How to create a garden with a white palette

Autumn is the perfect time to plan a garden upgrade, and you can’t go wrong with a timeless white palette.

Bunnings magazine, March 2020

This season is one of the best times of year to plant. In autumn, the soil is still warm, but the weather is cooler and hopefully more rainy, helping plants to settle in nicely before the onset of winter. If youre planning a new garden or even just looking to update an established space, consider a white garden as your starting point. It has a universal appeal, easily lending itself to traditional, modern or cottage garden-style plantings.

Wonder whites

“Everyone is happy to have some white in the garden, but the same can’t be said for most colours,” explains director and principal designer Matt Leacy of Landart. “With its broad appeal, it can be used as a great base or feature prominently throughout the landscape.”

Play with forms, sizes and textures to create a beautiful, harmonious space. White plants inject life into dull corners and can even provide a cooling effect on a hot day.

The simple palette is also a classic look, transcending trends. One of the attributes of a white garden is that it can be enchanting in the late evening as well as during the midday sun, says Tim Sansom, the manager of horticulture and communications at Plants Management Australia. The simple shapes of garden plants, including the mounds of shrubs, the spikes of grasses and the rivers of ground covers, are highlighted in the twilight, he says.

Pro tip

“If a garden is more traditional, go for a warm white. For a contemporary space, use whites with a little more grey. Choosing whites can be more difficult than you think

Practical magic

When planning, it helps to keep the garden small or at least contained, says Tim. “By confining the space, it’s easier to control the scene and eliminate competing colour clashes,” he suggests. A white planting palette is also ideal if you have a shady courtyard or dark corners. However, not all plants are tolerant of shady conditions, so always check plant labels before buying. “The crisp white flowers of Helleborus ‘Molly’s White’ or the strappy variegated foliage of Carex ‘Feather Falls’ are perfect candidates for bringing a gentle glow to a gloomy corner,” says Tim Sansom.

Pale and interesting

Most flowers are not true white. “As with paint colours, plants have a dazzling and confusing array of whites, from cool whites to warm whites and everything in between, says Tim. For a harmonious effect, he suggests showing restraint. Choose no more than 10 varieties and repeat them throughout the garden – this will allow you to be more specific about the shade of white, he says. Look for varying flower shapes, heights and flowering times to maintain year-round visual interest.

Flowers shouldn’t be the only white feature in your garden, especially when blooms can be so fleeting. Go beyond florals by including silver or variegated foliage. “Plants like Euphorbia Silver Swan and Dietes White Tiger are super hardy and easy-care plants that have a crisp white variegation as well as having different foliage forms that create interest in your planting,” explains Tim.

Support act

To give your white elements impact, choose plants with dark green foliage. The weeping lilly pilly tree (Waterhousea floribunda) and fragrant star jasmine (Trachelospermum jasminoides) create a great contrast. “Planting deep green bay trees (Laurus nobilis) or creepers such as climbing figs (Ficus pumila) provides a backdrop of dark green that really makes white flowers pop, whether cool or warm white,” says Tim.

“Avoid lime- and yellow-leaved plants as they will clash with cool-white colours.” If you’re keen on warmer white florals, the lighter green leaves of Hydrangea arborescens ‘Annabelle’, Arthropodium ‘Te Puna’ and lady’s mantle (Alchemilla mollis) are a good match. “For a more exotic space, large leaved plants like Abyssinian banana, nolina or a tree aloe look amazing with creamy whites,” says Matt Leacy.

Try planting pockets of interest with silver or grey foliage plants. “The neat and upright Adenanthos ‘Platinum’ work well as a contrast and there are even some plants, like Dianthus Memories, that have both grey foliage and pure white flowers, says Tim. These details will help give the garden a sense of depth and movement.

Material world

When choosing materials to complement your plant palette, stick to neutrals. “Weathered timber and soft-grey limestone are the perfect accompaniments to a white garden, says Matt. Theyre not over-powering and impart a sense of elegance and sophistication to the space. “If you want to experiment with textures, cobbles or terracotta also work really well.”

The white choice

Check out our favourite plants for a beautiful white planting scheme.

Plants

Hardenbergia ‘White Out’ 

Fast-growing native climber, with sprays of pea-shaped flowers from mid-winter. Train over an arbour or use as a ground cover.

Snow in summer (Cerastium tomentosum) 

A generous flower display, covering most of the foliage in warmer months. Drought hardy and frost tolerant once established.

Gardenia ‘Florida’ 

Wonderfully perfumed blooms from late spring to early autumn. Grow as a hedge or as a specimen plant in a pot.

Frangipani (Plumeria sp.) 

Clusters of scented creamy white blooms, often with coloured centres. Use as a feature tree or for summer shade.

