Garden Design Using White Flowers

I promised you WHITE for January, so on the heels of my White Flowers for Sweet Perfume post, here are some rather random, eclectic and highly subjective observations on effective use of white flowers in garden design.

White Flowers-ThePaintboxGarden

Personally, I’m not a big fan of monochrome gardens. All-white schemes, in particular, I find a little too sedate. But there is a place for them in a garden that 1) will be enjoyed in the evening, where the white flowers will pop out of the darkness; or 2) is a shady, mostly green area that will be enlivened by white flowers; or 3) features a large colour palette, but might benefit from a little corner of tranquility.

When white flowers are used almost exclusively, there should be a balancing framework of green foliage. And for green-and-white, no garden that I’ve seen does that crisp combination more beautifully than the elegant Beryl Ivey Knot Garden at the Toronto Botanical Garden. From spring through fall, the curving boxwood and yew parterres are filled with an assortment of white flowers. In spring, there’s a lovely mix of Anemone sylvestris ‘Snowdrop’, narcissus ‘Thalia’, and tall white tulips, including lily-flowered tulip ‘White Elegance’.

TBG-Beryl Ivey Knot Garden-Spring

Here’s a closeup of that combination.

TBG-Beryl Ivey Knot Garden-Anemone sylvestris & Tulipa 'White Elegance'

By June, the scene has changed and the main feature is the re-blooming white bearded iris ‘Immortality’.

TBG-Beryl Ivey Knot Garden-Irises

Early summer features gorgeous white sages, including white meadow sage (Salvia nemorosa ‘Snow Hill’), one year mixed with biennial white clary sage (Salvia sclarea var. turkestanica ‘Alba’).

TBG-Beryl Ivey Knot Garden-White Sages

Later still come the coneflowers, usually a mix of Echinacea ‘White Swan’ with the regular purple coneflowers, and combined with white perennials like obedient plant (Physostegia virginiana ‘Alba’).

TBG-Beryl Ivey-Physostegia & Echinacea-white flowers

One summer, the knot garden featured fragrant flowering tobacco (Nicotiana alata) combined with tall white gaura. Here is how it looked as I strolled through it.

Apart from the Beryl Ivey Knot Garden, the TBG has many other beautiful display gardens featuring white flowers. Here’s another spring bulb ensemble I loved, this one starring the shimmering lily tulip ‘White Triumphator’ paired with dark ‘Queen of Night’ and peachy ‘Menton’.

TBG-Spring Bulbs-Tulipa 'White Triumphator'

What about this little white TBG vignette, against a protected inner wall in the Westview Terrace? Fragrant Daphne x burkwoodii ‘Carol Mackie’ with Viburnum rhytidophyllum.

TBG-Viburnum & Daphne

And a little later in the season, this airy cloud of Bowman’s root (Porteranthus trifoliatus, formerly Gillenia trifoliata) is simply exquisite. What a great native plant!

TBG-Porteranthus trifoliata-Bowman's Root

I’m not fond of big blobs of white in a border – say, drifts of white phlox next to blobs of a contrasting-coloured perennial. I think it’s jarring. But I do love a subtle tracery of white etched along a border, so the eye is carried by its luminance right into the distance. The TBG’s Piet Oudolf-designed entry border features a clever repeat of white foxglove beardtongue (Penstemon digitalis), one of my very favourite penstemons. In this image, the brilliance is enhanced by the pale flowers of ‘Blue Angel’ hosta in the foreground, acting as an anchor. And isn’t it great with the zingy, wine-red knautias?

TBG-Penstemon digitalis in Oudolf border

Here’s a closer look at this bee-friendly penstemon and its companions.

TBG-Penstemon digitalis-Oudolf border

I love it so much (and it’s so easy), I’ve seeded it at my own cottage on Lake Muskoka, where it hangs out with yellow Coreopsis lanceolata and white (yes I know they’re exotic invasive) oxeye daisies (Leuchanthemum vulgare).

JD-Penstemon digitalis & Oxeye daisies

Back to the TBG now. Another great plant used in several places is the prairie native rattlesnake master (Eryngium yuccifolium). With its spiky, spherical, cream-white flowers, it adds a very interesting effect to a border. I love it with with Rudbeckia subtomentosa ‘Henry Eilers’ in the perennial border…..

TBG-Eryngium yuccifolium & Rudbeckia subtomentosa 'Henry Eilers'

….and with Russian sage (Perovskia atriplicifolia) and Astilbe tacquetii  ‘Purpurlanz’ in the Oudolf border.

TBG-Eryngium yuccifolum & Perovskia

Isn’t that blue-and-white combo gorgeous? In fact, I collect photos of that seersucker-like pairing whenever I see it done well. Here’s Russian sage with fabulous white calamint (Calamintha nepeta ssp. nepeta), also at the TBG. (Just wait for the bees to descend on this duo!)

