densely spread throughout the garden’s green areas, creating a luminescent sight that is especially powerful in the twilight.”

In this case, twilight is prolonged by the soft glow from the lamp posts along the sidewalk, the flittering of fireflies, and the twinkle of little white lights in the red-leaf maple beside the front door, which frills above the patio table and chairs.

Beyond brilliant, white flowers can be fabulously, devastatingly, decadently perfumed, and usually most powerfully scented in the evening or at dawn, just when you’re around to enjoy them. Consider jasmine and lilies, honeysuckle, moonflowers and nicotiana, orange and lemon and grapefruit (if you have a sunny spot to winter them over)—all are white, or available in white.

One could pass out from such a cacophony of scent, lying there like Dorothy in the field of poppies leading to Oz.

Yes, I know her poppies were red. Stop being so literal. It’s tiresome.

—Stephanie Cavanaugh

LittleBird Stephanie writes about her garden and the gardens of others, as the mood hits her. You can read earlier Green Acre columns by typing Green Acre in the Search box at the top of the page.

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