Beware the harsh New Zealand light when cre­at­ing this tra­di­tional-style land­scape, writes Neil Ross.

Taranaki Daily News - Your Property Weekly - - Front Page -

This seem­ingly straight­for­ward hue should come with a caveat to han­dle with care, for white isn’t the eas­i­est of colours. We may think of it as a safe bet, but it can grab your eye and make a small gar­den feel even smaller.

Be­fore you go too mad with the white stuff, be care­ful you don’t overdo it. Bet­ter a flurry than an avalanche.

In our strong New Zealand light – es­pe­cially in sum­mer – in­di­gestible swathes of white can be as glar­ing as car headlights rather than cool and re­lax­ing. This hap­pens when de­sign­ers use large blocks of one plant, es­pe­cially those with larger, solid flow­ers like Flower Car­pet roses, phlox, or hebes.

Still, with its crisp, cool, and neu­tral im­pres­sion, no won­der so many gar­den­ers pre­fer to es­chew the bevy of brighter hues and in­stead play it safe with a sprin­kle of vir­ginal snow in their flower beds. Like ic­ing on a cake, white looks bet­ter if it is dif­fused through other colours, adding a touch of sparkle in the evening as softer hues fade, rather than as one big gloop of glare. For this ef­fect, you need flower heads that carry the colour in sep­a­rate specks rather than in a mashed potato mass.

All mem­bers of the car­rot fam­ily have a per­fect ar­range­ment of flow­ers in ar­chi­tec­tural spokes. The fern leaf bishop’s flower (Ammi vis­naga) makes a bold yet del­i­cate state­ment, cre­at­ing a con­fetti of white­ness rather than a tsunami splurge. This is an an­nual for the back of a bor­der and a lovely mixer with blue lark­spurs (con­sol­ida).

An­other of this shade’s pit­falls is that it is eas­ily sul­lied, and some white flow­ers quickly lose their vir­gin­ity as they age, which rather spoils the ef­fect. Camel­lias are no­to­ri­ous for re­veal­ing soggy

brown bloomers as they fade and old-fash­ioned roses don’t fare much bet­ter. The an­swer is to be vig­i­lant.

In an ideal world, bud­dleias would have you on guard all sum­mer with se­ca­teurs and a step lad­der re­mov­ing spent brown spikes. And, though I love white fox­gloves, I hate the way they drop their lower gloves so soon, leav­ing an ugly an­ten­nae of seed pods and newer flow­ers wav­ing around at al­ti­tude. I give them two weeks be­fore cut­ting them to the ground, lest they seed too madly.

Gi­ant to­bacco plant (Ni­co­tiana sylvestris) has its long, ghostly fun­nels com­pletely soiled by the brown, fad­ing ones but they drop off eas­ily enough if you can en­cour­age their exit ev­ery few days with fin­ger and thumb. All to­bacco plants are great in shade – es­pe­cially the richly night-scented Ni­co­tiana alata (also called Ni­co­tiana affi­nis), which is like a fire­works show in the gloom.

It’s in those places that white be­comes a dif­fer­ent crea­ture al­to­gether. Il­lu­mi­nat­ing dark cor­ners, white is never too gleam­ing to be un­wel­come in shade. In such places I al­ways reach for those stal­warts with cream var­ie­gated leaves such as brun­nera, spread­ing lami­ums, and a bevy of ev­er­green euony­mus or co­pros­mas. Sil­vers are good too, but few grow well un­der the drip­ping canopy of trees – astelia, brachy­glot­tis and helichry­sum be­ing no­table ex­cep­tions.

Th­ese plants would all form a use­ful fore­ground to my two sum­mer stal­warts: scented phlox and Ja­panese anemones (Anemone x hy­brida), both of which are sur­pris­ingly drought tol­er­ant once they are well es­tab­lished and will grow in sunny places too.

As with other colours, white seems straight­for­ward, but you soon find as you put plants to­gether that there are myr­iad nu­ances of the shade that don’t al­ways sit hap­pily to­gether. At one ex­treme there is the bleached pu­rity of aga­pan­thus, which just makes the creamier tones look shabby if placed along­side. Such creams of­ten in­clude lemon yel­lows and greens in themix as seen in Hy­drangea ar­borescens ‘Annabelle’ with its huge pom­pom heads (from Woodleigh Nurs­ery), or the smaller peren­nial Stoke­sia lae­vis ‘White Star’, which makes a lovely lit­tle plant for the front of bor­ders.

Its creami­ness is wel­come seen strad­dling blue cat­mint or pur­ple­leaved aju­gas but rather murky be­side bril­liant whites. In other flow­ers the cen­tre of the bloom sports a con­trast­ing colour, as in the yel­low cen­tre of white daisies such as leu­can­the­mums and mar­guerites, which al­lows you to echo th­ese tones in com­ple­men­tary plant­ing. Take the white spikes of Ver­bas­cum chaixii ‘Al­bum’ for ex­am­ple; each bloom has a lovely vi­o­let cen­tre that looks good if em­pha­sised by plant­ing with pur­ple salvias or plummy pen­ste­mons.

Sim­i­larly, don’t leave those rusty or­ange bosses in the middle of white echi­naceas – they cry out for some neigh­bourly sol­i­dar­ity.

Try na­tive Lib­er­tia pere­gri­nans along­side and, in the evening light while the rusty tones glow with warmth, the rays of white petals should pro­vide a wel­come dash of bling.

Ver­bas­cum chaixii - a lovely mullein peren­nial, which never needs stak­ing.

Stoke­sia lae­vis - this peren­nial re­peat all sum­mer if you feed and deadhead.

Ammi vis­naga - ben­e­fi­cial in­sects will flock to th­ese creamy land­ing pads.

Brun­nera macro­phylla - a cross be­tween hosta and a for­get-me-not.

Ni­co­tiana alata - a squat to­bacco plant, use­ful as bed­ding in sun or par­tial shade.

Eryn­gium gi­gan­teum - a cold cli­mate sea­holly.

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