TBG-Perovskia-&-Calamintha nepeta

By the by, calamint is a fabulous addition to a border and enhances almost anything it’s placed beside, including ornamental grasses, silvery cardoon leaves, and a strong vertical plant like blazing star (Liatris spicata), below.

TBG-Liatris spicata & Calamintha nepeta

And any number of lovely blue-and-white spring combinations can be dreamed up with forget-me-nots (Myosotis sylvatica), but no one does that better than Victoria’s Butchart Gardens, here topping it with a lovely creamy-white lily-flowered tulip.

Butcharts-Tulips & Forget-me-nots

There are myriad ways to marry blue and white, in fact. Below are twelve of them!

Blue and white flower combinations

Top row, left to right: white Anemone blanda with blue scilla (S. siberica); narcissus ‘Thalia’ with grape hyacinths (Muscari armeniacum); star-of-Bethlehem (Ornithogalum umbellatum) with forget-me-nots (Myosotis sylvatica); and bleeding heart (Dicentra spectabilis ‘Alba’) with forget-me-nots.

Middle row: white ‘Festiva Maxima’ peony with false blue indigo (Baptisia australis); white blackeyed Susan vine (Thunbergia alata ‘Suzy White Black Eye’) with blue Convolvulus and white Nemesia; white spider flower (Cleome hassleriana ‘Sparkler White’ with blue mealycup sage (Salvia farinacea); and blue catmint (Nepeta racemosa) with white meadowsweet (Filipendula vulgaris).

Bottom row: Liatris spicata ‘Floristan White’ with Russian sage; white swamp hibiscus (Hibiscus moscheutos ‘Blue River II’ with a gorgeous blue shed door; white guara (Oenothera lindheimeri) dancing with Russian sage; and white autumn snakeroot (Actaea simplex) with ‘Arendsii’ autumn monkshood (Aconitum carmichaelii).

Another really versatile white-flowered perennial at the Toronto Botanical Garden is white Japanese burnet (Sanguisorba tenuifolia ‘Alba’). It’s difficult to explain how superb this tall perennial is at adding an interesting shape and texture to other late-season plants. The best way is to show you. Here it is with ‘Gateway” Joe Pye weed (Eupatorium maculatum) in the Oudolf border….

TBG-Sanguisorba tenuifolia 'Alba' & Eupatorium 'Gateway'

….and with equally quixotic (and long-blooming) Knautia macedonica

TBG-Sanguisorba tenuifolia 'Alba' & Knautia

…and finally, even as it loses its whiteness, it adds a lacy scrim to a brilliant fall ensemble of sneezeweed (Helenium autumnale) and goldenrod.

TBG-Sanguisorba tenuifolia 'Alba' & Helenium

Three more quick combos from the TBG that feature white flowers. Here’s a panicle hydrangea (H. paniculata ‘Little Lamb’), below, that can look a bit top-heavy, given its short stature and those big flowers. But put a chorus line of annual Brazilian verbenas (V. bonariensis) in front of them, and they look brilliant.

TBG-Hydrangea 'Little Lamb' & Verbena bonariensis

Even though I said I didn’t like “blobs” of white in the border, you can’t get more va-voom than the big white swamp hibiscus (H. moscheutos) ‘Blue River II’. I love this pairing with goldenrod – I think I’d even love 10 of each!

TBG-Hibiscus moscheutos & Solidago

Finally, a nice way to use a white astilbe such as A. ‘Diamond’, below, is to partner it with a good variegated hosta.

TBG-Astilbe 'Diamond' with variegated hosta

Speaking of variegated leaves, that’s the easiest way to add an elegant touch of white to the garden. Here is my own little deck garden in early June, a mass of the plain, old Hosta ‘Undulata’ with Azalea ‘White Cascade’.

JD-Azalea 'WhiteCascade' & Hosta 'Undulata'

A week or so later, the hostas switch partners (!!!) and cozy up to my rambling herbaceous Clematis recta ‘Purpurea’. I love this time in the garden, before the slugs get the hostas).

JD-Clematis recta & Hosta 'Undulata'

Toronto’s Spadina House Museum & Garden uses variegated hostas in an elegant pairing with white columbines (Aquilegia vulgaris) that I like very much.

Spadina-Hosta & white columbine

And while I’m on the beautiful gardens of Spadina House, here’s an attractive early summer duo: white meadow rue (Thalictrum aquilegifolium ‘Album’) with white snakeroot (Actaea racemosa).

Spadina-Actaea racemosa & Thalictrum

New York Botanical Garden’s Seasonal Border, another Piet Oudolf design, does a lovely repeat with white foxgloves (Digitalis purpurea ‘Alba’) in late spring.

New York Botanical-Four Seasons Border-Foxgloves

I liked this quiet NYBG combination of white violets (V. cornuta) with ‘Jack Frost’ variegated Siberian bugloss (Brunnera macrophylla).

