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Allan designs and plants flowering gardens in Montreal, Zone 5 [USDA Zone 4] .

See website, design work and favorite flowering plants at

Consultation and coaching for do-it-yourselfers is provided. Occasional emailed questions are welcome and answered free of charge. Oui, je parle francais.

See my work on Pinterest at Garden Guru Montreal

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Gardens White as Snow

What is it about white flowerbeds that upset me so? Many years ago, while reading a book about English gardens, I came upon the white garden room at Sissinghurst. Immediately, I turned the page. The image was too painful to contemplate. In later years, I read glowing reports from fellow garden bloggers who had visited there and I could never appreciate what they experienced.

Some years ago, while surfing the net, I discovered an image of a white cottage, landscaped with stark, white flowerbeds and offset with green foliage. It was a striking photograph; but I would not want to visit such a home. I found it cold. My gardens need color.

Recently, I noticed that a prominent Detroit-based garden designer graced the entryways of her clients’ grey stone front homes with flowerpots filled mostly with white flowers and lush green foliage. Her compositions were elegant, neat, and serene. The height of sophistication, they were a brilliant addition to the clients majestic houses. However, I wouldn’t want them at my front door. They made me sad because they lacked color.

Whenever a client asks for a white and green flowerbed, I cringe. The topic came up again this season, as it invariably does every year, and my knee-jerk reply was that it wasn’t suitable. And then it happened. Out of my mouth came the words: - Your tenants won’t like it because it will remind them of snow.  As I heard myself speak, I gained instant self-understanding and, after so many years, finally realised why I had forever objected to white gardens.

fymusic.caHere in USDA Zone 4b, winters are brutal and the sky is interminably overcast. More snow falls on the City of Montreal than on any point in the Canadian Arctic.

Most winters, drifts of snow will reach our chests to impede us, while a disagreeable, cold, dampness that freezes our extremities will settle into our bones to chill our bodies. Waiting for aboveground public trans-portation is akin to physical abuse, walking to work challenges our immune system, and driving a car can be treacherous. Many suffer from influenza, and others cough and itch from the dry, indoor air that heats our homes. Boots, scarves, gloves, and hats are not fashion accessories here; they are essential tools of survival.  It’s easy to understand why no one, especially I, would want a summer garden that is a reminder of winter.

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Reader Comments (2)

That's a very good observation! I always disliked them because I just don't like such a severe (and strange) restriction on the palette. Maybe it's also that it seems formal and "forced". I like a garden that feels like it's maybe just a year away from being wild and free...I love a little chaos and (god forbid) spontaneity!

October 18, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterScott Weber

Ah, Allen, now I understand the comment you left on my "white" post. And I get it! I too find all white too cold, and also it's not natural at all for a garden to have only white blooms. In our hot climate here in South Africa it does work, but I prefer some colour in and amongst all the white.
PS: Great blog! learning lots from you, thanks!

October 30, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterChristine

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