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.
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 you’re 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.
“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.
“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”
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.
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.
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. They’re 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.