NYBG-Brunnera Jack Frost & Violets

Further into the season, this is a classic white annual combination at NYBG: white Nicotiana sylvestris with white spider flower (Cleome hassleriana).

New York Botanical-Nicotiana sylvestris & Cleome

And I was completely wowed by this soft underplanting of native foamflower (Tiarella cordifolia) beneath magenta azaleas in NYBG’s fabulous Azalea Garden.

New York Botanical-Tiarella & Rhododendron

My favourite American public garden, Chanticleer,  has a sweet way of working white into its schemes. Here’s a mass planting of white astilbe lighting up the shady Bell’s Wood.

Chanticleer-Astilbe-Bell's Wood

And how wonderful is this, on Chanticleer’s Rocky Ledge? A rollicking carpet of annual white Orlaya grandiflora with red corn poppies (Papaver rhoeas) and ‘Caradonna’ meadow sage (Salvia nemorosa).

Chanticleer-Orlaya grandiflora-Gravel Garden

Walk down the hill from that rocky ledge and you’re in the most gorgeous series of water gardens, but if you love being “led”, this is what will catch your eye,  Once again, my favourite foxglove penstemon, P. digitalis, all along the left side of the path.

Chanticleer-Penstemon-Gravel Garden

My final combination using white flowers comes from the sensational perennial garden of Montreal Botanical Garden, better known in the city as the Jardin Botanique. Here, white Echinacea ‘Prima Donna‘ acts as a petticoat for tall orange Lilium henryi.

Montreal Botanical-Echinacea 'Primadonna White' & Lilium henryi

So that’s white for January, from me to you!  Stay tuned for February! RED, baby!

A Cryptic Bumble Bee

In the course of photographing plants, I take so many photos of different types of bees that I’ve become familiar with many common species. Western honey bees (Apis mellifera), of course, are distinctive and utterly recognizable (and a primary focus of mine)…

Apis mellifera on Berberis thunbergii

… and I’ve enjoyed making the acquaintance of honey bee subspecies in Africa, and the Asian honey bee Apis dorsata,shown below on the beautiful shrub Rhodoleia championii at the Hong Kong Botanical Garden.

Apis dorsata on Rhodoleia championii

But native North American bees are so numerous and so similar in many respects, they can be a huge challenge to identify. So I’ve used the good detective services of the interactive site Bug Guide to separate my Melissodes, shown here on Echinacea pallida

Mellisodes on Echinacea pallida

…from my Megachiles, shown below enjoying a snack on common milkweed (Asclepias syriaca)….

Megachile latimanus on Asclepias syriaca

…. from my Andrenas, including this one on a dog rose (Rosa canina)….

Andrena on Rosa canina

…. from my Agapostemons, like the one below (A. virescens) enjoying a coneflower.

Agapostemon virescens on Echinacea

Bumble bees are another big subject for me, and I’m fairly good at identifying the species in Ontario, like the good old common eastern bumble bee, Bombus impatiens brown-belted bumble bee (Bombus griseocollis) on blue false indigo (Baptisia australis) below. (Thank you H. Go of the American Museum of Natural History for the quick correction on my “fairly good” identity.  Did I mention bumble bees are tough sometimes too?)

Bombus griseocollis on Baptisia australis

….and my favourite, the orange-belted bumble bee (Bombus ternarius), shown below on stiff-leafed goldenrod (Oligoneuron rigida).

Bombus ternarius on Oligoneuron rigida

In British Columbia, I’ve gradually learned the names of coastal bumble bees, like beautiful Bombus vosnesenskii, below, foraging on Rhododendron saluenense.

Bombus vosnesenskii on Rhododendron saluenense

But a trip to Edmonton and nearby Devonian Botanic Garden a few years ago yielded images of a bumble bee which, after some sleuthing on my own, I determined was likely Bombus moderatus, a species that has recently moved south into Alberta from the far north, including parts of Alaska.  Bee bloggers in Alberta were ecstatic. Here it is nectaring on showy milkweed (Asclepias speciosa).

Bombus cryptarum on Asclepias speciosa

When I uploaded the photo to Bug Guide to ask for confirmation, however, I was told it was instead Bombus cryptarum, a cryptic bumble bee. That identification puzzled me because a cursory look on the internet yielded mentions of this species from Ireland and Czechoslovakia. How could my cold-adapted Canadian bumble bee be the same species as one from milder Ireland, an ocean away? So, in my usual cheeky way, I replied: “Bombus cryptarum is a British bumble bee. This is Alberta, Canada. I don’t think it can be that species. I think it might be B. moderatus, which has been seen in Alberta.”

Well, it serves me right for not researching the changes in Bombus taxonomy further. The Bug Guide response was brief:  “B. moderatus is a synonym of B. cryptarum”.  And I was pointed to a study on cryptic bumble bees. (According to Wikipedia, cryptic species are described as two or more species hidden under one species name.)

