White flowers in the PNW?
February 6, 2017 12:27 AM   Subscribe

I'm dedicating a flower bed to white blooms in tribute to our white dog. Recommend me low-profile happy flowers of kinds to fill a smallish bed in the Pacific Northwest.

We live in hardiness zone 8-9. The raised bed we have is about 18" x 4' and in a protected spot against a dark shingled wall in partial sun. It unfortunately gets showered with spruce needles at times. Nasturtiums got big (and leggy by fall, but maybe that's normal?) here last year. Geraniums did ok but had a hard time once the needles seeped in, or so it seemed (I'd love to have a white one if I can). Primroses seem to do well.

I am not a talented grower of things, and my knowledge of soil and treatments, pH and fertilizers, etc is pretty poor (enough to see the spruce is a problem, tho). How can I prepare the soil, and what can I grow that's bright and cheerful, beautiful and white? Too late for bulbs, right? I like the idea of some cut flowers. Also of staggering things so we have blooms from spring thru fall. Obviously bushes are out, and I want to avoid anything taller than 3'. Nothing too finicky please; I want to set myself up for success!

This is in remembrance of our sweet 16-year-old white fuzzy wonderdog, whose presence is sorely missed. We will pass this flower bed every day and I want it to make us smile.
posted by AnOrigamiLife to Home & Garden (20 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Candytuft does really well here and would be a nice staple, and maybe with a few seasonal things like trillium or alyssum? So sorry for your loss....
posted by The otter lady at 1:11 AM on February 6, 2017 [3 favorites]

I have a shady back yard and spend a lot of time looking for shade-to-part-sun perennials--maybe some of these would work for you.

Silver-spotted deadnettles would probably work well where you are--they're low-growing perennial groundcover, very hardy (except in extremely hot weather). The flowers come in a variety of colors, including white (look for the "White Nancy" featured in the link), but the foliage is silvery and will persist through temperate winters in protected locations.

Hellebores are also known as Lenten roses because they bloom around Ash Wednesday (late Feb-early March). Also low-growing and have white varieties.

It's too late for spring-flowering bulbs, but you could definitely plant bulbs for fall--autumn crocuses, dwarf gladiolus, colchicum. The dwarf gladioli are good for cutting.

For part-sun annuals, you can't go wrong with impatiens--they're inexpensive and, if you plant a lot of them close together, you can get a wonderful flower carpet effect. Especially double impatiens, which kind of resemble tiny rosettes. (If I'm starting a perennial bed, I often plant impatiens the first season to fill it in and provide some color until the perennials get established.)

Also consider some low-growing white hosta varieties--they do flower, but the foliage is much more interesting.
posted by tully_monster at 1:12 AM on February 6, 2017 [1 favorite]

I also just wanted to mention that we had a sweet fuzzy white wondercat whom we commemorated with a white climbing rose when we lost him at 15. All our cats get memorialized with roses. I still miss him terribly seven years later. I'm so sorry.
posted by tully_monster at 1:17 AM on February 6, 2017 [1 favorite]

Sweet Alyssum is a small plant with fluffy cute little white flower puffs. It grows easily and fills in spaces well.
I'm sorry about your dog- this is a lovely idea.
posted by pseudostrabismus at 2:55 AM on February 6, 2017

White daffodils can be a little more finicky than yellow ones but usually not by much. There are dozens of varieties and many are bred for specific hardiness zones, and daffodils do very well in the PNW generally speaking. It's the wrong time for planting bulbs but you could grow some inside in a pot for now and plant them in the fall, or honestly tuck them in the ground and see what happens - I've got lots of odd bulbs that like to sprout and flower at unexpected times from a previous house owner - I have crocuses blooming in the fall and lilies in the winter some years.

My real suggestion to you, however, is to find your local plant nursery. Not any of the big box stores, but a business that runs only in your area. They will know exactly what plants will work best for you, be able to give you very specific growing instructions, and might even be able to order things in special so you can have unusual white varieties or subspecies that respond well to the pine needles' effect on soil pH and so-on. They can likely hook you up with a landscape designer or related professional who would be happy to help you out on your small project for a reasonable price if you want the confidence that would bring. Seriously, even if you have to travel a bit out of your way, try to find a local plant nursery and see what they can do for you.
posted by Mizu at 3:28 AM on February 6, 2017

If you do decide to go with roses, a nice way to increase the amount of time with blooms going on is to grow a clematis to climb up the rose. (Clematis paniculata (aka sweet autumn clematis) which is a popular white-flowered clematis is probably a bit too aggressive for your space).

We've gotten some very nice clematis from Brushwood Nursery..

And, speaking of clematis, if you're interested in other garden areas and other colors, one of my current favorites is Rooguchi which has prolific smallish purple downward hanging bell-like flowers.

I'd also suggest going to a decent plant nursery and asking for advice. My gardening experience is in the Mid-Atlantic and New England so while I did check the hardiness zones for your area, I'm not fully familiar with the amount of rain and common soil types.
posted by sciencegeek at 3:38 AM on February 6, 2017

And for next fall, if you want to plant daffodils, I recommend Narcissus 'Thalia'. It is a really elegant white daffodil.

