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Marin IJ Articles

Brighten up with white

  • Dot Zanotti Ingels
  • My garden is a riot of color that steals the daytime show. But I have noticed that I like to sit outside at dusk and in the evening and all that color becomes lost in the darkness.

    Your garden does not need to close down at sunset. Enter white. When the bright colors fade into the night, the whites step up. They can appear luminescent as they reflect the moonlight and light from streetlights, house windows, garden twinkle lights, torches or candles.

    Even during the day, white in the garden livens and brightens shady areas. The concept of a totally white garden has its supporters. The white garden can feel refreshing and pleasantly formal. Nature does not provide us with a monoculture of color but, against a leafy green or shadowed background, a single color can stand out dramatically especially if the hue is white.

    Notice next time you eat outdoors in a restaurant patio at night. Those that are well planned for day long use will have white or silver-gray incorporated into the plantings to bring life to the patio at night.

    A bonus to introducing white into your garden is that many white night-bloomers are heavily scented after dark. It is nature’s way of attracting pollinating moths but it is a total winner for us as well. Some are more subtle and require a close-up sniff. And there are some like night-blooming jasmine that can fill your garden with the kind of aromatherapy that will encourage you to linger with a glass of wine.

    If your garden is large and seems like a big black hole at night, planting some white in the depths can go a long way in making it more welcoming. That would mean incorporating some white shrubs like hydrangeas and roses or climbing vines like the jasmine. Providing some garden lighting to highlight the white plantings is even better.

    For any size garden it is important to plant white around where we will be seeing it as we sit in our conversation or dining areas. This visually makes the space feel bigger as you become a part of the night garden. If you have garden paths, lining them with the whites or silver-gray helps light the way. If your garden is a deck or patio this works for you as well.

    All of this white gardening can be done in-ground or supplemented with pots. The pots provide you with versatility and let you bring the glow and scent even closer to you. They also let you easily change them seasonally which becomes more important in the smaller spaces.

    So what to plant? A white garden must include green foliage. Vibrant, dark green foliage is a distinctive contrast but the dark green may be lost in the night light. Paler green foliage may provide increased night glow. Silver-leafed plants, especially those with fuzzy foliage, also seem to glow.

    Definitely check out the Nicotiana alata. It does well in Marin and provides height and fragrance along with its evening glow. It reseeds readily and pops up here and there for a fun surprise. If you do not want it where it sets root, it is easily pulled up. Many traditionally favorite flowers may also come in white like petunias and echinacea. White daisies are virtually no-fail. Ground cover roses fill in up front. Remember variegated like my favorite hostas. Lamb’s ears, lamium and artemisia are great silver-grey choices.