The White Garden by Chris Bird

“The White Garden” was the subject of the talk given by Chris Bird, a broadcaster and lecturer at Sparsholt College. A knowledgeable and humorous speaker, who engaged with his receptive audience, Chris showed in many slides, how all year round interest can be achieved using not only flowers but shrubs, trees and imaginative features. Starting with Spring he moved through the seasons, providing plant names, their height and spread, ideal site and soil, impact and value.

Occasionally, another colour may be used, to complement or contrast with the white on white theme. We saw Gypsophilia, white against a background of dark green yew, Myosotis scorpiodes alba, Centaurea Montana alba, and Clianthus puniceus albus, from New Zealand. It is a scrambling climber, grown for its drooping clusters of claw-like creamy white flowers. Lower fertility soil can mean more flowers. Hostas, valued for their elegant leaves, can be of variable sizes and can be used effectively to fill in the gap at the bottom of a flower bed. Hosta fortunei, variety Albopicta, (picta indicates colouration in the middle of the leaf) is a good choice for our white garden. Malus is striking, trained as an espalier, in rows, as a feature or background. Loved by hoverflies and bees are Anthriscus sylvestris, (good in borders) and Anaphalis (“Pearl everlasting”), a good cut flower. It grows to 3 feet and is thirsty!

Romneya coulteri, “White Cloud” – a Californian poppy with crinkled white petals is pollen-rich, 3 – 4 feet high, with sage green foliage and flowers in June, July and August. It is good for flower arranging. Actinidia kolomikta is a twining climber; it has 3 – 6 inch long leaves, and the upper section of the leaf is often creamy white and pink. Handsome Hydrangea paniculata “Brussels Lace” has panicles 8 – 10 inches long. Some turn pink, followed by seed pods; it has a long impact. .Camassia cussickii has superb white flowers, and Verbene rigida “Polaris” has luminosity at twilight, attracting moths and butterflies. Castanea sativa Albomarginata, the Spanish chestnut, is a deciduous, spreading tree, bearing edible fruits in rounded spiny husks (chestnuts) and its wood is used to make castanets. Lysimachia clethroides, two and a half foot high, has curled white flowers. Stachys byzantina is good for edging, and white cobblestones were an effective feature in that slide. Senecio cineraria “Silver Dust” is an evergreen bushy sub – shrub grown for its deeply lobed silver leaves. (Its yellow flowers are best removed for our white garden). Two forms of Magnolia, “Stellata” and “Water Lilly” have striking white flowers.

Exochorda macrantha “The Bride” is a shrub with large white flowers produced in abundance amid dark green foliage. Mulch and water well. Sweet Viburnum is scented, and the flowers of Hesperis matronalis V. albiflora have a strong fragrance in the evening. In the slide it looked striking, backed by a dark green conifer. Vaccinium corymbosum (Highbush blueberry) is a deciduous, upright, slightly arching shrub. Saxifraga species and Armeria juniperfolia are useful rock plants. Anemone nemorosa will grow in shade, and is self seeding.. Alchemilla conjuncta has leaves which are silver on the reverse and is tactile. Zaluziansky ovata is scented and produces crimson backed white flowers over a long period in Summer. Polygonatum X hybridum is Solomon’s Seal. Magnolia sieboldii – can reach 25 feet, and has large white flowers. Rhododendron “Loderi” King George is scented, Trachelospernum asiaticus, evergreen, twining climber is strongly scented. Cornus “Norman Hadden’, a deciduous spreading tree, bears six weeks of creamy white flowers. Hoheria sexstylosa (Ribbonwood) is a “Woodlander” Gladiolus X colvillii, “The Bride” is a good cut flower. Cleome Bedding Mixture – attracts insects. Eucryphia nymansensis “Nymansay”, is loved by bumble bees; clusters of large white flowers open in late Summer or early Autumn. Hydrangea arborescens “Annabelle” produces very large, rounded heads of white flowers in Summer and is a good cut flower. A tree with white bark is Betula jacquemontii (the birch). The best form is “Grayswood Ghost”. Valerian, a perennial, is highly scented. A lovely slide depicted a dovecot as a desirable feature.

This was an absorbing talk showing how many plants and creative features can be employed to charming and dramatic effect in a white garden.