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How to Create Stunning Monochromatic Gardens

Monochromatic gardens feature plants and flowers that showcase one main color. Of course, there will be other colors that help to raise the focal color to the highest height, but upon first glance monochromatic gardens appear to be all pink, or all purple or all white, as examples. For this tutorial, we’re going to talk about designing a white garden.

One of the Famed Monochromatic Gardens

The most famous white garden is the one created at England’s Sissinghurst Castle by Vita Sackville-West in the 1930s. Because white flowers and leaves take on a special glow at dawn and dusk, these gardens are often placed where they can be admired at those times. Here are points to remember when choosing and placing plants for a white garden:

• White isn’t always white. A “white” flower may contain traces of cream, pale pink or blue that will become much more noticeable when placed next to a truly pure-white flower. To keep all whites looking their best, use green- or silver-foliaged plants between the off-whites and the pure whites. (Traces of other colors within white will be most apparent during the day, so if you plan to view this area mostly in the morning or evening, the point may be moot.)

• Create contrast with form, size and foliage. Your white garden will lack the interest that comes from different colored flowers playing off one another. Be sure to use plants of different shapes and sizes, different flower forms and foliage in different shades of green, blue and silver to add depth and character.

monochromatic gardens

A pleasant tension exists between a white lupine's chunky texture and delicate color.

Make sure there is a strong background behind the garden. A deep green hedge is perfect for setting off white flowers, as shown above, where an evergreen backs a bowl of candytuft (Iberis sempervirens ‘Little Gem’). A dark wall or fence will also do the trick. Avoid pale or white backgrounds.

Monochromatic Gardens: White Flowers for Spring

Shrubs and trees: false goatsbeard (Aruncus dioicus), kousa dogwood (Cornus kousa); various magnolias and rhododendrons; mock oranges (Philadelphus spp.)

Perennials: white bleeding heart (Dicentra eximia ‘Alba’, Lamprocapnos spectabilis ‘Alba’); lupines (Lupinus cvs.); peonies; beardstongue (Penstemon digitalis ‘Husker Red’)

Bulbs: snowdrops (Galanthus spp.); white varieties of crocus, daffodils (Narcissus) and tulips

monochromatic gardens

A white garden wakes early with the incorporation of early blooming bulbs, such as snowdrops (Galanthus invalis). The bare ground puts their clean flowers into sharp relief. Shutterstock.

Annuals: alyssum (Lobularia maritima); Osteospermum cvs.

Monochromatic Gardens: White Flowers for Other Seasons

Extend the interest of your white garden by incorporating white varieties of these plants that bloom in summer or autumn: Bottlebrush buckeye (Aesculus parviflora); anenome (try ‘Honorine Jobert’); astilbe; camellias; clematis; cleome; dahlia; foxgloves (Digitalis spp.); coneflower (Echinacea purpurea ‘White Swan’); Miss Willmott’s ghost (Eryngium giganteum); Gaura lindheimeri; hydrangea; lilies (such as ‘Casa Blanca’); gardenia; flowering tobacco (Nicotiana alata); border phlox (i.e., ‘David’); Montauk or Shasta daisies; Veronicastrum virginicum ‘Alba’.

Also include plants with white- or silver-marked foliage that will provide a consistent glow as white flowers pass in and out of bloom. (Most plants with pale variegation need some shade during the day, and be aware that some are not as vigorous or stable as their plain-leaved counterparts.) Try pale-marked versions of: Agave; Japanese painted fern (Athyrium niponicum var. pictum); Siberian bugloss (Brunnera macrophylla); caladium; sedges (Carex spp.); dogwood (such as Cornus alba ‘Elegantissima’); cyclamen; hosta; Solomon’s seal (particularly Polygonatum odoratum ‘Variegata’); lungwort (Pulmonaria spp.); sedum; yucca.

Meghan Shinn is Horticulture’s editor. This article originally appeared as part of a longer feature in the May/June 2015 issue of Horticulture which you can download here.