The Garden In August

I have a hot mess of a perennial garden at home. I have tinkered with it for 20 years, and it still is a hot mess. Not that I mind the mess. Minding a garden is an ongoing experience like no other. The moves I have made towards a reasonably good design are as follows. My work life is incredibly busy in the early part of the season. I realized I have little time to tend or appreciate a perennial garden at home until later in the summer season. A summer or late summer garden would better suit my life. A garden that would look good very early in the morning, or very late in the day would even better suit my life. I go to work early, and come home late. Given this, I have been aiming for a late summer flowering garden replete with white flowers. I did cheat a little by planting some white David Austin roses, Winchester Cathedral, that bloom in June, but the majority of this garden looks its best in late July. That part makes sense. But why white flowers? White flowers shrug off the heat. They look cool and collected, even on a 90 degree day. They never look frazzled. I would not want a garden that looked like me at the end of the day. White flowers read beautifully from a distance.  And they are showy at dusk. This means that when I am fixing coffee at 5:00 am, I can see through the window what is happening in that garden. I might take a second look when I am cleaning up after dinner-at dusk.

I do have clients that favor white flowers in their containers, for no other reason than they like white flowers. I understand this. The white is crisp, and cooling to view. They are as striking and simple in a contemporary garden as they are in a traditional one. White in the garden provides a beautiful and strong contrast to every shade of green. The purple petunias in this container are more visually lively, given some white.

This Limelight hydrangea standard has flowers that are a creamy pale green. The bright white background provided by the house makes the subtle color of the hydrangeas pop. Pale and pastel flowers can provide the same punch as white flowers. Pale colors read strongly; the eye spots them first.  Containers to be viewed from the street, or gardens to be viewed from a distance benefit from the inclusion of some pastel blooming plants.

To my mind, nothing says summer in Michigan better than white petunias. They always look fresh.  Though some gardeners find them pedestrian, they can provide strong visual support to a composition.

Euphorbia Diamond Frost has to be one of the most beautiful and versatile white flowered annual plant for containers that it has ever been my pleasure to plant. I love how light and lacey it is. The thin stems and diminutive flowers lighten and loosen every plant in its vicinity.

See what I mean? Double petunias are scraggly and awkward growing plants. The euphorbia hides all of those ungainly stems. It could be that the pale green buds of this petunia are more beautiful than the flowers. The white helps that subtle color read clearly.

My color scheme for my containers this year was lime, pink-and white. These begonias are called Apple Blossom. The reverse of the petals is pink. The yellow centers of the white begonias relate to the yellow brick behind them. Pink and white begonias, white and pink Gingerland caladiums, lime green dieffenbachia, lime green ferns and variegated tradescantia – I have so enjoyed the various shades of green, the white, and the dashes of pink.

This color scheme is interesting and restrained.

apple blossom  begonia

I planted this annual garden at Cranbrook in 2005 for an evening event. At dusk, the forms of the plants and the flowers were easy to see.

white annual garden

white caladiums in the late day sun

The white caladiums highlight the dark rose pink color of the nicotiana in front of them, don’t they? White flowers and leaves in the background will highlight and better describe and illuminate darker colored plants placed in front of them.

This photograph of the front of the shop taken yesterday is not so sharply in focus. But that soft focus illustrates how white flowers can punctuate and enliven a garden.

Night before last I was late to tour the garden. The white and light flowers lighted my way. Truth be told, there was a time when white, light and pastel flowering plants did not much interest me. I am sure every gardener has that moment when their taste changes. White flowering plants in the landscape is an idea that has become more important to me, especially given my aging eyes.

So pleased to be able to see this.





















  1. So refreshing late in the season. Beautiful!

  2. Randy Herrington says

    Beautiful! Love and use white too.

  3. mary garlough says

    I particularly love your containers with white caladiums. What are their light requirements to thrive and be lush like yours?

    Thanks, Mary

  4. Silvia Weber says

    Love the white petunias, too. And Diamond Frost!
    Don’t understand what people have against petunias? They bloom their hearts out and are very fragrant, especially at dusk.
    The terrace plantings at your home are beautiful!
    All plantings are beautiful! As always!
    See you soon.

  5. Jean Calaci says

    As always, you are spot on.

  6. I once read in a gardening book that every good gardener eventually falls in love with white. I think our gardening perspective needs to mature before we can fully appreciate how versatile this color is in the garden. Thanks for sharing!

  7. Wonderful plant combinations. I’d love to do an all white garden near my screened-in porch. It would be lovely looking at it in the evenings. Fragrant flowers would be a .

    We are about to take out the grass in my daughters front yard. It will be pea gravel paths with mixed borders. She is gone all summer, so it will be interesting to see how everything will do in her zone 6 in Missouri.

  8. I really enjoyed this post “August in the Garden”. We are redoing our house color to Black Alder and I am going to use a lot of white flowering plants and shrubs which I think will be exciting. This is also a change for me as I very much love color….but lately white has become interesting for all the reasons that you mentioned.
    I enjoy your informative and educational posts.

  9. my sentiments exactly

  10. Thomas Edison’s wife planted a moon garden completely with white flowers at their home in FL. I find it charming that she lit up the night with plants while he did it with electricity.

  11. debra phillips says

    brilliant in all regards. I just paused to really look at my gardens……so neglected.
    your compositions Deborah are thought provocative

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