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Fresh Clips: Historic, White Gardens

Discover the Silvers Cult, a gardening craze that was prevalent in the mid-1900s, when gray and white single-color gardens were a popular design theme.

| October/November 2011

  • White Garden at Sissinghurst Castle
    (c)NTPL/Jonathan Buckley
  • Vita Sackville-West's White Garden at Sissinghurst Castle is planted with monochromatic blooms.
    (c)NTPL/Jonathan Buckley
  • The restful white flowers and silver foliage set off the wild outdoors to maximum advantage.
    (c)NTPL/Penny Tweedie

A cult of silver-herb enthusiasts? It may sound a bit odd, but in the mid-1900s single-color gardens (usually gray or white) were a popular design theme. Vita Sackville-West is perhaps the most famous instigator of this movement, known as the Silvers Cult, propelling the craze through her gardening column with London’s Observer and her own White Garden at Sissinghurst Castle, which quickly became a priority visit for flower arrangers and garden-enthusiasts across England. Gray gardens were planted not only at homes, but also at London’s Kew Gardens and Edinburgh’s Royal Botanic Garden. Mrs. Desmond Underwood, called the “silver queen,” further encouraged the taste for white blooms and silver foliage by introducing silver plants at the Royal Horticultural shows in the later 1950s and ’60s.

In silver and white-themed gardens pale tones of gray and white are used to offset the occasional blush of green, pink, peach and dusky red. The result is an intensely romantic garden experience that is intensified at night, when the garden glows with faint luminescence. These gardens capitalize on foliage, flowers and fragrance for garden enjoyment rather than color. Texture also plays a strong role in the gardens’ dynamic appeal. The pale leaves and flowers interact to form a richly planted tapestry of smooth or downy leaves in a wide variety of sizes and shapes.

The White Garden’s elegant iron trellis (pictured here) was created to replace the original arbor of almond trees. Designed by Vita Sackville-West’s son Nigel, the trellis supports a canopy of white roses that bloom, in Sissinghurst tradition, on the first of July each year. The White Garden at Sissinghurst Castle, planted with a wealth of white lavender, tea roses and with attention to the contrast of flowing leaves and blooms against sturdy yew boxes, was initially designed to be at its most radiant for the summer touring season and the 1951 Festival of Britain. Its surprising plantings and romantic atmosphere have made it possibly the most iconic and influential silver-themed garden in the world.

Learn more about growing a garden like this at 7 Sensational Silver Plants.

Lauren Holt is an editorial intern at The Herb Companion. 

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