White is a Cooling Color

A friend of mine seems able to pick a color of the day any day and then post a collage of blooms right out of the garden to celebrate.  Me on the other hand, I’m far from there but on a day like today when the garden bakes under a hot sun, anything which might lower the temperature is fair game.  They say adding white flowers to a garden can cool a hot palette but as I trudged around the garden in 97F(36C) afternoon sun I’m not sure it mattered.  We’ll give it a try though since the only truly cool white would have been snow, and it will take months of heat before I wish that on anyone 😉

stewartia flower

**full disclosure I took this photo a week ago and the blooms on the Stewartia are no longer this fresh looking, but to look at it now?  Ahhhhhhh 🙂

Heat and cicadas, that would have been a nicely mid-Atlantic June day, but as of yet I haven’t seen more than a few wings and munched torsos.  Maybe a road trip is due?  The younger child (now nearly a full month into her teens) says yes, and the first flowers of the Regal lily “smell like Longwood”.

lilium regale

These Regal lilies (Lilium regale) were mush from a late frost last year, and sat dormant from April on… but guess who returned from the dead this year!

I’d be happy with just a break from lawn mowing, and this heat should do the trick.  My neighbors are looking at mostly brown already since they’re more gung-ho about their grass knowing its place and it’s height, but here I give it a little more freedom as the temperatures rise and the sun beats down.  Longer grass withstands both the heat and drought better and recovers faster when the weather breaks, and I’m sure when that break comes and temperature drop with a rain shower or two there will be plenty of time for me to catch up on my love of lawn maintenance.

white clover lawn

A flurry of white across the lawn, thanks to the liberal growth of white clover.  A good bee plant most will say, but honestly there’s plenty of other stuff around which they also seem quite thrilled over.

I think cooling white counts even if it’s on the gray side.

mammillaria plumosa

I believe this is Mammillaria plumosa.  Each year it stretches a little further and now another pot will be required.  Any bigger and it won’t fit on the porch steps anymore.  

I was lukewarm to the dusty miller(Jacobaea maritima) which went in as an annual last summer but I quite like the bushier perennial version which returned this spring.  If the summer stays dry and the border doesn’t get too lush and crowded I think it will do well all season.

dusty miller flower

Unimpressive flowers on the dusty miller.  

Gray foliage but on a much less soft and felty side would be the Scotch thistle.  This will probably be the last photo of this weed which I subject you to, but fair warning: the Cardoon has yet to bloom, and that’s another weedy thistle which I think is just wonderful and I can’t hide my excitement over 🙂

scotch thistle

Scotch thistle against a cloudless sky.  I had to point up since this plant is well over my head by now.

Gray foliage doesn’t have much in the way of scent, but the Phlox paniculata is starting and that has an excellent summer fragrance.  I will avoid complaining about how ungrateful they seem this year, as they’re growing poorly enough that you wouldn’t suspect I transplanted and fertilized, but sometimes you have to give a favorite plant some leeway… unless of course it gets demoted to a former-favorite plant… that would be something which such an ungrateful plant might deserve but then who knows what July will bring.

midsummer white phlox

‘Midsummer White’ garden phlox (Phlox paniculata) is the garden’s first tall phlox to flower.

Weeds and wildflowers are never ungrateful.  Overly enthusiastic maybe but you never have to beg them to grow.

erigeron annuus daisy fleabane

A favorite weed, daisy fleabane (Erigeron annuus) can usually be counted on to sprout up when needed. 

Sometimes you don’t even have to water them.  Actually watering weeds is a crazy idea… unless it’s fleabane or larkspur.  Both might be worth a little spray to get them over a hump.

white larkspur

It looks white, but here the larkspurs all tend to be an icy white with a drop of blue or gray in it.  Kind of a skim milk shade of white rather than titanium white.

Here I go talking about weeds again.  One more though.  Common yarrow has shown up in a few spots in the meadow and I wonder how these seeds find their way.

achillea millefolium common yarrow

Common yarrow (Achillea millefolium) laughs at heat and drought.  I think everything around it will shrivel up and die before you see anything more than a few leaves wilt.

