Like most gardeners, I can’t get enough of color in my yard. But I have to admit – I’m intrigued by the possibilities and challenges of the white-themed garden.

Sissinghurst Nigella

This view of Sissinghurst Castle Garden’s white garden room shows the dramatic effects you can create with subtle variances in pale green to silvery gray foliage. White Nigella is blooming in the foreground.

Photo Credit: J.C. Raulston, North Carolina State University Arboretum

White Echinacea

Most of us are familiar with Echinacea in shades of purple and lilac, but the cultivar ‘White Swan’ fits in beautifully with the white-themed garden.

Photo Credit: Mark A. Miller

White Wisteria

This white wisteria draped against a wall at Sissinghurst adds a new level of interest and beauty.

Photo Credit: J.C. Raulston, North Carolina State University Arboretum

Korean Dogwood

Korean dogwood provides a dazzling display of white flowers in early summer, as well as fine bark, ornamental (and edible) fruit and terrific fall color.

Photo Credit: Mark A. Miller


The Davidia, or dovetree, is a rare beauty purported to have the showiest of blooms.

Photo Credit: Mark A. Miller

‘Casa Blanca’ lilies

‘Casa Blanca’ lilies have the purest white blooms and an intoxicating fragrance.

Photo Credit: Mark A. Miller

“White?” you ask. “Why bother with white when there are so many colorful plants to choose from?” Well, one look at the Sissinghurst Castle Garden and its garden room of white-flowering plants will answer that question. Created by writer Vita Sackville-West in the 1920s and ’30s, this renowned English garden is believed to have been inspired by the white-themed Moghul gardens of India, such as that of the Taj Mahal.

For Sackville-West, as with most who garden in white, it’s all about moonlight. White blooms and silvery (and otherwise pale) foliage paint an unusually striking landscape by day – but it’s nighttime when such a garden positively dazzles. These moonlight gardens can provide a bewitching setting for an evening party – or can simply be enjoyed as a meditative retreat after a long day at work. Adding to their allure is the fact that white gardens usually feature fragrant plants – another means of stirring the senses at night.

I have a close friend who’s a professional gardener at a private estate in Texas that features a white garden. She agrees that white comes alive at night with its own particular brand of magic. “There is no artificial light in the estate garden,” she says, “so when there’s moonlight, you get a powerful radiance from the mass plantings of white roses, buddlejas and other flowers. It’s also very fragrant. Whenever I visit the garden at night and the moon is shining, I have this ‘Ahhh!’ reaction.”

Of course, you don’t have to stick solely with white. My friend notes that the estate garden, which was originally planted in all white, now features some subtle blues that boost its allure by day. But these soft hues conveniently recede by night, so the luminous effect isn’t spoiled.

To be sure, most of us don’t have the kind of space that Sackville-West or my Texas friend have to work with, but there’s no reason you can’t create a white garden nook in your own back yard on a smaller scale. The key to creating your white garden respite lies in proper planning.

In fact, successful schemes of any color or combination of colors require planning and research, as well as an eye for presenting pleasing arrangements of shades, forms and patterns. So be sure to layer your whites, so your eye will travel the length and height of the garden space. And don’t forget about textures and scents, which can enhance the calming effects of the paler shades. Finally, stagger flowering plants so that something’s blooming every season, from tulips in spring and roses in summer to pansies in fall.

Fortunately, there are ample varieties of white-flowering and pale-foliaged plants available for any climate. Think white-flowering Protea for gardens with a tropical feel or fragrant white roses that will grow just about anywhere. So if the notion of a nocturnal haven of reflected moonlight and sumptuous fragrance appeals to your senses, break out the catalogs or head to the garden center and start painting your garden masterpiece in white. You’re sure to enjoy it – day or night!