Kousa dogwood Snow Towers bloom

Sitting on my hillside deck beneath cedar trees, looking across and down, is among my favorite garden views. The vignette is framed by the open branches of a white variegated Redbud tree. A path climbs the hill leading to the deck and is intersected by a path across the hillside. At that junction is a raised bed which is the dominant portion of the view.

The deck is a perfect place to sit quietly with a glass of chilled wine, listen to music, and watch the sun set behind the garden. One evening, while enjoying the better things in life, one of my favorite pieces of music by a favorite composer kept me still. The music was Ludwig van Beethoven’s piano sonata number 2, or as commonly known, Moonlight Sonata.

The word moonlight merged in my mind with the romance of a white blooming garden. I had a white and green frame for the picture to be created, so why not complete the concept? I do not normally sit on the deck after sundown, but a white garden with emphasis on variegated foliage can be just as lovely in daylight, I thought.


In the thirty-plus years the bed has existed I have had several designs over the years, none of which ever satisfied me, came unraveled over time, or survived only to be torn out and restarted. This time, I told myself, it will be different. I will design a white garden; a garden that will survive the test of time and my sense of satisfaction. And, with one exception, I already have the plants scattered throughout my garden.

White Flowers

The raised bed is approximately six foot wide by twelve long, primarily viewed while walking up the path into the garden, and of course, viewed from above when seated on the deck. My center piece, placed off-center, is a Kousa dogwood ‘Snow Tower” (Cornus kousa Snow Tower). I have chosen a small tree that matures twelve feet tall and four feet wide to stay within scale of the raised bed and area it will have to fill out over time. Its growth habit is upright and tight, leaves rich green, large crisp-white flowers in abundance. It performs best in plenty of light, but appreciates some shade toward afternoon.

The Two Brunnera with Fire Pink


Forming a drift I have two varieties of Brunnera, both of which, are my favorites to date. I have 3 of Brunnera macrophylla ‘Looking Glass”. The individual leaves are large, heart-shaped, tending to cup . Leaves are rimmed with a dark green border, a central green vein, all on solid silver background. Foliage forms a mound about twelve to fifteen inches tall, blooming early in the season in open sprays of blue with a white eye just above the silver and green.

Heart-Leaf Brunnera m. “Emerald Mist’ has large heart-shaped leaves have lacy collars of silver, then a light dusting of silver overall. There is brilliant green in the center of each leaf forming an intricate pattern. The green and silver is in perfect balance on leaves reaching twelve to fifteen inches in height with same spread over time as “Looking Glass”. I have transplanted two of this variety. Three of the Looking Glass, two of Emerald Mist, then a single Looking Glass”. It has the same forget-me-not blue and white flowers.


Japanese Painted Ferns (Athyrium nipponicum var.) have sprung up throughout my garden so I have a good selection of choose from. At this time I have chosen two nice clumps to play off the Brunnera, and I may chose a third later on if the rhythm calls for it. The fronds reach fifteen to eighteen inches in height, quickly forming good sized clumps. The green of each frond tends to be pale, but most of the frond is a whitish-silver which creates quite a show in a dark corner.

Polygonatum odoraatum Byakko Photo Edelweiss

Upright Architecture

With mounding and airy forms in place it is time to change gears and transplant another of my favorite plants for the shade garden.  ‘White Tiger’ Solomon’s seal (Polygonatum odoratum ‘Byakko’) was a gift to me, and I have two starts to use for this project. The variegation on this cultivar is different from all others I have seen. Cream-white irregular blotches begin where the leaf attaches to the stem and spreads outward, often covering well over half the green leaf. Leaves are alternate on some-what zig-zag red stems. No two leaves are the same. Height is from fifteen to thirty inches depending upon who you read. The starts I received were sixteen and eighteen inches, so I am going to guess, when well-grown, two feet.

You could also try the most often used P. variegate with small white accents on each egg-shaped leaf, or go for the gusto with a real kick of white using P. ‘Double Stuff’.

I am still considering a spray of Hakonechloa macra White Variegated to use in the corner of the bed so it can arch and soften the stones defining the path junction.

If you are experiencing limitations in the garden, You are in my latest book: A Gardener Grounded