A Study In White

A Study In White

Plate glass roads wind
under crystal chandeliered branches
Silver gilded ponds reflect
vast cellophane wrapped marshes

Dagger edged roof lines
threaten crackle glazed hedges
Diamond encrusted shrubs sway
alongside tinsel tossed grasses.

How lovely the winter landscape appears after a snow storm. The purity of the white lends itself to the stillness of the season. All is quiet and calm. Even the birds at the feeder are hushed. The beauty of the white landscape makes this gardener think about white gardens exploding with perfume and elegance. Twinkling white lights showcasing night blooming jasmine and moon flowers. Even in this cold, I can imagine the summer breezes carrying the scent.
White gardens are not new but they were made mainstream by Vita Sackville-West’s white garden in Sissinghurst, England. I’m not sure why this garden suddenly caught the attention of so many but my guess is that the time was right. People were ready for something different. Even bold. Not the least of course is that Vita’s garden looked absolutely lovely. Click here to see it www.invectis.co.uk/sissing/.
What made this garden work? Or for that matter, why don’t all attempts at white gardens work? After all, there is a plethora of choices for such projects. Roses, lilies, phlox, tulips, snowdrops, hellebores, campanulas, hydrangeas, viburnums, azaleas, rhododendrons, alliums, irises, peonies, lilacs, tuberoses, wisteria … my goodness, the list never ends! Yet, many attempts at white gardens turn out to be boring. The answer then is quite simple. It is the non-whites that make or break such a garden. There must be colors that contrast with or complement the white. Inherently, white is influenced by it’s surrounding. As a result what appears strictly white is invariably tinged with a soupçon of some other color. Artists have always known this.
At Sissinghurst, the grays and greens completed the garden. Chosen with care, they made the whites stand out. Green seems an easy, obvious color to go with the white. But if all the green is the same shade then it only goes to give the design a two dimensional quality. To provide texture and interest, select different greens, deep grays, some yellow, a splash of chocolate, a kiss of pink, a wash of blue. Think stems, leaves, ornamental grasses, berries and, seed pods enhancing the white flowers. Consider shapes, silhouettes, sizes. Finally, pay attention to the light. Bright sunlight on a white garden can either wash out the effect or blind the eye. So position this garden where the early morning or evening light plays it up. Even better if the garden can also be viewed at night when the white flowers seem to glow and the night pollinators can be observed. It is no wonder that white gardens are also called moon gardens.
To understand how to think about the color white, bring yourself back to the snowscape outside. Notice the way contrasting barks, evergreens and colorful birds heighten the white while gray stones, old rosy hued bricks and weathered wood soften it by imbuing some pale color. In my opinion, to successfully create a white garden is more challenging than any other color-themed garden. It is not a matter of just placing anything white in this space. Details are of utmost significance. Subtle, understated effects are key. There is actually plenty of color here but it is just not obvious. Think Audrey Hepburn as opposed to Dame Edna. A top notch white garden is always stylish and chic.
If you desire to create a white garden, this is an excellent time to plan for it. As you contemplate the scenes outside, thumb through plant catalogs and books to identify your selections. You have the advantage of time. Choose with thought and care. You’re aiming for brilliant not blah. Be sure to include some fragrant flowers. Take into account heights, widths and what sort of shadows will be cast. Do not discount surrounding structures like walls, buildings and fences. Prepare your design and write up the list. Get everything ready so when the weather warms up, you will be all set to make this garden. And while you’re at it, plan for that party under a full summer moon and white twinkling lights.

Happy Valentines Day!

Happy Valentines Day!

(c) 2013 Shobha Vanchiswar

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2 thoughts on “A Study In White

  1. Lovely poem and wonderful column. And photos. I love the idea of planning a white garden during the stark days of winter. Not sure whether I’ll have access to my own moonlit garden for parties next summer, but will happily accept all such invitations.

  2. Dame Edna here! Enjoyed your post. It gave me a moment of calm before rushing off to work, thoughts of white gardens dancing in my head.

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