Green and White Garden–A Classic Theme

a photo of a white hellebore

By Steffie Littlefield

(This article was first published in The Gateway Gardener June 2006 issue.)
a photo of a white hellebore

White hellebore, or Lenten rose

The classic green-and-white garden is a super-sophisticated theme appealing to the gardener with discerning tastes.  The gardener who chooses to specialize is saying there’s more to a garden plant than what you can see from across the street.  Designing and implementing a garden devoid of “color” is more complicated than making a list of white-blooming plants.  It is the ultimate tribute to shape and texture.  In a world gone mad for bright neon colors, a simple white palette can be quite refreshing.

Enter a world of plants so subtle that you have to walk right up to them to fully appreciate their beauty.  Some visitors may find a green and white garden bland and uninteresting at first glance.  But, as the eye begins to focus on the rich greens and shimmering whites, the mind is stimulated, not by the obvious, but by the need to look closer at the layering of petals in a white peony, at the charming delicacy of the white bleeding heart and the pristine purity of a ‘Diane’ rose of Sharon. The fragrance in a ‘Winchester Cathedral’ rose, the soft pillow-like bloom of a ‘Little Lamb’ hydrangea and the swaying of the silver plumes on Miscanthus ‘Morning Light’ stimulate our senses in a calming way.

A green-and-white garden may contain perennials that bloom white or green at all seasons of the year, from the Christmas rose (Hellebores ‘Niger’) in winter to Narcissus ‘Mount Hood’ and ‘Thalia,’ columbine,  Siberian iris, astilbe, cimicifuga, daylilies, phlox ‘David,’ hardy hibiscus ‘Blue River,’ ‘White Fragrant’ coneflower, Japanese anemone, and boltonia. The complementary list of white blooming shrubs adds size and shape to the design with flowering quince, fothergilla, ‘Skip Laurel,’  ‘Pleasant Valley White’ azaleas, ‘Hummingbird’ clethra, hydrangeas such as oakleaf, ‘Limelight’, ‘Annabelle’, and tardiva , ‘White Profusion’ butterfly bush, ‘Acoma’ crepe myrtle, viburnums, and fall-blooming

a photo of hydrangea 'Limelight'

Hydrangea 'Limelight'

camellia ‘Snow Flurry.’  Variegated foliage plants steal the show with their textures, from the feathery look of variegated liriope or carex ‘Ice Dance’ to large-leaved hostas like ‘Patriot,’ and the arching stems of variegated Solomon’s seal. Fill in the gaps with white-blooming sweet woodruff, variegated pachysandra and add white-blooming clematis to ramble over a fence. This serene display can be accented with lovely white annuals such as dianthus, geraniums, petunias, zinnias, double impatiens, pansies, salvias, alyssum, verbena and many more. Add the silver foliage of lambs ear, dusty miller or cerastium ‘Snow in Summer’ to break up a large green area. There’s no end to the variety of green and white plants. Each attains a more prominent status when used in an elegant yet subdued

a photo of carex 'Ice Dance'

Carex 'Ice Dance'

garden featuring green and white plants.

Steffie Littlefield is a horticulturist and garden designer at Garden Heights Nursery. She has degrees from St. Louis Community College at Meramec and Southeast Missouri State and is a member of Gateway Professional Horticultural Association and past president of Horticulture Co-op of Metropolitan St. Louis. You can also find out about her family vineyard and event venue at