White flowers in a dry meadow won’t cool anyone, but maybe the patch of variegated giant reed grass out front can help.  For months I’ve been saying someone ought to chop out some of the clump, since it really is too big, but it appears the message fell on deaf ears and it’s just as big (actually bigger) than last year.  Probably too big.  Alas.

verbena arundo donax

I’m not saying I judge my neighbors for not asking if I can spare a division, but the giant reed grass (Arundo donax ‘variegata’) is pretty awesome and only gets better as it climbs to 10 feet and more by the end of the season.

It’s way too hot to be out there in the blazing sun hacking inch thick, strong as steel grass rhizomes so that’s one more year for the grass to root in deeper and spread further.  Maybe next year, right?  Shade is a much better option.  White hydrangeas in a dappled shade both looks and sounds cool.

annabelle hydrangea

‘Annabelle’ Hydrangea arborescens is the hydrangea to grow if you want a foolproof every-year-its-a-show kind of hydrangea.  Newer hybrids?  Other species?  Help yourself, I’m just fine with this.

Hostas also make the shade even cooler and many people know this.  Some go to extremes.  I only dabble.

hosta montana aureomarginata

Hosta montana aureomarginata, an oldie but goodie in my opinion.  

There’s another kind of foliage plant which I plan on going overboard with this year.  Caladiums.  I forget how much I’ve already revealed about ‘2021 the year of the caladium’ but it’s going to be big.  Not the empty kind of ‘big’ or ‘huge’ or ‘better than you can imagine’ that politicians have promised in the past, but a big five pound box of mixed tubers which was potted up weeks ago and is now soaking up the heat and starting to grow.  As you know, it’s not often I get excited about a new plant, but waiting for each leaf to unfurl is like waiting for a new plant to unfurl a new leaf and I just can’t think of anything more exciting than that.

sprouting caladium

White… with a hint of pink… not that I’m counting but there are 79 caladiums potted up separately and sitting on the driveway waiting to take off into growth.  Summer garage access is overrated if you ask me and I’m sure it will be entirely worth it. 

So there you have it, the cooling effect of white.  I’m all excited about caladiums now but maybe the white helped calm someone else and take the edge off the heat for a minute and that’s a good thing.  That and air conditioning.  Or ice cream.  Or a tub of cool water… whatever it takes to get through this because as you may remember, something called July and August are still on the way and I don’t think you’re going to hear much of ‘boy it’s looking cool next month’ or ‘golly did that temperature drop’ as much as you’re going to hear ‘relentless’ and ‘not a break in sight’.

Or I’m just being pessimistic.  Order some caladium bulbs.  There’s still plenty of time and at least they love the heat even if you don’t.  And even if you’re anti-caladium I hope you have a great week 🙂

28 comments on “White is a Cooling Color

  1. GREAT POST AND PHOTOS as always. I saw on TV about the drought and heat you are experiencing. GEEZ! We have had plenty of rained bearable temps the past week. It was in the 90’s before that, though, and I thought we were surely in for a dry spell. I am sure it will come, though. The photo of the Mammillaria plumosa looks similar to mine. They make such a nice rounded cushion. I hope you are well!

    • bittster says:

      Haha, I’m surprised you didn’t see the weather we were getting and just shake your head! I’m thinking our ‘Heat wave’ is just your August lol
      Thanks for confirming the mammilaria ID. It was a tiny gift from a friend and I love how it keeps getting bigger and bigger. This fall I should get a photo of when it flowers, even if it isn’t all that impressive. The blooms are a pale yellow/beige and could be showier but there are a bunch so that makes up for it.
      All the best!

      • Well, I pretty much just check the weather forecast in the area. I kind of live in my own little world and don’t know what is going on unless someone tell me. LOL! The Mammillaria plumosa is entertaining. Old flowers leave a hole in the feathers for a while. I am glad they aren’t pink like most of the other Mammillaria in my collection.