Thus, I spent a good part of my Saturday absorbing information on my bumble bee, which gets rather short shrift in studies, having being lumped at certain times with other European bees of similar colouring, such as Bombus lucorum. But how on earth did it reach Edmonton? It turns out that in a 2010 DNA barcode study (in the reports, these are referred to as CO1 barcodes, for Cytochrome c oxidase 1, small sections of protein encoded in a specific gene that can be used to analyze, identify and compare animal species), a northern Alberta bumble bee identified as Bombus moderatus was just 21 nucleotides away from an Eastern Russian bumble bee identified as Bombus cryptarum. Now, in Las Vegas and horseshoes that would be very close, but not really a cigar. However, in the world of DNA-aided bee taxonomy – and ignoring the implications for how one defines a North American “native” bumble bee –  it’s close enough to lump species together under the first published name. And of course, it isn’t really a long way from Kamchatka to Alaska (particular if the Bering Strait land bridge was still there), as the bee flies and adapts and speciates.

So… meet a pair of Bombus cryptarum (formerly Bombus moderatus), blissfully unaware of their wandering northern ancestors and cryptic, enigmatic, one-barcode-fits-all taxonomy, intent only on securing pollen from this lovely ‘Topaz Jewel’ rose, one of a handful of yellow rugosa roses. And perhaps illustrating in their own way that lovely line from Juliet to Romeo: “What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.”

Bombus cryptarum on rose


White Flowers for Sweet Perfume

Blog & images © Janet Davis – All Rights Reserved

We all want a garden filled with fragrance, don’t we? There are numerous plants that can help us achieve the romance of a scented garden, especially after dark.  That’s because many have evolved white or pale-coloured blossoms in their native climes in order to attract their pollinators, night-flying moths.  Growing night-scented plants enhances a garden for evening enjoyment – those alfresco dinners that linger on for hours. This was my deck pergola, several years back (and sadly gone now). You can’t quite make them out, but in a container nearby was a clutch of the tender bulb Gladiolus murielae (formerly Acidanthera), which goes by the common name Abyssinian gladiolus.

Pergola at night

That lovely, fragrant bulb is available every spring, and is worth planting a few at a time in succession, in order to have them flowering for weeks on end.

Gladiolus murielae-Abyssinian gladiolus

But planning for fragrance means looking at the entire season, for even if it’s too chilly to be in your garden in spring, many of those perfumed flowers can be brought in to scent the house. Here’s a roughly chronological dream team of white blossoms for garden perfume from spring to fall:

Hyacinths (Hyacinthus orientalis) are those rather buxom spring bulbs that always seem a little too stiffly perfect in the early garden, but relax in subsequent years into a more graceful form. Indoors, however, they are typical of many fragrant white flowers, however, in that their perfume   seems to go quickly from intoxicating to intolerable. White varieties include ‘L’Innocence’, ‘White Pearl’ and ‘Carnegie’, below.    

Hyacinthus orientalis 'Carnegie'

I’ve written about daffodils before – those I grow in my cottage meadows on Lake Muskoka, and four cultivars that I think are exceptional for their scent.  But if you think of perfume and narcissus in the same breath, then you want the one that is actually harvested for perfume (yes, narcissus is part of the ‘white flowers’ group in perfumery) in France, which is of course Narcissus poeticus, the poet’s daffodil. It flowers a little later, well into spring, but its elegant flowers are sweetly perfumed.

Narcissus poeticus-Poet's daffodil

Fragrant abelia (Abelia mosanensis) is one of those tidy little shrubs that might go unnoticed, flowering as it does in May. A Korean native, it is very hardy but it’s a good idea to site it in a partly enclosed space, where you can sniff that lovely perfume before it’s sweater weather outdoors. It also has very good fall colour.

Abelia mosanensis-Fragrant abelia

Winter honeysuckle (Lonicera fragrantissima) was introduced from China to European commerce by Robert Fortune in 1845. Though it arrived in the United States a decade later, it’s not that well-known in North America. In my part of Ontario, doesn’t flower in February or March, but well into April or early May, along with spring bulbs, magnolias and early Japanese cherries. At the Royal Botanical Garden in Hamilton, Ontario, it is planted behind a bench on a slope in the ravine-like rock garden, where visitors can enjoy its perfume up-close (though when it first comes into bloom, the perfume is known to carry 10 metres (30 feet).  It has a rather straggly shape, but that isn’t why you’d choose it for your garden.

Lonicera fragrantissima1

Honey bees and bumble bees love the perfumed flowers, which start out cream and turn buff-yellow.

Lonicera fragrantissima2

A delightful North American native shrub with a light but pleasant scent is dwarf fothergilla Fothergilla gardenii. Mostly native to the Appalachians and north to the Carolinian forests just north of Lake Erie, I have tempted the zone fates by planting TEN in my front garden, hoping for the honey perfume of its bottlebrush flowers…..

Fothergilla gardenii

…. since I already know it has spectacular fall colour!

