Instant winter white

Brighten your home and patio with snowy-hued plants perfect for the season

Instant winter whites
Photo: Ernst Kucklich

Glistening snow blankets the landscape at some of the West's higher elevations this month. It's a look we love around the holidays. White blooms or silvery foliage in white or nearly white containers also bring that frosty ambience into your garden.

Slide show:  Ideas for beautiful white and silver plants

Most of the plants included here are perennials, so you can keep them on your patio until blooms fade or plants outgrow their containers. Then transplant into larger pots or into garden beds or borders.

How to design with whites

Enhance your all-white plantings by surrounding them with decorative items in the same palette of pure white, ivory, and cream.

• For a soothing glow, place frosted glass votives between small white containers in the center of a table.

• On covered patios, set white or ivory cushions on chairs and chaises near pots. Toss a soft blanket of fleece or wool over the cushions.

• Arrange conifer sprigs in milky white vases or pinecones in ivory bowls and tuck among small pots. Set a bundle of birch branches, tied with white twine, nearby.

• Top-dress the soil in your containers with a layer of white or blue tumbled glass that looks frosty by day and glistens on candlelit nights. It's available at craft stores or by mail from Bedrock Industries (877/283-7625) or Building Resources (415/285-7814).

Indoor snow

White flowers remind us of freshly fallen snow, of course. But shades of white stir up other seasonal memories too: icicles glistening from trees on winter mornings, your breath forming cloudy puffs on walks, the angel costume you wore in a Christmas pageant ― even froth on eggnog.

These sentimental associations make white-flowered plants nearly irresistible during the holidays, and the gift-plant industry knows it, offering more choices every year. The scene at right shows a sampling. Dendrobium orchids in silvery cachepots and a single begonia grace the mantle; a pair of white azaleas and a large peace lily (Spathiphyllum) decorate the hearth; a cineraria rests on the tabletop in the foreground and a hydrangea adorns the far table.

In mild-winter climates, you can put the azaleas, cineraria, and hydrangea outdoors after the holidays. Remember that many holiday plants are forced into bloom and will revert to their natural cycles after their winter flowering.

Indoors, give your plants a cool spot with bright, indirect light and keep them away from drafts and heating vents. Water when the top ½ inch of soil becomes dry. ― Sharon Cohoon

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