week 15: visual relief from the heat, all fresh and white

IT WAS HOT, really hot (and will be again, no doubt). There was a bit of visual relief, though: Through any windows that were not covered in heavy curtains against the sun’s heat, it was the white-flowered tough guys of early summer that made the place somehow still look cool and fresh, as wilted as I felt.

I always think of the big panicle hydrangeas, Hydrangea paniculata, as serving this freshening role around August onward, when much of the garden is just too tired. But the trend of summer whites really starts now, with plants like these:

Hydrangea quercifolia ‘Snowflake’

MY FRIENDS at Broken Arrow Nursery recommended I try the oakleaf hydrangea called ‘Snowflake’ (Hydrangea quercifolia ‘Snowflake,’ Zones 5-9), with its distinctive double blooms (detail above). Broken Arrow calls this shrub a “wow” plant because of its foot-long flower trusses, with each individual bloom having extra sepals—hence the double appearance. Best of all, it performs in part shade, and then there is the burgundy fall foliage that this Southeastern U.S. native species is also known for. ‘Snowflake’ gets to 6 feet high by similarly wide.

Clematis fargesii ‘Paul Farges’

THIS IS MY first year of bloom from Clematis fargesii ‘Paul Farges,’ which I was alerted to by my friend Kathy Tracey of Avant Gardens Nursery in Massachusetts. “Looking for the effect of sweet autumn clematis in summer?” she says, and ‘Paul Farges’ (also sold as Summer Snow, Zones 5-9) does make that kind of frothy whiteness happen early. Plus: It is not so invasive as sweet autumn has proven to be. It scrambles to 20 feet or more, but rather than run it up a pergola or other support, I have it scampering through some prostrate ground-covering evergreens on a bank out back, like Microbiota (above) and Cephalotaxus, and soon expect it to run down the wall below them, too.

Aesculus parviflora, bottlebrush buckeye

I ALWAYS have my own legal 4th of July fireworks, courtesy of my biggest shrub of all. At 20 or 25 feet wide and maybe 12 or 15 high, the Southeast native bottlebrush buckeye or Aesculus parviflora colonizes into a big hummocky shape. Skippers (like the silver-spotted skipper nectaring at it, top photo) and butterflies love its foot-long panicles of tubular flowers, and even orioles sometimes visit it to sip here. Great yellow fall color, and sometimes chestnut-like nuts (poisonous to us, but the squirrels seem to enjoy them), are bonuses. Read more about A. parviflora (Zones 4-8)–including an even later-blooming version called ‘Rogers’–in this profile.

Stewartia pseudocamellia, Japanese stewartia

JAPANESE stewartia (Stewartia pseudocamellia, Zones 5-8) is a true multi-season small tree: July flowers with bold yellow centers that look like camellias, peeling cinnamon-colored bark, hot fall color and even a nice silhouette–especially i you choose a specimen that is multi-stemmed, with numerous trunks starting low tot he ground. Though it can reach 40 feet, it is a slow grower and mine is maybe 15 feet after as many years. Don’t bake this one in relentless sun or a dry spot; it seems to enjoy little shade in the hottest part of the summer day, and likes the soil evenly moist (but not sodden). Read more about it in this profile.

American elderberry, Sambucus canadensis

A NATIVE TO Eastern North America and a favorite of pollinators and birds, American elderberry (Sambucus canadensis, Zone 3-9) is a suckering colonizer of a thing. Despite the need to keep it in bounds, I wouldn’t be without a stand of elderberry, a good choice for a medium or even wet spot where it can have its way and not interfere with less-tough neighbors. Mine has grown happily for years in a semi-shady location and flowers and fruits heavily anyhow, at anywhere from about 5 or 6 to 10 or 12 feet tall, depending how you prune it. Missouri Botanical Garden briefly mentions some options in this profile.

Black cohosh, Actaea racemosa (formerly Cimicifuga)

THIS NATIVE North American woodland perennial (Zones 3-8), also called black cohosh or bugbane or snakeroot, is slow to establish, and closely related to baneberry (Actaea rubra), which grows nearby it at my place like kissing cousins. My original three black cohosh plants didn’t seem inclined to naturalize and spread for quite a few years and then suddenly I ended up with a glade of them, their Astilbe-like foliage crowned with sweet-smelling, towering ivory wands throughout July here that appeal to pollinators, too.  Read more about it at this link.

And what about in your garden?

QUESTION: Do you have any relief from white-flowered shrubs, trees or perennials at your place—or any other heat-defying design ideas to share?

  • Highlights of the previous weeks in the 2018 season are archived here.
  1. Jean C. says:

    I’ve got a really lovely Shasta Daisy going strong in part of my garden. Had I known it was such a great performer and that it looks so great even in our scorcher days, I’d have planted more of it. What a delight to see it against my beautiful lavender Fleabane and Gaillardia. But I’m not spending a whole lot of time out in the garden right now – it’s the time of the year, I stay indoors with my blinds down!