Wisteria ‘Alba’ 

Long racemes of lightly scented blooms, cascading over soft green foliage. Strong support is required for this climber.

Daphne ‘Odora alba’ 

Compact shrub with clusters of exquisitely perfumed blooms. Plant in full sun or part shade and water sparingly once established.

Rhaphiolepis ‘Cosmic White’ 

This ornamental shrub will grow in most locations and poor soils. Low maintenance once established.

Camellia ‘Japonica’ 

Hardy evergreen with pure white flowers. Plant en-masse in full sun or part shade.

Flannel flower (Actinotus helianthi) 

Velvety white daisy-like blooms with silvery foliage. Grows in most areas (except tropics); needs to be planted in free-draining soil.

Find your flowers

Take a look at our wide range of plants and flowers and start planning your garden today.

Photography credit: Gap Photos, Elke Borkowski, Anna Omiotek-Tott, Robert Mapic, Getty Images and iStock.

More D.I.Y. Advice

Lawn care products 02:35

Lawn How to fertilise your lawn Learn some great tips for fertilising your lawn and keeping it green and healthy all year round.

Brighten up your place with an instant hedge 00:22

Planning & Projects Brighten up your place with an instant hedge An artificial hedge or plant wall is not only an attractive feature in your garden, it can also add some much needed privacy. Bunnings Greenlife buyer Katie tells us how easy it is to add an instant hedge to your outdoor area.

Chilli Plant

Planting & Growing Growing chilli plant care guide Add a little fire to your food garden with a chilli plant. It’s not just a food plant, it can become a collectable obsession, too!

brick planter box 05:14

Planters D.I.Y. brick planter box A brick planter box is a great way to brighten up your outdoors. Learn how easy it is to build one in your garden.

Person mixing brown and green waste 01:40

Composting How to make your own compost Find out how to fertilise plants naturally by making your own compost. It’s a great way to save money and get rid of some household waste.

Woman measuring up the garden 01:45

Watering & Irrigation How to plan a garden irrigation system Before you irrigate your garden it’s best to be prepared. We’ll take you through the steps to plan out a garden irrigation system.

shovel

Garden Tools How to choose digging tools The right tool will make any job easier, especially when it comes to digging. And when it comes to digging, there's no shortage of tools to choose from – but which tool is right for which job?

front garden makeover 01:24

Planning & Projects How to give your front yard a makeover Learn how to transform your front yard into a tropical oasis.

pool with moroccan tiles

Planning & Projects Transform your backyard with a new garden bed Well-planned garden beds can give your backyard both structure and beauty, and solve all sorts of tricky problems, from screening out your neighbours to disguising an ugly fence. Here’s what you need to know to get started.

planting an edible garden

Planning & Projects How to build a child-friendly edible garden Creating a child-friendly edible garden is an enjoyable way to get grubby with the kids as well as engaging them with the great outdoors

Garden Tool Storage 01:52

Planning & Projects D.I.Y. garden tool storage rack Garden tools can be tricky to store away neatly because of their size and shape. Find out how to create a garden tool storage rack with this guide from Bunnings.

various artificial plants

Planning & Projects Create an instant artificial garden Get an instant, hassle-free designer garden with Un-Real Artificial plants. Find out here how you can create a beautiful and instant private garden.

How to Make a Terrarium 02:54

Planning & Projects How to make a terrarium Learn how to make a terrarium with this handy guide.

Renovation Basics - Garden 03:28

Planning & Projects How to plan and landscape a garden makeover If you’re thinking about creating a new garden, you can save a lot by doing the project yourself.

Plant growing from coin jar

Planning & Projects Nine plants for good luck around the home The Lunar New Year is a significant part of most Asian cultures. There are many customs and rituals that are celebrated at this time. As part of the customs, there are some plants traditionally associated with the Lunar New Year festival and thought...

Plan out the garden 01:50

Planning & Projects How to create a cottage garden A cottage garden full of flowers and colour brightens every home. This video will help you build one that suits your tastes and needs.

Health & Safety

Please make sure you use all equipment appropriately and safely when following the advice in these D.I.Y. videos. You need to be familiar with how to use equipment safely and follow the instructions that came with the equipment. If you are unsure, you may feel it is safest to consult an expert, such as the manufacturer or an expert Bunnings Team Member.

Grave health hazards are linked to asbestos, which may be in homes built up to 1990. Health hazards may result from exposure to lead-based paints in older materials and copper chromium arsenic (CCA) treated timber. For information on the dangers of asbestos, lead-based paint and CCA treated timber and tips for dealing with these materials contact your local council's Environmental Health Officer or visit our Health & Safety page. You can also use a simple test kit from Bunnings to indicate the presence of lead-based paint.
Top of the content