Winter white

Sunday, 08 August 2010

White form of Daphne odora

Last November I wrote a blog about the value of the colour white in my shady bed beneath a verandah, with white Hydrangea, star jasmine (Trachelospermum jasminoides), arum lilies (Zantedeschia) and Arthropodium. White has a lovely cooling effect in summer, and in winter I tend to find myself preferring hues such as reds, oranges and yellows that give at least the illusion of warmth. However, the same garden bed that holds white blooms in summer, now also has some white flowers in winter, and at the moment I am enjoying passing these each day on the way to the clothesline!

The bed is really very bare at this time of year, as all the Hydrangea bushes, which form the bulk of the plantings, have recently been pruned hard, so they appear as lifeless skeletons. However, there is lush green growth on the Arthropodium, white belladonna lilies and the arum lilies - and a few of the arums are starting to flower, with the elegant clean white sheaths. I prefer the smaller versions of these plants, as the original old-fashioned species can be very floppy and large.

White hybrid hellebore bloom

It was a year or so ago that I decided to create some winter interest in the shady bed, still using white flowers to maintain the theme, so I planted clumps of snowflakes (Leucojum aestivum) and white hybrid hellebores (Helleborus x hybridus) along the path the borders the garden and in the areas which become exposed when the Hydrangea shrubs are dormant.

Camellia japonica Lovelight in the garden of Gillian Parsons in Sydney

I also put in Camellia japonica 'Lovelight', a beautiful, pristine white-flowered specimen. I wanted to create a tiny scene that represented the icy crispness of a winter's morning, or even the illusion of snow! Even though there are expanses of bare earth between the clumps, to me that didn't matter, as it gave a spare, wintry look. The Camellia is still very young, and only had about five flowers on it this year, but I like to dream of the day when it is a mature shrub, with lots of flowers for picking.

Leucojum aestivum

These white flowers can be enhanced by nearby foliage - lush greenery is good, but silvery leaves or white and green variegated ones are even better. I love the stripes of the variegated form of Iris japonica to echo the white flowers, or the frosted-looking leaves of variegated white honesty (Lunaria annua).

White form of Iris japonica

I am happy that my planting scheme is starting to come together, but I am planning other white winter blooms to add to it for next year. The easy-to-grow white-flowered Iris japonica, with its ruffled petals, is just starting to come out, and these also thrive in shaded spots. White violets (Viola odorata) are another possibility, although I feel that violets flower better when they get more sun.

Eomecon chionantha, not to be recommended

In one corner of the bed is a white bloom that really cannot be recommended - Eomecon chionantha - with its simple white flowers, often called the snow poppy. I put it in years ago when it was sold to me as 'a good groundcover' - which it is, but it is also impossible to get rid of, as it spreads by tenacious underground runners that travel considerable distances. I mention this plant only as a cautionary tale!

I have repeated my planting idea in another part of my garden, centred around a white Daphne. It also has snowflakes and white hybrid hellebores for companions. The rest of my garden in pretty much a wreck at the moment, as it is very straggly as it awaits its annual pruning. But these small vignettes in the winter garden do give pleasure on the coldest days!