Delighted By White?

DSC03489There are plenty of ways to think about white. If you take red, blue and yellow light  and mix them up in equal amounts, the result is white light.  White snow or dense fog on a sunny day appears blindingly white, as they reflects all every color, and appear devoid of any color.  Devoid of color is one way of talking about white. This snow looks gray, as it was photographed on a cloudly sullen day-no light making for white white. Scientific discussion about exactly what constitutes the nature of white-there are lots of theories.  No designer needs to understand the physics or chemistry of white as much as they need to observe what white does in a composition.    

Europe 2006_09 096I never think about white without thinking about light. Water is transparent, or colorless, it transmits any color behind it. The water in the air from this Italian fountain is reflecting all the colors of the light spectrum.  This clear water appears white- in bright light.  “White water”, or churning airborne water,  looks just like snow. If you squint at this picture, so all the individual details drop out, the white will seem close to your eye, and grab your attention.  The green seems to recede, and hang back. A landscape is very much about the creation of a sense of depth.  There are actual spaces, with dimensions you can measure. A physical space that is very shallow can visually appear to be quite spatial.  How you use back and white, or light and dark, is key to this. July23b 083White has strong emotional connotations-as any color does.  Imagine how you would feel arriving at a hospital for surgery where everyone was dressed in black?  Or red? Or anything but white?  White looks pure, fresh, crisp and clean. This white annual phlox brings all of the above to mind.

HOME 016Pairing white with some sharply defined geometry can be clean and contemporary, and on the edge of glaring.  My main objection to contemporary landscape design has to do with the lack of any attendant and contrasting softness.  Mid century modern design does so well expressing a contemporary point of view, without being pitilessly stark.  How this container gets planted will be key to its visual success.

Hudas (17)White furniture in the landscape is cool and inviting, not cold. This black and white furniture, set on a bluestone and concrete aggregate terrace draws the eye, and invites company to gather.  The attendant landscape is softer and looser, without being messy or disorganized.  The invitation to sit is the most important visual element here; the landscape follows up with the suggestion of soft enclosure. But the invitation issued in white reads first. 

England0008Many antique garden ornaments, whether stone, iron, or concrete, have been painted white.  Perhaps the origin of this practice has to do with an effort to make those ornaments stand out. Vintage white paint on an object has a feeling that enchants those who love classical gardens, as well as those who love cottage gardens. In one of my lives, I would like a house with white limed floors, white walls, and white everywhere.  How serene and beautiful this would be. 

DGW0505 (3)Though the only thing on my mind come spring is some color, I do love white tulips. These Maureen tulips, paired with the black blooming Queen of the Night tiulip, is a different sort of spring display; stately and formal, I would say.  Though white flowers attract visual attention from afar, and can light an evening garden, I like what white does to direct your attention to the form.  A white tulip will permit you to see more about the shape of a tulip than any other color. Color can be a distraction.  Sometimes if ideas seem scarce when I am designing a landscape, I print all my study photos in black and white.    

DSC03484My life is all about the white now. Far from being a stock color, the character of white is so influenced by whatever light I might have delivered to my door in the morning.  I especially appreciate how it defines, and then blurs the shapes of everything outdoors. I like how it makes me see big forms and shapes in clean relief.  This makes me understand how a gardener could be very keen for a white garden. 

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My relationship with white in the garden might be described as always, and forever changing-with the push and pull, the hot and cold, the off and the on that characterizes most good relationships.


  1. I could not agree more about “white”– I feel the same way and am absolutely drooling over all of your work. I am extremely particular (dh calles me ‘picky’–the nerve! lol) and am not a fan of so many of the landscapers I’ve seen up here in Ohio. You have a fresh modern take on formal landscaping that is so serene and beautiful I cannot get over it. Lovely, lovely work.

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