Sunday, March 18, 2012

A Critical Look at the White Garden Bed

Ever since I have seen the first photos of the White Garden at Sissinghurst, Vita Sackville-West's and Harold Nicolson's famous garden in England, I have dreamed of having a White Garden myself. Because our property is small I can't have different garden rooms devoted to specific colors and schemes. However, I did not want to have a garden completely planted with white flowering plants so I had to restrict myself to a White Garden Bed only. On the photo below you see my first attempt to create this bed. I tried to introduce white color to it not just by planting white flowering plants but also by the use of plants with silvery or gray foliage. This is how it looked in May 2011 when the roses were in full spring flush. 

On the first glance the bed appears fine (at least to me), but there are some drawbacks. The three roses to the right are 'Iceberg' roses and even though I love them dearly and they are my most prolific bloomers out of all the roses that I am having they simply have gotten too big for this bed. It is not very well to see on this photo but especially the middle one constantly pokes me everywhere when it is time to be deadheaded. It is planted too close to the rim of the pool and the two cycads which flank it on both sides. I also don't like that it is growing quite a bit into the cycads when left to its own devices and needs to be constantly controlled for size for that reason. Besides after looking at three 'Iceberg' roses for three years I have to admit that I started to find this view a little bit boring even though the roses themselves are quite beautiful. Last but not least because these roses bloom so vigorously they need to be constantly deadheaded. The petals are not supposed to fall into the pool, because they change the chemicals in the water as they decompose. So this bed requires deadheading at least every second day (no, I am not exaggerating!) from spring to autumn when the roses are having their flushes. I am simply not able to do that anymore. So for these reasons alone I was longing for a change.

But there was more I was not satisfied with. In the photo above you can see the same bed in September 2011. The lamb's ears planted in front of the white column look pretty bad. Their leaves have taken on a yellow/brown color instead of the lovely green/gray that they are supposed to be. Behind the white column I had planted a half circle of white flowering irises to mirror the half circle of the lamb's ears in the front. Unfortunately these irises were a complete failure. I think the whole time they have been there I got one or two blooms out of them. 

Here you can see the irises a little bit better. They are almost diminished. I don't know why, but irises don't want to grow in my garden no matter what I try to do to help them along.

The photo above shows the same bed from the other side. Underneath the cycad on the left I had planted dusty millers in a circle around the trunk of the cycad, for their beautiful silvery/whitish foliage which did pretty well, but grew a little bit too large for the portions of the bed in my opinion. Underneath the smaller cycad to the right I placed five plants of artemisia 'Silvermound' in a circle to repeat a similar look like the one I was after with the cycad to the left. Unfortunately, three of the plants died and the two surviving ones were never happy and refused to reach a size that had any decent visual impact on the bed.

So by the end of last year I decided it was time for a make-over of the White Garden Bed. After having a critical look at photos of this part of the garden and analyzing what worked and what didn't I wanted to change the following things.

1. Take out the white 'Iceberg' rose in the middle of the bed and plant another white or nearly white rose instead of it, that is getting less wide than the 'Iceberg' rose and also position it further backwards in the direction of the fence, so that I don't get poked when I walk along the rim of the pool to deadhead and can also reach it better from the sides. Believe it or not, I want a rose that is less floriferous or clings better to its blooms than the 'Iceberg' so that I don't have to deadhead every other day in the high season. I also desire a rose, whose flower shape contrasts a little bit with the flower form of the 'Iceberg' roses. My hope is that a rose with a a different tone of white or that is not completely white and has a different flower shape than the 'Iceberg' roses will give some more interest to this bed.  

2. Remove the irises and replace them with a white flowering plant that is actually flowering at least once in a year so that the area around the column looks more full, lush, and complete.

3. Try to either revive the lamb's ears or take them out and replace them with something else to make the front area of the column look better.

4. Take out the dusty miller and the remaining two artemisias 'Silvermound' and replace them with either new dusty millers or other plants that catch my fancy.

5. Find the silver gazing ball in the garage that was intended to go on top of the column.

6. Use more white flowering plants and not mainly rely on the roses and on grayish foliage plants to provide the white color to that bed, also with the intention to give it more interest.

These considerations were the starting point for the make-over of my White Garden Bed. I will share with you on my blog the process of changing this bed hopefully to the better in the future. Stay tuned!

See you in the garden!



  1. Monotony can be a problem on a single colour planting scheme but sounds like you had it sorted. Looking forward to your updates!

  2. Deadheading every other day really sounds like a chore too far. Good luck with the changes, can't wait to see the results.

  3. I love white gardens too. Good luck with your rearranging! Those Iceberg roses look very happy and abundant there. Vita Sackville-West's "white" garden was actually a green and white garden (at least this was her name for it, apparently). One idea to showcase the white and silver more is to add more deep green foliage. Your garden is in a gorgeous setting - can't wait to see the beautiful renovation.

  4. I'll come back reading after this little note: your irises seems to be planted too deep. They like to have their roots half on the surface of the ground. Your plants seems too tiny, too young maybe, that's why you don't have much flowers. And if their roots are too deep and too much in shade, the soil is probably too moist for them. If they are too young, roots needs to get bigger before you get plants that worth it. ( hope my english's not too bad )

    And if you are looking for a white plant to replace your rose bush that takes to much space, maybe you could try the Euonymus fortunei emerald gaiety for its green and white foliage ( the more it is sunny, the whiter it gets ) ...

