In the Garden:
Middle South
March, 2012
Regional Report

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The pure white flowers of Mount Airy fothergilla smell like honey.

I'm Dreaming of a White Garden

My efforts in the new garden are finally beginning to pay off. After working diligently for several months, the landscape spaces that surround the home are taking shape in a significant way. One of the most exciting areas is the small but important space just behind the house, which I've decided will be an all-white garden.

I've been intrigued with white gardens since I first saw Vita Sackville-West's masterpiece at Sissinghurst (the most visited garden in England), but never dreamed I would cultivate one myself. This space, though, seems custom made for the eye-catching scheme.

The garden is wide and shallow, stretching more than 110 feet from side to side, but only 30 feet from the back patio to the retaining wall which separates the space from a woodland. It makes sense, then, to have a strong, monochromatic color scheme that will unify the elongated garden into a whole.

Like the rest of the property, the area is predominately shady. The house looms three stories high on the south side, while the rest of the garden is enclosed by towering hardwood trees. The east side of the space is deeply shaded, while the west end is blessed with several hours of sunlight in the middle of the day, and the intervening space enjoys varying amounts of dappled shade.

White, in its pure hue and every shade and tint, is a good choice for shady gardens. It's hard to escape the fact that many shade-loving plants offer white flowers. Plus, white brightens shade's gloom and enhances its cool and calm character.

The reason I chose the scheme, however, is because I want the space to function as a private retreat that%%%s refreshing and revitalizing, and there%%%s simply no other color that dazzles with more intensity than white.

Picture this: a patio at basement level, topped by a covered porch. Both gathering areas overlook a narrow strip of emerald lawn surrounded by wide borders of white-flowering trees, shrubs, and perennials, all enhanced by lush green foliage.

Understory trees include a newly planted pair of serviceberries (Amelanchier x grandiflora), an existing tea olive (Osmanthus fragrans) limbed into an attractive multi-trunk form, and a kousa dogwood (Cornus kousa) transplanted from another area of the garden.

Shrubs are also varied, to carry out a succession of bloom. Little Henry sweetspire (Itea virginica 'Sprich') begins the show in spring, and is quickly followed by doublefile viburnum (V. plicatum tomentosum) and 'Mount Airy' fothergilla (F. major). Incrediball hydrangea (H. arborescens 'Abetwo') and oakleaf hydrangea (H. quercifolia) ornament the garden in summer, while 'Setsugekka' camellia (C. sasanqua) shares its charms from autumn into early winter.

Harmony begs for disruption, however, so a wide assortment of leaf textures will be used to build visual interest. Small touches of dark foliage, such as the purple-black leaves of 'Obsidian' heuchera, will also prevent the garden from becoming too staid.

For a bit of adventure, I'll try a shade-tolerant rose recommended by a reader, 'Darlow's Enigma', at the sunny end of the garden. Nearby, I'll find a home for a favorite tree peony, 'Feng Dan Bai' (sometimes sold as 'Phoenix White'), which thrived in part shade in my previous garden.

Many, but not all, of these plants are already settled in place. Experience has taught me it takes roughly three years, however, for new plants to come into their own. Construction on the patio and porch is tentatively set for 2013. Until then, I'll enjoy the view from the existing deck and dream of the white garden that will soon provide the haven I crave.

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