Fothergilla-fall colour

One of my favourite spring shrubs has an intoxicating perfume, and a common name to match. Koreanspice viburnum (Viburnum carlesii). In their 1967 book The Fragrant Year, Leonie Bell and Helen Van Pelt Wilson call it “a tantalizing blend of carnation and gardenia”. Its manageable size makes it a delightful addition to a border, and it offers crimson-red fall colour in colder climates as well.  Here it is at the Toronto Botanical Garden.

Viburnum carlesii 'Diana'1

Each Koreanspice viburnum inflorescence is a miniature bouquet of fragrance.

Viburnum carlesii 'Diana'2

A related viburnum, though not quite as elegant as its Korean cousin, larger in stature and flowering a few weeks later, is the fragrant snowball viburnum (Viburnum x carlcephalum). You simply cannot imagine the heady scent beside the entrance gate at Toronto’s Spadina House gardens, when this shrub is in flower in mid-May. (Compared to Koreanspice, the perfume is slightly soapier.) That brings up a good design pointer for using perfumed plants: site them where people are sure to smell them, such along a path or beside a gate, or next to a bench where people can sit and enjoy the scent.

Viburnum x carlcephalum-Spadina House

Daphnes prefer cooler summers so they do best in warmer parts of the northeast with a little shade.  A favourite and fairly cold-hardy daphne blooms at the same time as the fragrant viburnums. Daphne x burkwoodii ‘Carol Mackie’ has variegated leaves and light-pink flowers that fade to white. Its heady perfume has been likened to that of rubrum lilies.

Daphne burkwoodii 'Carol Mackie'

If you have a place to grow one – that is, a sturdy pergola or arbour that cannot be weighed down by massive weight – consider a white Chinese wisteria (Wisteria sinensis ‘Alba). In The Fragant Year, its perfume is described as “deliciously spicy with cinnamon, different from the usual bouquet (the honey and lilac they describe as being the perfume of purple wisteria) and coming a week later).

Wisteria sinensis 'Alba'-white Chinese wisteria

What would spring be without the evocative perfume of lilacs? For a white-themed garden with lots of room, consider the fabulous Russian introduction Syringa vulgaris ‘Krasavitsa Moskvy’ (4m tall x 2.5m wide or 12’ tall x 8’ wide). The name means ‘beauty of Moscow’, and so it is, with its pale pink buds opening to highly-scented, double, white flowers.. An old-fashioned French variety that’s easy to find in nurseries is ‘Mme Lemoine’, below, also with double white flowers. As the authors of The Fragrant Year point out, it was Gertrude Jekyll who observed that “doubling of flowers increases fragrance because of the extra petals.”

Syringa vulgaris 'Mme.Lemoine-white lilac

Less well known than lilacs and viburnums is the native North American fringe tree (Chionanthus virginicus). Of this handsome, large shrub, Van Pelt Wilson and Bell write: “We have planted it to take full advantage of its two weeks of exquisite scent, and near lilacs, so that the front lawn and the house, too, with windows open, are enveloped with fragrance”. They describe its scent as having “the sweetness of white clover or the first cut of alfalfa flowers …or dry sweet woodruff.” Here it is at the Toronto Botanical Garden.

Chionanthus virginicus-Fringe tree1

And a closeup of the interesting staminate flowers that give the plant its name.

Chionanthus virginicus-Fringe tree2

Lily-of-the-valley (Convallaria majalis) is called muguet in France where, for centuries it has starred in the traditional spring celebration called Muguet du 1er Mai. On the first day of May, all the French public land is opened up so the citizens can walk freely there to pick the muguets, which are also sold in little nosegays and boutonnieres everywhere. And, of course, Muguet, a 1905 fragrance by Jacques Guerlain is one of the world’s most famous perfumes.

Convallaria majalis bouquet

I have a love-hate relationship with lily-of-the-valley, because it has escaped in my garden, below, when I ignored it decades ago; it has now seized almost every square inch of my front yard. You can dig up the pips, but you’ll always leave a little bit behind, and that’s all it takes to begin re-invading. Having said that, I do love the enigmatic nature of its scent, which wafts on the wind in May, is sweet and not at all overpowering – the sort of perfume that is impossible to put in a bottle.

Convallaria majalis invasive In late spring – usually the first week in June in Toronto – comes a scent that wafts on the night air. It’s when the black locust tree (Robinia pseudoacacia) is in flower. Weedy as this native tree might be, the blossoms are undeniably wonderful (and good for bees as well).

Robinia pseudoacacia-Black locust tree

Sweet rocket or dame’s rocket (Hesperis matronalis) is one of those old-fashioned, late spring wildlings I would love to have in my garden, and though it’s renowned as a self-sower, so far it’s resisted by seeding efforts. So I always make an early June visit to Toronto’s Spadina House, where it consorts beautifully with bearded irises, lupines and peonies – mostly in mauve-pink, but also in a shimmering white. Its perfume is reserved for night, however, so keep that in mind when you put it to the sniff test. Sweet rocket is a biennial, best grown in slightly alkaline soil.

