Spring Whites

The weather has just taken a wintery turn here in Chicago. Arctic air has buckled southward, bringing cold and modest snowfall. For the moment there is a blanket of white that covers the ground.

Snow provoked thoughts of white flowers, and how it shouldn’t be too long before they would brighten the garden. Considering white flowers, it occurred to me that I have quite a few blooming in different seasons. I like white flowers best in shade – under the hot sun they can be a bit too dazzling. However, the softer light of spring is kind to white blooms. Let’s take a look at some of my favorite white flowers of spring.

Snowdrops, Galanthus
Snowdrops blooming among the Hydrangea stems.

First come the Snowdrops, of course. I enjoy snowdrops, but I am not moved by the subtle differences among the many varieties that bring joy to the hearts of Galanthus fanciers. I have your basic Galanthus nivalis and Galanthus elwesii, and that’s all. What does bring me joy is how the clumps of Snowdrops spread from year to year.

2014-04-06 13.20.14 white crocus
Crocus vernus

I love Crocuses. In our garden there are only a few that are white, part of a Crocus vernus mix I planted a few years ago. White Crocus flowers seem a bit more dignified than other Crocuses, like the brother who goes into the ministry while all his siblings become salesmen.

My very own bloodroot.
My very own Bloodroot.

There are a few Bloodroot (Sanguineria canadensis), a spring ephemeral, in the back garden.  My fond wish is that they will colonize and spread. Their flowers seem almost luminous, reminding us of the association of white with purity.

White daffodils

I don’t plant Narcissi anymore – Judy is prejudiced against them. But of the ones I have, I think I prefer the white to the yellow. I forgot the name of this variety long ago.

Narcissi prefer sun but tolerate some shade. Most of the flowers on this post prefer shady sites, though many bloom before the trees leaf out and the shade asserts itself.

Serviceberry 'Autumn Brilliance'
Serviceberry ‘Autumn Brilliance’ flowers

Many shrubs and small trees have white spring flowers. For example, in our garden there are several kinds of Cornus and Viburnum, plus a couple of Crabapples (Malus). However, my favorite spring flower among the woody plants has to be the Serviceberry (Amelanchier x grandiflora).

2014-04-20 17.10.00 Tulipa turkestanica
Tulipa turkestanica

Tulips are less frequently associated with white, but it would be a mistake to overlook the white-blooming varieties and species. The species tulip T. turkestanica is a good example. The yellow centers are an example of how white does best if offset by a touch of another color. Too much purity can be hard to take.

Tulip 'World Expression'
Tulip ‘World Expression’.

The same point is made by the Single Late Tulips ‘World Expression’.

Merrybells, Uvularia grandiflora, Bleeding Heart, Dicentra spectabilis var. alba
Merrybells with white Bleeding Heart.

The flowers of White Bleeding Heart (Lamprocapnos spectabilis ‘Alba’) are pure white, though. Here they are with some Great Merrybells (Uvularia grandiflora). Do they disprove my point about white needing to be offset by another color? I actually prefer the traditional pink Bleeding Hearts, but the white ones are nice. The whiteness is not too dazzling, perhaps because the flowers dangle daintily from arching stems, rather than forming a big mass.

What are your favorite white flowers of spring?

66 Comments on “Spring Whites

  1. I, too, love snowdrops of any kind. And blossom – I love the delicate white blossom tinged with pink on the apple trees in our garden. Theres an old wood near here that has spectacular carpets of white anemones (blanda, I think) in spring. Lovely post, Jason.

  2. A lovely reminder that spring isn’t so far away! I had a few snowdrops blooming this week in our temporary warmup, but they are buried in snow now as we got your storm. Your daffodils look like Ice Follies. My favorite white daf is Thalia – it opens white and stays white, very graceful and open. You’ve named most of my favorites, although another one is Anemone blanda ‘White Splendour’.

    • ‘Ice Follies’ – that sounds right. We have one little clump of snowdrops that seems to be ahead of the rest, but even they are not quite ready to bloom.

  3. I hope you will be enjoying your snowdrops here. I love all your white flowers. I also agree with the previous comment, Narcissus Thalia is lovely. Then in spring the woodlands round here are carpeted with white anemones, Anemone nemorosa. Gorgeous!

  4. I have such a fondness for white flowers. At the moment, the little white Sarcococca flowers are belting out their scent, Chaenomeles spec. Nivalis is looking beautiful and even Daphne x transatlantica ‘Eternal Fragrance’ has a few blooms. Stay safe in the cold weather – spring will soon be upon us!

  5. Love the snowdrops, My other favorites are lilies of the valley, although they are late spring and so modest hiding within their leaves. Also hellebores.
    Your analogy to the dignity of the white crocus with the ministry and salesmen siblings made me roar with laughter!

  6. So many lovely whites, Jason. My fave has to be the Dicentra. It always looks so fresh and pure. I have the pink too, which I find to be more vigorous , I much prefer the white.