  2. Tom Rozier says:

    We have Hydrangea quercifolia ‘Snowflake’; bottlebrush buckeye; Hydrangea paniculata ‘White Diamonds’; Phlox paniculata ‘Polar Ice’ and ‘Delta Snow’; various hostas with white blooms; roses ‘Darlow’s Enigma’, ‘Prosperity’; crepe myrtle.

  3. Joanne Toft says:

    I have a large blue Hosta that has large lovely white flowers. It is a refreshing spot to see in the garden. (This plant was a hand me down from a friend with no name but is looks a bit like the Canadian Blue Hosta.)

  4. Terri says:

    I love my old variety Anna Belle Hydrangeas!
    But that Oakleaf Hydrangea “Snowflake” has peaked
    my interest! I love white in the garden this time
    of the year. It absolutely cools things off!

  5. Katherine Tremblay says:

    In our Cheshire MA garden the Actaea has finally spread enough to make a welcome showing, elderberry is finishing up, Eschscholzia (California poppy) ‘White Linen’ is still blooming, and shasta daisies are starting to open. My favorite cool tone is Artemisia ‘Silver King’ before it flowers, though I’ll be after it with shears and gentle curses by month’s end.

  6. Brian Gill says:

    Margaret, I grew Hydrangea quercifolia ‘Snowflake’ very successfully in my Columbia County garden for about 6 years. Unlike the plain quercifolia which I remember you saying did not bloom for you in zone 5 (me neither) this variety will bloom heavily and reliably even as young plants and the flowers are incredible. In fact, when I moved I took three of these shrubs and transplanted them to the New Jersey garden of a relative where they didn’t miss a beat.

    1. margaret says:

      Interesting that we have had the same experience, isn’t it? My old plain quercifolia might bloom very occasionally…but this one did so right away!

  7. Sandy Lentz says:

    Whites in my zone 6b Illinois garden.. ..
    A multi-stemmed cleome, a white monarda I never planted, yellow-centered white daisies blooming next to bright yellow lilies..

  8. Kate says:

    I’m a lot further South so I’m probably a few weeks ahead…. but these days I have have some white in my yard thanks to Virginia Mountain Mint, Echinacea ‘Fragrant Angel’, Wild Quinine, Euphorbia corollata, a white cultivar of mistflower, and one shrub: the native buttonbush. (Quick shout out for buttonbush: This is the most popular plant in my yard when it’s in bloom – so if you have room for one – it is a great addition for pollinators, butterflies, or hummingbirds. Plus the blooms are super cute!)

    This is the opposite approach to summer gardening… but I inherited some plants from the family that lived here before… things I would never have bought or thought to try… and their plants clued me into how much I like violently bright summer color. My favorite planting this summer has two plants I inherited (red violet phlox and neon orange day lilies) currently filled out with my additions of neon yellow marigolds, Hidden Dragon (a pink and white) zinnia, and white mountain mint.

    Obviously these don’t cool a garden down, but I think it helps me justify the heat and remind me of things like beach balls and bathing suits.

  9. Bill Plummer says:

    My Canada anemone is blooming now and while not flowers nor white the silvery foliage of the Japanese painted fern and its hybrids lends a pleasant note to the garden. As for snakeroot, bugbane, black cohosh, fairy candles it is becoming “weedy” and I am in the process of supplying plants to a native plant nursery as well as seeds of white baneberry. My original planting was in my backwoods to the south of our home. You might enjoy this excerpt from my book. “But the other morning, while eating breakfast on our sun porch, I gazed down into the back woods as the morning sun came through a break in the canopy and lit up the candelabras on two of my plants. That play of light and shadow made a very dramatic and impressive effect. The next evening, while I was having dinner, the western sun streamed through in like fashion and relit the candelabras.”

  10. Kathy M says:

    I have so many white flowering shrubs that I have planted on our property if the name White Flower Farm wasn’t taken I would have named our 4acres just that. Starts with Serviceberry, Japanese and Mapleleafed Hydrangea then several varieties of Viburnum an Oakleaf Hydrangea and a white Dogwood and large flowering Clematis,and now my Annabelle H, Magnolia,Casa Blanca lilies and Flowering tobacco are holding court. Next month my Limelight H. and other late Hydrangeas will come into full bloom and some late blooming autumn clematis. I love white in the garden and also in arrangements for the house.

  11. Elisabeth says:

    I’m trying Haas Halo hydrangea this year, in a spot where (in 5b) my Nikko Blue hydrangea hardly ever bloomed. I got three young Haas Halo from Klehm’s Song Sparrow nursery this year, and those little things are COVERED with blooms! In their first year!

    I think it’s going to be a beautiful feature in the garden in a few years. Can’t wait.