Hesperis matronalis-Sweet rocket

Peonies (Paeonia) are classic June perennials, and there are many white-flowered varieties with gorgeous perfume, often reminiscent of Damask roses. Two of the finest are old-timers: ‘Festiva Maxima’ (1851) and ‘Miss America’ (1926).

Paeonia 'Festiva Maxima' & 'Miss America'

Many mock-orange shrubs (Philadelphus sp.) are coarse and straggly in bearing, and their brief flowering in early summer doesn’t justify their occupying prime real estate in the garden. In Toronto, they often lose significant new shoots to winter-kill, and at any rate, they need skillful pruning of old wood (experts recommend one-third per year) immediately after flowering to keep growth vigorous. In addition, they’re not all fragrant. Garden writer Louise Wilder called these mock-oranges “scentless or soulless…. beautiful and dumb”. So what’s to recommend them? Well, that sweet citrus perfume hinted at in their common name – something Van Pelt Wilson and Bell describe in the type P. coronarius as “a delicious blend of orange fruit (not blossoms) and jasmine”. Of the old Lemoine hybrids, ‘Belle Etoile’ is deservedly popular, but not very hardy in the east, given its Mexican P. couteri parentage. ‘Mount Blanc’ has fruity perfume, but is hard to find in its true form. However, Philadelphus ‘Innocence’ is grown at the Toronto Botanical Garden in a protected, semi-enclosed courtyard.

Philadelphus 'Innocence'-Toronto Botanical Garden

And look how they make sure visitors can appreciate its fragrance up close!

Philadelphus 'Innocence'-bench

Garden pinks (Dianthus sp.) are early summer perennials renowned for their fragrance, usually described as essence of cloves. They thrive on lime in their soil and very sharp drainage.  Though most are pink, there are a few classic white-flowered pinks, including the double Dianthus ‘Mrs. Sinkins’ and the pink-eyed cheddar pink Dianthus ‘Dottie’, below.

Dianthus gratianopolitanus 'Dottie'

Gas plant (Dictamnus albus) is a perennial that boasts an unusual attribute that can inspire party tricks in adventurous gardeners: in full bloom, it exudes a combustible aromatic oil called isoprene, which can be lit with a match to produce a blue flame, thus one of its alternative common names, burning bush. The foliage, when crushed, has a lemony scent but the flowers are also fragrant. Once established, gas plant is very long-lived and not easily moved, given its long tap root. It is very popular with butterflies and bees.

Dictamnus albus-Gas plant

Valerian (Valeriana officinalis) is popular with herbalists. Like all plants with ‘officinalis’ in their Latin names, it was  used by medieval apothecaries to treat various ills; further back in history, Hippocrates and Galen mentioned it in their writings. Its sweet scent makes it a lovely addition to the June perennial garden, and it’s a good plant for bees.

Valeriana officinalis-Valerian

Lilies can be among the most heavily-perfumed plants in the garden (many people cannot tolerate them in a bouquet indoors, finding their perfume funereal), but of course it depends on the type.For white-colored garden themes, the popular Oriental lilies ‘Everest’ and ‘Casa Blanca’ are among the most fragrant available, but I’ve had trouble keeping these lilies around beyond a year or two. Whether that’s climate- or cultivation-related, I don’t know. Better are the straight species below, including lime-loving Madonna lily (Lilium candidum), left, and regal lily (Lilium regale), right. In The Fragrant Year, the authors say: “Regal scent is powerful, the fragrance drowning out all others, a strong, spicy emanation with a hint of cinnamon, almost too much of a good thing. As for the storied Madonna lily, which is often a challenge to grow because of its susceptibility to botrytis, the authors recommend wood ashes – as in almost 100%, with just a little soil!

Lilium candidum & Lilium regale

And a little shout-out to my favourite lily: the Orienpet (Oriental x Trumpet) hybrid ‘Conca d’Or’, shown below in my cottage garden on Lake Muskoka. Though not technically white, its pale cream-yellow colour, rugged disposition and beautiful scent make it a worthy candidate for my list.

Lilium 'Conca d'Or'-Orienpet Hybrid Lily

We have now come to the roses of late spring and early summer. Though most are pink, there are a few white “old roses” with beautiful perfume for your fragrant garden, including the Alba rose ‘Mme Legras de St. Germain’, below….

Rosa 'Mme Legras de St. Germain

….and the lovely Damask ‘Mme Hardy’, below, which David Austin Roses describes as having “a delicious scent with a hint of lemon”.

Rosa 'Mme Hardy'

Rugosas have a strong scent and the white form of the species, Rosa rugosa f. alba, is no exception. Of named cultivars, the hybrid rugosa ‘Blanc Double de Coubert’, below, has a fragrance that is, in the words of the famed rosarian Constance Spry, “the apotheosis of the white rose”.