    I go back to read the rest of your post. Really good idea this white flowerbed. 8)

    1. If you have such success with roses, you could consider to plant a climbing variety, so it could be planted far from the pool and easier to pruned and you could plant something else in front of that climbing rose. That's some ideas. Really looking for what you'll do next. 8)

  5. You know what you want, that's good, Christina. It will be beautiful in the end !

  6. What plans you have. I also love to have a lot of white flowering plants in my garden. By the way what a breathtaking vieuw you have. What Vert told about the iris is true she loves to bake with her roots in the hot sun. If you plant them to deep they never bring a flower. After a couple of years you have to split the plant
    in pieces and replant again. I am also looking forward to see how you changed your garden.
    Gr. Marijke

  7. Christina, Your garden looks just lovely to me as it is. But gardens are always a work in progress, aren't they? I am just starting to grow irises myself, and some advice I learned from an experienced grower is to plant irises high, sort of on a mound, leaving the rhizomes a bit exposed. Think of the rhizome as a 'solar cell.' So you might want to consider removing the mulch that is directly next to stems and perhaps planting your irises a bit higher. I always wanted a white garden, too, so I will look forward to seeing how your garden progresses!

  8. Mark and Gaz, I don't know if I have it all sorted out, but at least I have some ideas how to improve my bed ;-). You are so very right that monotony needs to be avoided to keep a one color scheme looking alive!

    Crystal, deadheading can become quite a chore, especially with plenty of roses in a garden, but usually I really like it. In my case it is more a matter of a time issue.

    spurge, I definitively can imagine that lush deep green sets of the white blooms very nicely. I will keep that in mind while re-doing my White Bed.

    VertGrenouille, welcome to my blog and thank you very much for taking the time to share your ideas why my irises are not doing well. You might be onto something. Thanks also for all the other hints to make the White Bed prettier. I will think them through. And please don't worry about your English. I can understand you perfectly well :-)!

    Dani, yes I know what I want, but now comes the time to try to realize my dreams, which is the much harder part for me :-)!

    Marijke, I am glad that we share a love of white flowering plants :-)! Hmm, you are the second one, who points out that irises needed to be planted high on top of the ground. That gets me thinking...

    Dorothy, thanks for your kind words about my garden as it is :-)! So you are person number three, who tells me irises need to be planted high, even on a mound. Maybe I should really try this and see what happens. I thought it is something in my soil or water that they don't like, but I might be simply wrong.


  9. What a horrible problem to have - too many blooms! haha ;) Actually, I completely understand, and I hope you find just the right plants for your bed re-do. I think the suggestion above about some plants with variegated foliage is a good one, too. I'm learning to love variegated foliage, and think it would look fabulous in your white bed. Hope you get those irises re-planted. It would be worth it to try one more year and see if they will work. Good luck!

  10. I like how your white bed looks, too, but can see why you need to make changes. Even if I didn't see, it wouldn't matter, because it's your garden. I have a few plants I've decided I don't like in my garden, and even though they are doing well, I plan to take them out.

    I also started out having a small area with white blooms, but ended up putting some yellow ones in there, too, so it's a white and yellow bed. I don't know if phlox or dianthus grow in your area, but I found some white blooming ones of those that you might be able to find spots for. I like to deadhead, too, but wouldn't be able to depend on getting it done every other day in one area.

    Thanks for your nice comment on my blog.

  11. Holley, I know complaining about having too many blooms sounds really wired, but oh well ;-)! Admittingly, I haven't thought about variegated foliage plants for the White Bed so far. But it certainly opens up a whole new range of possibilities. This is getting more and more exciting!

    Sue, welcome to my blog! You are so right we have to do what we have to do in our own gardens, just because they are our gardens and they need to please solely us. I think the combination of whites and yellows can be quite wonderful and I am curious to see pictures of your bed on your blog. Dianthus grow well in my neck of the woods, but I am not sure about phlox. I will find out, though. Thanks for giving me some more ideas of what to plant in my White Bed in the future.


  12. All the best with your changes and plans. I will be following the progress :-). What will you be doing with the plants that you take out, especially those iceberg roses? Donate to some school? Sorry that's a personal question but I am just interested to know what gardeners do. From your picture, it seems your house is in a very beautiful place with hills behind you.

  13. I looks so beautiful, but I can appreciate your frustrations. Visiting a garden is all pleasure; it's a different story for the gardener, who sees every flaw.
    It will be fun to see what you come up with next!

  14. KL, thanks for your good wishes for the re-do of the White Bed. To answer your question: I usually find a home for all the plants, big or small, that I remove from our garden unless they are sick or not growing well and I assume the reason for that lies in the plant and not in my soil, mircoclimate or my lack of care ;-). I have enough gardening friends that are most of the times happy to take a plant or two from me, especially when it comes to roses. I absolutely hate throwing away a healthy plant.

    Sandra, so nice to see you visiting my blog, again! You are completely right as a gardener you know your garden (or at least you should ;-)) and you are aware of things that could be improved. Usually I enjoy the process trying to make the garden better and better.


  15. I agree with VertGrenouille that your iris look like they are planted too deep. I just set mine on the surface of the ground because the roots will pull the rhizomes down a little bit.

    Your Icebergs look beautiful but I can see why you want to make changes. Deadheading every other day must be trying!

  16. sweetbay, thanks for visiting my blog! By now the comments on my blog including yours convinced me to give irises one more try again in my garden and place the rhizomes on top of the ground. Hopefully that helps. Glad that you like my 'Icebergs'. I have decided to just remove the one in the middle of the bed and replace it with another rose. So I am not getting rid of all of them :-)!