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The White Border

Now a permanent feature at the nursery, the 'white' border will be a lovely addition to our gardens and displays.

Last year we planted the bed between the kitchen garden and the children’s play area with white annual flowers. Though we did not have a full succession of blooms, it was very attractive and drew positive comments. We have now decided to make it a permanent white planting with a mix of shrubs, climbers, annuals and perennials. Our plant choices will be further restricted by the growing conditions here. It is an exposed site with shallow earth which dries out quickly.

There is a hard pan quite near the soil surface, and though we continually top up and enrich the soil, we will never be able to grow lush leafy plants that require deep, damp earth. There will be a degree of trial and error, removing failing plants and duplicating those that thrive. In practice, many of the plants which like our conditions will be silver-leaved and drought resistant. Maybe we should call it a silver garden. This first year we will have to use a lot of annuals to pad out the permanent planting until it matures.

If you take a garden photograph in black and white compared to colour (like the above photos), the interest will be created by the shape and texture of the plants, the size and form of the blooms, and the grouping of the plants. Planting in a single colour theme, whether it be white, blue or pink, requires the same consideration to look pleasing.

When you place a selection of white plants together, considerable variation in the whites becomes apparent. Very few have pure, pristine white petals and most have yellow reproductive structures. If you place them against a whitewashed wall the differences will be exaggerated, and some will look decidedly dull. It is therefore worth considering the background to a white scheme. A dark background, for example an ivy-clad wall, or a black fence, will enhance the whiteness of the flowers and highlight the subtle variations of green in the foliage.

A top tip is not to use brilliant white paint for your garden structures, but the very, very palest grey. The eye will see it as white and your white flowers will look brighter. We have a wooden fence with grass behind as our backdrop, but as this ages it will become silver-grey and will look better.

The photo above is of a white border scheme we did a few years ago at the Royal Cornwall Show. Some people say a white scheme is boring but any planting scheme can be boring if not done well. Colour is free, and fun, and should be celebrated but white has its uses. It is excellent for small low-light spaces such as basement courtyard gardens and it is good in a formal setting, making elegant gardens for town houses. It works well in shady spaces creating a calm and peaceful ambience. It acts as a contrast in a garden which is otherwise full of abundant and colourful plants. To be successful in your particular situation, choose plants which will thrive in your conditions, have interesting foliage, and provide a succession of blooms throughout the year. Don’t forget the bulbs.