Rosa 'Blanc Double de Coubert'

The large-flowered climber ‘City of York’ offers a spectacular shower of creamy blossoms whose fragrance is said to fill the garden. (This rose, and the ones above, only flower in early summer.)

Rosa 'City ofYork'2

Among the July and August-blooming perennials, summer phlox has a soft, old-fashioned perfume, something The Fragrant Year authors describe as having “an indefinable reaching quality, a bit like clethra, yet not so syrupy, a light musty sweetness that belongs to phlox alone”. For the white garden, you can’t do better than the award-winning (and mildew-resistant) Phlox paniculata ‘David’.

Phlox paniculata 'David'

Speaking of phlox, this was an interesting – and fragrant – July combination at Spadina House several years ago:  Phlox paniculata ‘Franz Schubert’ and the scented flowers of Adam’s needle (Yucca gloriosa).

Yucca gloriosa & Phlox paniculata 'Franz Schubert'

Subtle perfume can be found in some echinaceas, and is said to be a mild combination of honey and phlox in the variety ‘Fragrant Angel’ (part of the Prairie Pillars™ breeding group).

Echinacea 'Fragrant Angel'Several August-blooming hostas (most tracing their parentage to H. plantaginea) have fragrant flowers, including the two below, ‘Fragrant Bouquet’, left, and ‘Hoosier Harmony’, right.

Hosta 'Hoosier Harmony' & 'Fragrant Bouquet'

Summersweet or sweet pepperbush (Clethra alnifolia) is a suckering, native North American shrub which, as its common name indicates, has sweet-smelling flower spikes in mid-late summer (mostly August). It needs moisture in the soil, and thrives in dappled light.

Clethra alnifolia-Summersweet

Summersweet is an excellent shrub for attracting hummingbirds and all kinds of bees.

Clethra alnifola with bee

Though some might complain about its tendency to seed here and there, sweet autumn clematis (Clematis terniflora) is like a starry blanket of “honeyed sweetness” white perfume in September.

Clematis terniflora-Sweet autumn clematis

Seven-Sons tree (Heptacodium miconioides), the honeysuckle relative collected by plant explorer Ernest Wilson in China, is a deciduous shrub or rather ungainly small tree. Its small, sweet-scented flowers open in September and are heavily visited by bees and butterflies. The Toronto Botanical Garden’s horticulturist Paul Zammit calls this period a “feeding frenzy”.  Following the flowers are attractive red calyces.

Heptacodium miconoides-Seven-sons Flower

There comes a time in October in my own Toronto garden when there’s a beautiful show in a far corner, as  the fall snakeroot or bugbane (Actaea simplex, formerly Cimicifuga) opens its incense-perfumed spikes just as the fall monkshood (Aconitum carmichaelii ‘Arendsii’) reaches its azure-blue crescendo. As a finale, it is simply unbeatable (until the blaze of autumn leaf colours begins). That soft fragrance is also present in the dark-leaved fall snakeroots such as ‘Brunette’ and ‘Black Negligee’. They like moist, rich soil and part shade.

Actaea simplex-Autumn snakeroot

A few words now about some tender plants that add perfume to the white garden – and there are lots of those, obviously, given that the long-tongued moths looking for white flowers at night often hail from tropical and subtropical places.

Flowering tobacco (Nicotiana alata) is a classic addition to a night garden – but I’m referring to the true species, which unfortunately is not much to look at during the day, when its flowers close. But at twilight, they open and emit what Van Pelt Wilson and Bell call “a heavy emanation of auratum lily”.  Plant this annual, which can reach 1.8 metres (5 feet) in rich soil, in a protected spot near where you sit so its perfume can be trapped.

Nicotiana alata-Fragrant tobocco

I grew Star jasmine or Confederate jasmine (Trachelospermum jasminoides) as a tender subtropical vine outdoors on my sundeck for a few summers, trimming it back and bringing it indoors in fall. It was a lovely accompaniment to the Absyssinian gladiolus in that pot in the first photo above. I visited the Vatican gardens years ago, and star jasmine was arranged over a series of arbours there – fabulous! And I loved it combined with red bougainvillea on Market Street in San Francisco. Sadly, not an outdoor winter plant for us, but since it’s readily available at certain nurseries in spring, it’s worth the price as a lovely temporary climber.

Trachelospermum jasminoides-Star jasmine

Some years ago, I was strolling around the Montreal Botanical Garden after a heavy rain when I was assailed by a bewitching perfume in the lovely herb garden there. It took me a while to pinpoint the source: a healthy lemon balm plant (Aloysia citriodora). Not only were the flowers fragrant, but the leaves were lemony too.

Aloysia citrodora-Lemon balm

There are lots of tender summer bulbs with fragrant white flowers, but I’ll mention just two here: tuberose (Polianthes tuberosa) and summer hyacinth (Galtonia candicans). The galtonia is a good choice for a scented border.

