The Great Whites

Three White Plants in A Garden For All by Kathy Diemer

Veronicastrum, eupatorium and parthenium (photo by: Kathy Diemer)

As far as color in the garden goes, white gets a bad rap.  It’s too bland.  It’s ho hum.  It’s just plain boring.  Yet white is also the color associated with awakening, growth and creativity.  The color translation of white is inherently a positive one as well, signifying illumination, brilliance, spirituality, humility, even assisting in happier thought processing. Sometimes a dash of white can hit the spot.  In fact, ivory flowers ignite the shadiest gardens (think Cimicifuga racemosa, with its soaring white spires) while simply sparkling in sunny locales. White, like the opposing black, goes with everything, and any garden combination could benefit from a shot of it.  Whether used to brighten a space, to add a little pizzazz, or to cool down a mass of sizzling blossoms, white may be the ticket you’re craving . . . you just didn’t know it.  Here’s a few of the favorite pearls I’ve grown to love over the years:  

Eupatorium Perfoliatum in A Garden For All by Kathy Diemer

Notice the fuzzy stems of eupatorium perfoliatum (photo: Kathy Diemer)

Eupatorium perfoliatum: Commonly known as boneset, this is the white alternative to relative Joe-Pye weed (Eupatorium purpureum). Capable of growing to six feet in moist, sunny gardens (zones 3-8), this beauty is native to the Eastern United States. Though the plant is considered toxic and bitter, some claim boneset was named for aiding in healing broken bones as well as treatment of colds and fever.  I’ll stick to a cast for any broken bones, but when it comes to masses of fluffy white flowers from July through September, borne on curiously fuzzy, erect stems, perfoliatum is a perfect fit.  No staking required!

Hydrangea 'Annabelle' in A Garden For All by Kathy Diemer

The white balls of Hydrangea ‘Annabelle’ (photo: Kathy Diemer)

Hydrangea arborescens ‘Annabelle:  Masses of white half-orbs about eight inches across adorn this lush green deciduous shrub from June through frost. Growing to about five feet annually, Annabelle benefits from a hard pruning early spring, as it blooms on new wood.  Unlike other hydrangeas, this belle will tolerate a sunny spot, but prefers a bit of shade to really thrive in zones 3-9. Hydrangea arborescens are native to the  Eastern U. S., are incredibly versatile and tolerant of a wide range of soil types, from clay to sandy.  Once the blooming has ceased, I often leave the flower heads as they add a wonderful element to the winter garden.

Stunning Blossoms of Casa Blanca in A Garden For All by Kathy Diemer

Stunning Blossoms of Lilium ‘Casa Blanca’ (photo by: Kathy Diemer)

Lilium ‘Casa Blanca:’ When you’re incorporating whites into your design, not only the color matters, but form and function as well.  When it comes to the dramatic ‘Casa Blanca,’ the flowers are not only drop-dead gorgeous, but so fragrant they lure butterflies and hummingbirds from miles away.  And if humans had such an acute sense of smell, they would be lured from afar as well.  Easily grown in average, well-drained soil in full sun to part shade, they prefer shaded toes, so plant in with other perennials or shrubs to protect the base. Oriental lilies grow up to four feet in zones 5-8, and ivory ‘Casa Blanca’ is absolutely stunning when mixed with darker foliaged companions.  Liliums are a bulb, so plan to install a bunch this fall.

Wild Quinine in A Garden For All by Kathy Diemer

Wild Quinine (photo by: Kathy Diemer)

Parthenium integrifolium: Also known as wild quinine, this Eastern U.S. native never fails to raise curious inquiries from visitors to my gardens.  The basal leaves are quite large and add a dramatic texture to the front of a border, while the strong stems reach up thrusting fistfuls of pearly clusters that start in May and last until August.  Although they don’t require staking, sometimes the flower heads droop after a storm.  When that happens, I prune them and enjoy another flush of blooms within a month.  Otherwise, the white flowers fade to beige and hold firmly until cut down for winter preparations.  In zones 4-8, wild quinine can grow up to four feet in the poorest soil conditions and doesn’t require a bit of watering once established.

Phlox 'David' floats in the Garden in A Garden For All by Kathy Diemer

Phlox ‘David’ floats in the Garden (photo by: Kathy Diemer)

Phlox paniculata ‘David:  I love all my phlox, from the hottest ‘Volcano Series’ pinks, to the variegated Miss ‘Norah Leigh,’ but nothing beats the impact of a five foot high mass of fragrant white clouds floating above the garden.  And that intoxicating, mildew free mass is the durable, dependable David, a Goliath among phlox. In sun drenched zones 3-8, David will provide beauty, fragrance and carefree abundance to any location.  Another tall, long lived perennial that I don’t prune or stake, it mixes well with Rudbeckia ‘Herbstsonne’, vernonia and eupatorium.  Utilizing its solemn white color, phlox ‘David’ enlivens while creating harmony amongst the bright yellow, rich purple and violet pink flowers of its companions.  David blooms from July through September, attracts all sorts of beneficial insects and hummingbirds, and is tolerant of drought and clay soils.

Spring Blooming 'Minnie Pearl' phlox in A Garden For All by Kathy Diemer

Spring blooming phlox ‘Minnie Pearl’ (photo by: Kathy Diemer)

Phlox x ‘Minnie Pearl:’ What makes Miss Pearl so special is that she shares her light much earlier in the season.  Starting in May, the gleaming white blossoms spread prolifically on petite, 18″ stems.  Perfect for smaller gardens, or front of the border, Minnie will spread gently over time to create a nice grouping.  Discovered in Mississippi by plants woman, Karen Partlow, ‘Minnie Pearl’ is thought to be a naturally occurring hybrid between Phlox maculata and Phlox glaberrima. Like its taller brother David, Minnie is fragrant and adored by butterflies and bees.  Also mildew resistant, this pearl prefers sun to part shade exposure and moist soils in zones 5-8.

Veronicastrum virginicum in A Garden For All by Kathy Diemer

Veronicastrum virginicum paired with eupatorium perfoliatum (photo by: Kathy Diemer)

Veronicastrum virginicum: Also recognized as culver’s root, veronicastrum is most notable for its incredible spires of white that tower over other garden plants from June through August.  Unlike some of its other white brethren, culver’s root has a very distinguished, striking form in the garden, with fingers of erect, milky colored blossoms that clearly stand out from the gang.  Although it may need staking (better to surround with other shrubs that can help it stay upright) to prevent it from falling after severe summer storms, this  six foot U. S. native is an incredibly showy addition to any gardener craving a dramatic structure in their design. A magnet for bees and butterflies, Veronicastrum virginicum thrives in moist, well drained soils in sunny locales from zone 3-8.

Consider adding a white knight in shining armor (or two) to your garden this summer.  Hey, you never know where it might lead . . .


  1. Hi Kathy,
    As you make reference to, from a spiritual perspective, white represents the 7th chakra – complete enlightenment! Take me there . . .
    Great article!

    • We’re on the right path, dear friend, straight to enlightenment . . . and beyond! Thanks so much for writing, I really appreciate the comments!

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A Garden for All