Fritillaria meleagris 'Alba' are also kind of fun.

And a note on ordering bulbs: always get more than you think you need. Plant in groups, clusters and drifts. Avoid planting in lines or equilateral triangles.
posted by sciencegeek at 3:44 AM on February 6, 2017

Alyssum was my first thought, because it's wonderfully but not obtrusively scented and is a favourite of butterflies.
posted by Nyx at 4:56 AM on February 6, 2017 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Wonderful suggestions so far, thanks! I'm especially drawn to the impatiens and gladiolus and trillium (she was a mountain dog, and that suggestion is now sending me in search of white columbine). Hoping for lovely plants that emphasize the white blooms over the green foliage, so candytuft and/or sweet alyssum may fit in nicely.

Piped back in to add that I measured, and the space is actually 14" x 7', and there's potential for a dwarf something to climb up the shingles (and around the window that's centered 3' above the bed). But also to say that I'd love any resources for bed design. Logic tells me tall in the back, and clusters are nice, but other than that any suggestions, especially around staggering for seasons and what to avoid that could take over?

Also, I have access to a greenhouse and can start seeds if that's useful. Probably no planting outside for another month or so. I'm dedicating some budget for this, but a pro is not part of the plan, and I do enjoy the research and discovery period.
posted by AnOrigamiLife at 8:32 AM on February 6, 2017 [1 favorite]

I'm in England and have grown alyssum from seed both on purpose and many many many more as volunteers. It grows very well and will spread. It stays very low and I haven't have it go more than a foot tall yet. You will be picking out volunteers from elsewhere in your garden for a while, but as a plus they pull out very easily with minimal fuss. There are areas where I just leave the alyssum for a while until it goes off and then rip it out and without fail more grows to replace it every year.
posted by koolkat at 8:41 AM on February 6, 2017

We have a lot of iceland poppies growing--including white ones. The leaves cluster in ground-hugging bunches, and the big, crinkled blooms stretch up atop tall, narrow stems. They'll self-seed and return for years, and they bloom when it's still quite cold. Planting from seed is great, but you'd be well served to plant mature specimens from a nursery your first year--germination time is pretty long. We put out seed and plant a few mature plants at the same time, which helps fill in the space in a very naturalistic way over the course of a season.

Alyssum, too, is a great suggestion (I see a couple folks have mentioned it above). It's very much a ground cover, and it will spread out in bunchy lobes. It works great as a space filler between bigger plants. It may get leggy and need replanting after two years, but it's very easy to maintain. On warm days, when it's fully in bloom, it smells like honey.

There are pale/white Nigella varietals, too.
posted by late afternoon dreaming hotel at 8:53 AM on February 6, 2017

Casa Blanca lilies. Flowering tobacco (nicotiana).
posted by caryatid at 10:46 AM on February 6, 2017

Nice idea. White plants and flowers are used in moon gardens, as they show up well in moonlight, so that's another search term.
posted by theora55 at 12:40 PM on February 6, 2017

Star Jasmine does well in the PNW and will reward you with a heavenly scent in warmer months.
posted by bunji at 1:38 PM on February 6, 2017

Oh! White impatiens should also be easy to find, or maybe an upright hardy fuchsia such as Hawkshead.
posted by bunji at 1:49 PM on February 6, 2017

Since you mention a little climbing, there are dwarf varieties of sweet peas which have a truly beautiful scent and graceful flower - you could plant them in the back and something shorter in the front. Sweet peas are quite easy to grow but can be sensitive to very hot weather - if they get enough water they should be fine.
posted by Nyx at 2:37 PM on February 6, 2017

Seconding the sweet peas -- oh, the perfume. And white scented violets, and sweet woodruff (tiny flowers on that one, but they're white!)
posted by clew at 3:13 PM on February 6, 2017

You asked for things to avoid--I planted some anemones (good part-shade perennial), but never again--huge mound of green foliage taking up way too much space in the bed, topped by a less-than-spectacular bloom. The deadnettles I mentioned are easy to trim back if they get out of control, but a lot of other plants in the mint family can be really aggressive and hard to eradicate.

I think a lot depends on what kind of sunlight your bed gets and where, what the drainage is like in different parts of the bed, etc. You'll probably get better suggestions from more knowledgeable gardeners here, but I've found that creating a perennial bed, even a small one, is kind of a multi-year project that takes a lot of trial and error--figuring out what works where and what doesn't takes time. If the area gets lots of sunlight and is well-drained, alyssum would probably be a good choice for border and fill, but I've never used it because my shade beds just don't get enough sun.

A couple other things you might want to consider: maybe a nice, small, non-kitschy garden sculpture as a focal point? And I know you don't want anything too tall, but some small rocks/boulders might also provide some visual interest and look great next to spring-flowering bulbs like narcissus and snowdrop and the columbines you thought might be fitting. Or a container that you could plant with white annuals that kind of drift and trail down over the sides.
posted by tully_monster at 8:31 PM on February 6, 2017

What about a few white irises for height at the back.? So beautiful, even though the bloom time is not long.
posted by antiquated at 3:51 PM on February 8, 2017

White feather hosta
posted by clew at 4:15 PM on February 8, 2017

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