I love the warm colors of red, orange, and yellow to attract birds and bees alike to my edible garden, but it is the bright and restful whites that add the most landscape interest throughout the seasons.
This year I have white Cosmos in my vegetable garden. But that is, of course, because it is safe from the deer inside the fenced area.
Soon I will be adding heath aster ‘Monte Cassino’ (Aster ericoides) where the deer cannot reach it. This lovely perennial is like the white froth of the ocean spray when it opens its hundreds of tiny white flowers in October.
While the cosmos and aster are selected because I love the white, they both have a valuable role to play in the edible garden as a source of food for native bees and honeybees.
Pollinators were busy in the cosmos flowers early in the morning this week, working toward the centers of the flowers even before the outside petals were fully open.
Perennials that the deer will leave alone in the main garden include many with white flowers. The longest to bloom is the Santa Barbara daisy (Erigeron karvinskianus), blooming cheerfully in full sun with no care.
Faded flowers disappear into the abundant foliage. As long as it is in good soil, in the ground or in containers, flowering continues into fall.
In late spring, a rock cress I have seen available at Weiss Nursery in Grass Valley, Arabis sturii, adds a white touch to small plantings. Its lovely dark green foliage is evergreen, adding beauty even when flowers fade. This plant does best with regular irrigation once a week in the summer months.
In the May and June water-efficient rock garden, silvery yarrow (Achillea ageratifolia) and a rare yarrow called Achillea kellereri add bright white for weeks. These are not aggressive spreaders, so they have a place in the small garden. This garden is watered every two to three weeks even in the heat of summer.
More aggressive, but lovely in bloom, is white yarrow (Achillea millefolium). This plant is a perfect water-efficient lawn substitute. Even when mowed early in summer to keep it low for the season, a few flower stalks usually appear to brighten the green carpet.
Unmowed, expect a meadow. Deer will browse a bit on buds and flowers, and one friend tells me they love to lie in the foliage.
Back in the rock garden, the last fragrant rock garden pink to bloom, Dianthus petraeus noeanus opens in June. Delicate lacy white flowers rise above a tight mound.
Heads turn with the striking white of the native Matilija poppy (Romneya coulteri) when it puts on its show along Sierra College Drive late May into June.
This plant is very difficult to establish in the native landscape.
Young healthy plants may be found at the California Native Plant Society’s native plant sale Sept. 27th. I have also seen plants available at Hills Flat Nursery in Grass Valley and the nursery at Peaceful Valley Farm & Garden Supply.
When white flowers on gray or silver foliage, as it does on the compact rock garden yarrows mentioned, the effect seems to be heightened. In front of my house I have a mass of white rabbit’s ears (Lychnis coronaria) that has been blooming since June and is just now fading.
In May, snow-in-summer (Cerastium tomentosum), a carefree water-efficient groundcover with silvery-gray foliage was showy with masses of white flowers billowing over the evergreen foliage. Full sun and not too much irrigation keep these tough perennials happy.
Throughout the garden, feverfew (Tanacetum parthenium) has volunteered, each on its own schedule of bloom from May through September.
I have the common one with green foliage and single or double daisies, as well as the golden feverfew with its green-gold foliage, perfect for shade.
There always seems to be cutting material for bouquets, easy to spot because white stands out in the garden.
Carolyn has gardened organically in Nevada County since 1977. A schedule of her gardening classes at Peaceful Valley Farm & Garden Supply in Grass Valley is available at www.carolynsingergardens.com. She is the author of the award-winning “The Seasoned Gardener, 5 decades of sustainable and practical garden wisdom”, and two volumes of “Deer in My Garden” (deer-resistant plants), available locally.