A Vision in White

The garden was structured around existing trees and a brick path, which is lined with Winter Gem boxwood.

The garden was structured around existing trees and a brick path, which is lined with Winter Gem boxwood.

A multitude of textures abound in this beautifully composed garden, with flowers, attractive foliage, ground covers and shrubs adding to the mix. Agapanthus, unusual in white, is a striking addition with its tall flower heads.

With garden centers and nurseries greeting winter-weary gardeners with a riot of colorful flowers this spring, it may be hard to imagine the restraint of the Denver homeowners who asked landscape designer Alissa Shanley of b.gardening to create an oasis of white on their city lot. “There is something that draws you to the simplicity of an all-white garden, that makes you stop and look at the textures and shapes of the plants,” Shanley says. “White reflects light in a way that no other color would do. It's all very calm and restful.” 

With the entire front and back yards devoted to gardens—there is no grass here—Shanley structured her design to flow around an existing brick path and mature trees. More formal than natural in design, the landscape features a clean, linear look that gives it a certain sophistication. “The placement of every plant was very purposeful,” Shanley says. Rows of boxwood line the brick path, a small hedge of lamb's ear edges the rose garden and mounds of blue fescue line up in a row like soldiers.

Shanley selected plants based on several factors: color (white and cream flowers highlighted by silvery, blue-green foliage); light (the garden has both sun and shade); Colorado growing conditions; and size. “We wanted big, round prominent flowers and large, showy leaves to make a statement and balance the substantial Tuscan-style house,” says the designer. She chose a mix of annuals and perennials that fit the bill—tall spikes of agapanthus, dramatic hydrangea blossoms, clusters of lush roses and the stunning impact of thousands of white tulips and daffodils in bloom.

“The primary goal of this garden is to have something blooming at all times,” says Shanley, who planted the bulbs to burst into waves of early, mid- and late-spring flowers. As spring dissolves into summer, roses and long-lasting annuals come into bloom. Later, the agapanthus raise their tall, spiky flowers and the heady blossoms of hydrangea open up. “The magic of this garden is that it is always changing,” Shanley says. “One day you might notice the structure, another day the flowers draw your eye.”

Although there are natural, woodsy elements, such as the mossy pathways that meander among the flowers, the garden gets a regular trimming for a more tailored appearance. “When I come back here to work, it is pure pleasure,” Shanley says. “If I could choose one place to live in any of my gardens, it would be this one.”

Wonderland of White

If white feels right for your garden, here are some tips on how to make a big impact:

Play Up the Light

  • White increases in intensity in shade or partial shade.
  • A white garden shines at night, reflecting the moonlight and garden lights.
  • Add pale or reflective elements, such as stones or water features.

Complementary Colors

  • Blue-green or silvery foliage enhances white flowers.
  • If you want to add some color, clear blue flowers (such as lobelia) work best with white.
  • You don't have to go all white. Plant one section or garden room in white.

Expect the Unexpected

  • Consider flowers often chosen for their colors, and go with the more unusual white varieties of iris, daffodil, delphinium, astilbe, daylily, phlox and impatiens.  
  • Shrubs and ground covers add structure and depth to the garden; look for varieties with white flowers, such as boxwood, Rose of Sharon, Diamond Frost euphorbia, Daphne  and hellebore.
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