  12. Lorie says:

    White red twig dogwood shrubs – white leaves freshening the landscape continuously from spring to fall. One problem I have found with many white flowers is that, when the start to wither, they turn an ugly cream-tan color.

  13. Luanne Smith says:

    I like Culver’s root (Veronicastrum virginicum) for this time of year. The flower spikes remind me of the bugbane.

  14. Kyle says:

    Daisies! Let’s not forget how refreshing and cheerful and low-maintenance they can be spilling over in clumps. I have them throughout the yard. I also have a white clematis, variety unknown, that is currently blooming against the house. And I’ve added calamintha “Montrose White” in a couple of areas that I hope will successfully add more white and lightness in summers to come.

  15. Maude Ciardi says:

    Love white in the garden! I have a question. I am planting a new garden under an oak tree that has had the canopy lifted so more light and sun get in. Grass was all dead under the tree so I had 3yds of topsoil delivered. It has a lot of small pebbles in it and is very fine dirt. . What is the best topping for this area. Compost ,or use a lot of mulch? I want to plant perennials under the tree that are shade tolerant. Thanks for your advise

  16. barry says:

    my whole white garden gives great relief in the heat in dutchess county. Im eagerly awaiting my veronica to bloom along with the phlox. The hydrangeas are in full party mode starting with Annabelle and incrediball and moving on it to bobo and then the pee gee tree form take me right through to autumn. I finally did the chelsea chop on my phlox so i can get a staggered bloom and heres hoping the delphiniums and oriental white poppies re-bloom after their hard chop…come visit !

    1. margaret says:

      Thanks, Barry — sounds like a very refreshing scene indeed! “The Chelsea Chop” is hilarious — haven’t heard it referred to that way.

  17. Lucy says:

    I have a clethra barbinervis in bloom now. The blooms are graceful and look good against the dark foliage. It’s supposed to get to 15-20 feet but I’ve had this one for awhile (8 yrs?) and it’s still only about 6 ft tall and sort of spindly. Supposed to have nice peeling bark but I’m still waiting for branches large enough for the bark to be noticeable. I moved it closer to the house a couple years ago so it would get watered–this one does not like it dry. I’m hoping it does better in its new location.

  18. Deborah Banks says:

    I have had the same Clematis ‘Paul Farges’ for 14 years now on our back fence past the raspberries. This one plant covers 3 long sections of fencing, giving the chickens shade and much enjoyment from our side of the fence. Clematis ‘Artic Queen’ is also in bloom. Another long-blooming perennial with long sprays of white stars is Cynanchum ascyrifolium. I have a few white astilbes in bloom now, and the winterberry hollies are in bloom (although of course you would miss their show entirely were it now for the frantic hum of bees). Some of my astrantia have white flowers (though I prefer the ‘Ruby Cloud’ cultivar). Penstemon digitalis alba is a tall plant with pure white flowers against green leaves. Miscanthus ‘Morning Light’ reads as almost white also, as well as Heuchera ‘Snow Angel’. Chrysanthemum ‘Fluffy’ is a shaggy white double that just started blooming and will be nice into August. Sida hermaphrodita is towering over everything else in my wet front garden. And my all-time favorite plant from Broken Arrow – the one everyone asks about – is Filipendula palmata ‘Variegata’. Its leaves of the palest green are overlaid with white and silver, and the blooms are frothy white.

  19. Nycole says:

    I have gone to several nurseries & tried online to order Bottlebrush Buckeye with no success.
    I live in Hudson, Quebec. Do you have any suggestions on where I can purchase this beautiful plant.

  20. Irene says:

    Kousa dogwood, Chinese and Virginia fringe trees, sweet bay magnolia, various viburnums, mountain mint, white irises, white narcissi, astilbe, lily of the valley, hosta, peonies, rodgersia, white roses, and beautiful white hellebores have already bloomed at various times.

    Presently, most of the white comes from the hydrangeas: oak leaf, quickfire and little quickfire,
    hydrangea paniculata ‘Le Vasterival.’ Some will turn pink. The zebra hydrangea new planted in the fall is just beginning to bud. Henry’s garnet sweetspire and Little Henry are beginning to fade. White coneflowers, shasta daisies, and yeomanlike petunias add pops.

    Margaret, on a separate note, last year the kousa dogwood, cherry tree, and mulberries bloomed profusely and I had lots of fruit on the last two. This year yielded far less and I conceded it to the birds. Is the difference in yield cyclical or does it have to do with weather conditions? I live in Dutchess county near the river. We had a long winter, followed by much rain, then drought. I think you must have experienced something similar.

  21. Lacey says:

    Isn’t your nicotiana blooming right now? ‘

    I’m in zone 7, so maybe I’m ahead of you, but mine’s been blooming or about 10 days now. Also, phlox David blooms white and blooms well this time of year for me.

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