Carolyn Singer: Trees, shrubs, perennials and vines that will glow in moonlight |

Carolyn Singer: Trees, shrubs, perennials and vines that will glow in moonlight

I awoke at dawn to a foggy landscape outside my window. Within minutes the fog lifted, revealing a snowy range of mountains to the north, glowing in the light of the setting full moon. And just as quickly, the sun began to rise, lighting the same mountains in the background and the frost-covered desert plants near the railroad tracks. I was on the train from Salt Lake City, headed west to Colfax.

The dramatic beauty of natural landscapes is so often an inspiration for writing, gardening, landscaping, and even daydreaming. That beautiful morning I knew I would next write about white in the garden. More than the perfect color for a train trip across the Nevada desert or a walk in the full moon, white is a dramatic addition to the garden.

From the tiniest white blossoms of snowdrops (Galanthus) in late winter to the dramatic large blossoms of the native Matilija poppy (Romneya coulteri) in midsummer, white is a color so vibrant that even on a cloudy day the flowers will catch your attention.

The first shrub to open with white flowers in my garden is the sweet vanilla plant (Sarcococca ruscifolia) under the alder tree. These February blossoms are so tiny that the white is barely noticeable, but the powerful fragrance is pleasing. Nearby, the snowdrops have pushed their way through the tassels that have fallen from the alder. While a snowstorm would make the white of these delicate flowers disappear, recent rains seem to make them all the more noticeable as they bloom in a space between stepping stones.

In March, the dominate white in my landscape is a drift of daffodils. Many are remnants of Narcissus planted on this land more than 50 years ago. The pure white flowers are rare, but each year I seem to find them in unexpected places. Each treasure is lifted and moved to a location near the porch on the east side of my house. How wonderful it is that deer do not eat these exquisite spring bloomers!

Mexican orange (Choisya ternata) may bloom in November or December, but it most often comes into full bloom in late March and early April. Clear white flowers contrast against the dark green foliage of this deer-resistant evergreen. Foliage and flowers are both great for cutting.

Spring brings the whites of evergreen clematis (Clematis armandii) and spirea. There are several white species in Spiraea genus. One of the best is bridal wreath, Spiraea x vanhouttei. Unfortunately, the deer love both these plants. At least the Clematis vine can be protected until it grows out of reach, which it does quickly!

More white lights up the May landscape with iris, Viburnums, and one of my favorite deer-resistant small trees, Chinese fringe tree (Chionanthus retusa). Its delicate flowers are a great contrast to the bold leaves, opening in large, lacy clusters. This is an uncommon tree that does well in the Sierra foothills.

June brings even more white into the landscape with ornamental shrubs: mock orange (Philadelphus) and elderberries (Sambucus), plus more Viburnums and Spireas. In the perennial or wildflower borders, rabbit’s ears (Lychnis coronaria ‘Alba’), feverfew (Tanacetum parthenium), and white peonies (Paeonia) dominate.

Be bold about adding white flowers to your landscape! They complement any other color, including the greens and grays of foliage. And it might just draw you into your garden on a moonlit night to enjoy the magic.

Carolyn Singer will be teaching a bareroot berry planting & training class today at Peaceful Valley (272-4769) from 9:30 to 11:30a.m. The following week, a class called “Digging Deeper” will give students an opportunity to ask questions and learn about seasonal gardening. Previous columns and a schedule of upcoming gardening classes may be found at

Support Local Journalism

Support Local Journalism

Readers around Grass Valley and Nevada County make The Union’s work possible. Your financial contribution supports our efforts to deliver quality, locally relevant journalism.

Now more than ever, your support is critical to help us keep our community informed about the evolving coronavirus pandemic and the impact it is having locally. Every contribution, however large or small, will make a difference.

Your donation will help us continue to cover COVID-19 and our other vital local news.


Start a dialogue, stay on topic and be civil.
If you don't follow the rules, your comment may be deleted.

User Legend: iconModerator iconTrusted User