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50 Shades of White

Whether you dream of an all-white affair or just love having a mass of snow-white flowers to fill your garden, the Ross family garden is a white-out, alluring drifts of bleached blossoms are everywhere. And white flowers have the added benefit of cooling you down - essential on a day like today. 


White never goes out of fashion. The overwhelming effect of white in a garden is calm, a rest for the eyes and a restraint of tizzy colour. White provides a foil for rich textural foliage, a breath of cool calm on a summer’s day, a contrast to all that green and a highlight for shaded areas. White is luxurious, elegant, crisp, bright and relaxing. And because white flowers attract pollinators through their scent, many are highly fragrant, both at night and during the day. White reflects all rays of the colour spectrum – so white gardens feel larger and become reflective, magical places.


Today in the Ross family kitchen. Photo- Luisa Brimble 

The most famous and magical of monochromatic colour schemes lies deep in the Weald of Kent, UK. Vita Sackville West converted her 1930 pink and white Persian designed rose garden into Vita’s ‘grey garden’ in 1939 with her primary thought of creating a grey garden with silver, white and green. It’s become the heart and soul of Sissinghurst - a unique signature. Her silvery concept was put on hold when war was announced and the garden was frugally rationed and somewhat neglected only to be reignited with gusto in the 1970’s. Here it is now from the top of the castle! 


Sissinghurst’s walled white garden 

Gardeners fell in love with the one-colour concept immediately and have been deliciously and flagrantly copying it ever since. The garden is contained by rose-brick walls and the centrepiece is this rather stunning white rambling rose called Rosa mulliganii. Adorable isn't it? I can just imagine myself back here in the cool of evening.  



Sissinghurst's white heart - Rosa mulliganii

This garden is a primary source of inspiration for white-garden-lovers everywhere: cosmos, shaggy Shasta daisies, tall lilies, white coneflowers, Veronicastrum virginicum ‘Alba’, daphne, allium, star jasmine, phlox, delphiniums, poppies and cleome clash into each other on masse. Vita is never stingy with her plantings –she writes ‘cram, cram, cram’ and drifts are generous and full.

Summer is the peak time for this garden where white trees, shrubs, perennials, roses and groundcovers are lifted by silver foliage such as pear, lamb’s ears and Artemisia. The secret of the white garden is revealed at night when all those pure flowers light up under moonlight to glow with ethereal beauty. Experienced gardeners realise instantly that this means it needs to be a summer garden because who wants to go out in winter or early spring to see the glowing white rhododendrons and camellias?Brrrrr! 


Poppies and Delphiniums and borders edged with silver foliages

At Chelsea Flower Show this year, a more contemporary monochromatic scheme stood out. Graham met Dubai-based landscape designer Kamelia bin Zaal and filmed her her garden for Better Homes and Gardens TV.  Her decorative Persian garden was opalescent! Paved with glistening Turkish marble, beautiful arched walls etched with Arabic script and rills of water which cooled the garden down even further. I would hate this garden reflect the hot Australian sun but in England it glimmered.


The Beauty of Islam garden, Chelsea Flower Show 2015. Photo - David Domoney 

Ancient orange trees were ringed with white fragrant sweet Alice (Alyssum). Four Islamic arches with a pearly white lustre told the story of the spread of Arab trade and Islamic religion and culture. Plants included aromatic rosemary, papyrus, silver Bismarkia palms and edibles such as citrus, coffee, olives, pomegranates, figs and cardamom.

In our Ross Family home garden we’ve always loved spring whites – we dot them to meld stronger colours together and use them to lift darker places. Today I have just picked all the whites out from the garden. I plucked armfuls of beautiful roses, snapdragons, oyster plant (Acanthus mollis), Philadelphus and Dianthus ‘Memories’. Picture perfect at this time of year.

Delicate spires of white foxglove are charming in spring and we like them paired with big carpets of White Dianthus ‘Memories’ which smell like a mist of cloves. This thick groundcover hides a number of sins, but reduces the time we spend on our knees weeding. 



A white flower celebration with delphiniums, iceberg roses, philadelphus and dianthus. Photo - Luisa Brimble 


A highlight of many a spring garden is the fragrant white philadelphus, known as Mock Orange, thanks to its intense heavenly citrus fragrance.  We always place this graceful arching shrub at the back of a bed and love its simple, four-petalled, blooms encrusting each bowing branch.A  sprig of this will fill a room with scent.



Philadelphus in the rain. Photo - ecspelliarmus / 

Outselling all other white roses in the world is the ubiquitous ‘Iceberg’ rose which come in three forms: bush, lollipop and climbing. Never without flowers, it is the perfect garden rose, and is quite handsome in a vase. Pipping it slightly at the post is the other white rose in the scene, Sombriel, a charming little number from Sandra’s rose garden.

Sombriel on the left and White Iceberg on the right. Photo - Luisa Brimble 

Hydrangeas are excellent shrubby whites for shade or positions with morning sun. We love the old fashioned common white, but it’s been recently aced by the oakleaf hydrangea (Hydrangea quercifolia) which grows under an ancient ginkgo tree. I'm chuffed that I finally have decent blooms on this woodland hydrangea. It's not as thirsty as its cousin Hydrangea macrophylla and it tolerates more sunshine. 

Ethereal blooms; white and tapered and highlighted against its lush foliage that resembles a huge oak leaf (hence its name quercifolia). Once summer comes, these leaves change colour turning shades of burnished violet. The flowers dry to antique status, good for picking and everlasting. It needs no pruning, and matures into a handsome sprawling shrub, good as an understory for the lovely ginkgo in my garden.

Hydrangea quercifolia. Photo - Visual Studio /

As spring hastily turns into summer, my next pick is frangipani. Other whites come thick and fast: explosions of white agapanthus, dots of summer iris (Dieties grandiflora), dripping walls of white Mandevilla ‘White Fantasy’, and Chinese Star jasmine, heady beds full of gardenia, rambling ‘Queen of the Night’ Epiphyllum oxypetalum (is this flower not the definition of perfection? I swoon with the pic below), a spot of shell ginger here, a stripe of variegated liriope there while evergreen Magnolia ‘Teddy Bear’ creates a fragrant enclosure to the stage and voila it’s time to party, crack open the champagne, its Christmas time already! But that's a story for another day. 



‘Queen of the Night’ Epiphyllum oxypetalum. Photo - Yongkang Duan /