Tuberose & Galtonia

Of course, even if you don’t live in California, you can always bring out a potted gardenia to make your visitors swoon (or perhaps, as with me, remember that high school prom). Here’s Gardenia jasminoides ‘August Beauty’ at its finest.

Gardenia jasminoides 'August

Finally, a little tease….. As a bee photographer, I have spent time beside a “cover crop” field of buckwheat (Fagopyrum esculentum), below, and watched the bees work the white flowers.  Buckwheat honey is quite a dark delicacy and not my favourite, but those lovely flowers do smell just like honey!   You don’t have to grow it as a cover crop or green manure like the farmers do, but a few plants here and there in the white garden would be quite lovely, no?

Fagopyrum esculentum-Buckwheat

I’ve left out many favourites, I’m sure, but these should offer a little something to dream about in January, until the ‘white garden’ outside the back door of many of us cold-climate gardeners melts!

Not a Blog!

This is not a blog. I repeat: this is not a blog.  It is merely a taste of blogs to come this year. And they will be about COLOUR!  Or color (if you prefer it without extraneous British/Canadian vowels).

Flower Colour Array-ThePaintboxGarden

Yes, I thought it might be time for The Paintbox Garden to adhere to its stated theme. So each month of 2016 will be devoted to a different hue, beginning with JANUARY, which will be white as the driven (or walking) snow. White as in wonderland, appropriate to the season. White as an even paler shade of pale. And of course, white as in perfume – coming up soon.

White Flowers-ThePaintboxGarden

FEBRUARY will be red, as in better — than dead, paint the town —, roses are —,  and UB-40s favourite beverage.  And the longest, boldest wave length in Isaac Newton’s spectral light arsenal. Plus, of course, swamp hibiscus.

Red Flowers-ThePaintboxGarden

MARCH will be green (yes, I know, hackneyed Irish trope for St. Paddy’s). But it is the only really important colour in the garden paintbox, as all chlorophyll-lovers know.  Nevertheless, as Kermit is fond of saying, it ain’t easy being green.  My March blogs will help dispel that notion.

Green Leaves-ThePaintboxGarden

But being Kermit-green is definitely easier than being chartreuse, which is half-green and half-yellow. I will squeeze some limes… and chartreuses…into my March blogs as well.

Chatreuse Leaves-ThePaintboxGarden

Because it’s the cruellest month, as T.S. Eliot reminded us, APRIL will be blue. Actually, I chose blue for April because of all those lovely little azure bulbs that spring up from the snow. But there will be azure blues….

Blue Flowers-ThePaintboxGarden

….and lighter sky-blues for the entire gardening season, too.

Sky-Blue Flowers-ThePaintboxGarden

MAY will be pink, as in the darling buds. Think crabapples, weigelas, columbines, peonies, and phloxes and hydrangeas for later in the season. There will be lusty pinks…

Pink Flowers-ThePaintboxGarden

…and delicate, light pinks.

Light Pink Flowers-ThePaintboxGarden

I’ll skip magenta because I wrote a love letter to that neon hue in 2014.

JUNE will be purple. Riots often break out about what purple means (for the record it comes from the Greek word porphura, for little murex sea snails that bleed that dark crimson ‘purple’ dye). So let me say June will be about lilac-purple..

Lilac-Purple Flowers-ThePaintboxGarden

.. through lavender-purple…

Lavender-Purple Flowers-ThePaintboxGarden

… into violet-purple…

Violet-Purple Flowers-ThePaintboxGarden

… and finally rich, royal, Seagram’s Bag, Tyrian purple.

Purple Flowers-ThePaintboxGarden

JULY will be all sunshine: lots of yellow…

Yellow Flowers-ThePaintboxGarden

… and gold.

Gold Flowers-ThePaintboxGarden

AUGUST will be black(ish). And hopefully some good thunderstorms!

Black flowers & leaves-ThePaintboxGarden

SEPTEMBER will be every lovely shade of brown, as in grasses and seedheads.

Brown Flowers & Leaves-ThePaintboxGarden

OCTOBER will be jack-o-lanternly, clockworkly-orange.

Orange Flowers-ThePaintboxGarden

And I’ll throw in peach (even though it likes to party with pink, too)…

Peach Flowers-ThePaintboxGarden

…and apricot (even though it sometimes hangs out with the gold crowd)…

Apricot Flowers-ThePaintboxGarden

… and salmon for a well-rounded fruit & fish diet.

Salmon-Orange Flowers-ThePaintboxGarden

NOVEMBER will be wine or burgundy, because who doesn’t fancy a little vino in dreary November.

Wine Flowers & Leaves-ThePaintboxGarden

DECEMBER will be silver, as in bells, hi-ho, and Long John.

Silver Leaves-ThePaintboxGarden

And that’s a promise!