Bright whites

Sunday, 27 February 2011

White form of Amaryllis belladonna

I remember being intrigued as a child with the ad for a laundry powder that would produce 'whiter than white' results, and I am reminded of this notion when I see some of the flowers that are out at this time of year that seem are of brilliant white hue. I enjoy these flowers as they add a fresh note to the garden at a time when everything looks rather weary after the relentless heat of summer.

However, bright white is not always the easiest colour to assimilate into a garden border, as it can be a very assertive hue. It is best in small doses rather than in large swathes. Dark colours such as red and purple can contrast too intensively with white flowers, so that lighter coloured blooms in general work best with them; however, I personally love the dramatic contrast of white flowers with almost-black blooms and foliage, and have devoted a whole garden bed to this combination! Pure white flowers are particularly effective when grown in shady spots as the colour effect is less forceful and succeeds in bringing light into gloomy spaces. Nestled amongst green foliage white flowers also give an effect of coolness. Silver or white-variegated foliage also helps to tone down stark white flowers into a more soothing spectacle. White flowers are also alluring under a moonlit sky if you happen to be wandering your garden at night!

Shasta daisies with the dark leaves of Alternanthera dentata in the background, Pymble garden

Shasta daisies (Leucanthemum x superbum) seem one of the whitest flowers in the garden and were in fact named after the snow-capped Mount Shasta when introduced to horticulture in 1901. They grow well in our climate. A herbaceous perennial, their stems rise up to around 80 cm or so in late spring, producing large blooms throughout summer: a time when there aren't many other daisy flowers. The yellow centre of the flower helps to break up the effect of the intensely white petals. Shasta daisies benefit from reasonable soil in a well-drained, sunny position and will perform best if divided every few years. The tall varieties need staking, and cradle stakes are ideal. I enjoy growing them with the ornamental grass Miscanthus sinensis 'Variegata' to create a vaguely 'prairie' look; they also look good growing with some of the shrubby Salvia in bloom in summer, giving a crisp look nearby the brilliant blue Salvia guaranitica Large Form, for example.

One form of Plectranthus 'Cape Angels' (ht 60-80 cm) has clear white flowers held in dainty spires from late summer and through autumn. This is a useful small shrub for shaded areas in the garden. It fits in with any planting scheme but I like to pair it with dark-leaved plants for contrast, such as Colocasia 'Black Magic' or the near-black foliage of rhizomatous Begonia. It is also interesting to grow it with a white-variegated leaf, such as the white-spotted version of the polka-dot plant (Hypoestes phyllostachya) or a white-striped Liriope. The taller Plectranthus ecklonii (ht 1.5-2 m), which is just about to come out in bloom, has a white-flowered version that forms a pretty backdrop to autumnal borders in part shade.

White form of Anemone x hybrida with variegated Hydrangea

The white form of the Japanese windflower (Anemone x hybrida) is a good partner to the Plectranthus and these simple, pure white flowers are just starting to open on their tall stems. One of the relatively few herbaceous perennials I still grow, I look forward to seeing the drifts of these graceful flowers ever March, as they hover like beautiful moths above their foliage.

Rhinacanthus beesianus

An unusual shrub called Rhinacanthus beesianus (ht 2 m or more, species unknown) has startlingly white perfumed flowers in late summer and autumn, shaped like scalloped shells. A member of the broad Acanthaceae family, it has large, decoratively veined leaves and is a useful background plant for the rest of the year. It grows in sun or shade and like most plants in this family thrives in our Sydney climate. Murraya paniculata is smothered in its curled white blooms at the moment, scenting the air for some distance around. The brilliant white starry flowers of Carissa macrocarpa (ht to 3 m)are spangled across this very tough evergreen shrub at the moment. It grows near my letter box and is never watered. It forms a rounded shape and is useful in an area where very little else will survive.

White form of perennial Verbena x hybrida

Other bright white flowers out at the moment include the groundcover Verbena x hybrida, the rounded whiskery blooms of annual Cleome and the trumpets of Pandorea jasmioides 'Lady Di'. The flamboyant white belladonna lilies (which have bloomed very well this year, possibly due to the hot, dry summer) are in full flight. Other seasons ahead will bring bright white in other floral forms.