  7. I love snowdrops. I have had a clump for several years and they don’t seem to reproduce. They are reliable in coming up and blooming they just don’t reproduce. I need to purchase more and scatter them about to see if they like a different position in the garden. I also have white tulips and narccissus that return year after year. My white one is all white. I don’t remember the name. It isn’t too exciting to me as I thought it would be. I think I just like more color at that time of year. Serviceberry is a beauty. I have a viburnum that blooms white and in layers. I forget it’s name too. The Mock Orange has to be my favorite white bloom. It smells so nice and it glows in the garden in almost any light except high noon. It is right by our patio and I have had more people ask about it. It isn’t a particularly pretty plant when not in bloom but it is worth the space for it’s long blooming time.

    • I have a mock orange but it has no fragrance so I can’t get too excited about it. Some of the Viburnums have really nice flowers, particularly V. trilobum.

  8. You might want to look into Arenaria montana. It is a ground cover that has the whitest white flowers I have seen. I don’t know if it is hardy in your area. But it is a winner here.

  9. Flowers of any kind are my favorite and one of the things I so appreciate about living in two places is I have flowers blooming all year.

  10. A wonderful collection of white flowers. I am awaiting my Snow Drops! While all the other plants seem to think it is spring already, the Snow Drops are keeping to their scheduled appearance : )

  11. All so lovely. We can grow some lovely paper whites and hardy snowdrop here. I say “we”, not meaning “me”! I’ve never had luck with them, so I enjoy others and your pretty spring bloomers.

  12. Nothing is nicer than a nice clump of bloodroot blooming on that first sunny 50-degree day. I was surprised you didn’t mention Annabelle hydrangeas! I also like white coneflowers, hosta “Aphrodite”, and ‘Casa Blanca’ oriental lilies.

  13. You have a lovely selection of white flowers Jason, I especially like Tulipa turkestanica. I agree with Sarah, the Sarcoccoca’s at this time of year have the most wonderful scent, especially S. confusa, I think you’d like them very much.

    • They sound nice. Don’t think I’ve ever seen or smelled one, but that could just be my ignorance. I don’t believe they are hardy where I live.

  14. I’ll try to remember to plant bloodroot…so pretty. I read somewhere that white flowers are more fragrant than other colors. What do you think about that? I love my Anemone blanda, but need to plant more as they are being edged out by other things.

    • I have never heard that theory about white flowers and fragrance, but it sort of makes sense. Both color and scent are for attracting pollinators. If you have lots of scent, you shouldn’t need much color.

  15. What a delightful post, Jason. I agree about the Bleeding Hearts–we have both white and pink here, and the pink are much more interesting. Gosh, I’m impressed with your Snowdrop collection! They have really naturalized in your garden. I only have a few, and they don’t seem to be spreading much. Two of my favorite white-flowering plants are Convallaria majalis (Lily-of-the-Valley) and the Philadelphus spp. (Mock Orange). Oh, and of course, all the white native spring ephemerals–Trilliums, Bloodroot, Mayapples … the list goes on!

  16. The merrybells are lovely! I love white flowers in shade too, especially dappled shade – they really pop. Your serviceberry and white bleeding heart are beautiful. I’ve really got to try that serviceberry cultivar because the fall color is so much better than most of the wild ones here.

  17. I love white flowers and, for the longest time, wanted a white garden just like the one at Sissinghurst. Pairing Bleeding Hearts with Merrybells is a terrific idea. I’m going to try that in my garden. Love that you can get natives! Thanks for the inspiration.

      • You’re right about white plants/flowers looking bleached in the sun. But I find that the sun’s white-out effect on that kind of a garden has such a lovely levelling effect. It’s calming to me. And, although I’ve never tried it, I can imagine that if you wanted to achieve a beachy, waterfront themed garden, a white, silver and pale green garden might get you there.

  18. Lovely post, reminds me of so many white flowers and shrubs I love. I will look out for Tulip Turkestanic…..I would love to have that pretty one in the garden. Also the Crocus Vernus, very dignified indeed!

  19. I have several white dicentra around the pond. They last forever in the shade there. I love trillium, also wood anemone (which have a similar feel to your bloodroot I think)

  20. Hello Jason, we don’t have snowdrops planted yet but those are a classic. I also like Sarcococca Confusa’s white flowers, but more for the sweet heady fragrance that comes off it in waves that simply wash over you. Magnolias are on the list too (although that’s cheating a little as the flowers are tinged with pink) as well as Clematis Montana Wilsonii.

  21. I don’t have loads of white spring flowers. A few crocus and a couple of snowdrops are all that come to mind. By spring I need as much color as I can get! But my Yoshino cherry tree has masses of pinkish white flowers that I love love love. That’s enough white for me. 🙂

  22. I hate to admit it but I seem to be turning into one of those Galanthus fanciers you mention at the top of your post Jason. It’s been a gradual thing though – a few years back I just didn’t ‘get it’.
    My favourite spring whites are white daffodils. My very favourite is Narcissus Thalia – she is gorgeous, scented and blooms a bit later than run of the mill daffs. I really dislike the large yellow ones and grow only a few dwarf yellows mainly to add colour than anything else.

    • I have nothing against Galanthus fanciers – or any other kind of plant fancier. An affection for a genus of plants can strike suddenly at any time.

  23. You’ve a nice collection of whites. So sophisticated I think. Evergreen candytuft (Iberis sempervirens) is among my favorite white blooming plant. Must look for Serviceberry…

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