  2. Cathy says:

    Wonderful plants. Arundo is a grass I have been warned about, but it is so pretty! Larkspur as a weed? How lovely! I hope mine will set seed – first time I have grown them and they are gorgeous. (Mine are blue and mauve). You have won me over on the phlox, and I am growing a blue one. 😃 But I am not keen on on the common Achillea which is everywhere here… maybe my worst weed in fact. It’s hot and humid here with loads of thundery rainy nights, so this was a nice cooling post. And the mention of ice cream has made me peckish! 😉 Hope you can keep cool and the garden gets a cool shower soon. 😃

    • bittster says:

      The yarrow has only shown up recently, I’m sure it will have plenty of time to grow up and annoy me!
      The larkspur (and a few other biennials and early growing annuals) grow best when there’s open soil in the fall. If I mulch the beds in fall nothing grows, if I leave them bare too many grow so it’s always a back and forth.
      I think we have your weather now. Humid, thundery, cool and then quickly turning hot… excellent for the annuals and hot weather tropicals, but there’s mildew on the phlox and plenty of bugs showing up so…
      but still better than snow!

  3. Lisa at Greenbow says:

    I love that Mammillaria plumosa. I would love to grow some of those interesting cactus and succulents but they become so weird looking during winter due to not enough light in my house that I have given up on them. Your white selection is very cooling. I have a dusty miller in my garden that I don’t know what variety but it surprised me by coming back for the second year now. I put it in the ground where there was a blank space. It was a left over from pot planting. I didn’t expect to see it the next year. I haven’t had much luck before with caladiums. Yet this year I bought a couple that were grown on very good. I put one in a pot and one into the ground. Mercy me, they have done splendidly. They have both even bloomed. Of course the summer isn’t over but this is the best that they have ever done in my care. They aren’t the white ones but pink and red. If all goes well I might try a white one next year. Annabelle does well in my garden too. I made the mistake of cutting it back one year and it made the most huge blooms and of course fell apart so I don’t do that any more. What made me hack on it??? Who knows. ha.. I looked out in my garden to see if there was any white other than Annabelle. I see several Oakleaf Hydrangeas with big white panicles. I have a lot of yellow right now. I cut back the common yarrow the white blooms were looking dirty. Try to stay cool.

    • bittster says:

      The cactus is a cute little thing. I know what you mean about the stretching and ‘weird’ growth during the winter. I had to get rid of a couple because they did that but the ones I have left now seem to tolerate me a little better. I let them dry out for a month or so and then never water them after taking them into the house. They don’t get enough light but because they’re so dry they don’t grow so it works out. They look terrible by March though, all shriveled and missing half their ‘leaves’. I out them outside as soon as it’s kind of frost-free and they bounce back fast. If you ever want a box of cuttings to give them another try, let me know.
      My caladiums are waiting for another hot day. It got a little cooler this week and they slowed down but the heat did get a bunch of them sprouting so it’s exciting to see the leaves coming up. I can’t wait to see what I end up with!
      I have a little oakleaf hydrangea seedling which might be able to survive where it’s planted. They’re pretty cool with flowers, foliage, and bark all being interesting so it would be nice to see it take off and thrive (unlike the last one I killed). Have a great holiday weekend!

  4. Tim C says:

    Pretty cool! That is a nice assortment of blooms and foliage to take the edge off the heat. I’d say your garden pales in comparison to others, but somehow that doesn’t have the admiring tone I actually want to convey. I look forward to the pending caladium jungle, and your eventual harvest of 50 pounds of tubers this fall. That will be cool too.

    • bittster says:

      heh heh, there will be nothing pale about the caladium explosion. I’m hoping it will be absolutely tasteless and completely too much of a good thing. ‘Too much of a good thing’ might be my fall-back plan when ‘making mistakes faster’ isn’t enough 🙂

  5. Eliza Waters says:

    Lots of lovelies blooming for you these scorching days, Frank. I’m looking forward to a drop in temps tonight. (I’m going a bit stir crazy staying inside all day!) The bookend times of the day are the only possibilities for getting anything done. And of course, with the heat, the weeds are exploding. Same song every summer! 😉

    • bittster says:

      We had some rain and cooler temps this week and it was real nice. I was away so it was even easier to enjoy as a fully guilt-free weather change, but now that the rain supercharged the weeds I might need to get out there.
      Porch sitting is nice too though. I did cut the grass, so I think that’s all the neighbors care about and I could be off the hook… but I do like happy zinnias, and not ‘drowning in crabgrass’ zinnias 😉

  6. That Mammillaria plumosa is new to me but absolutely wonderful. I just realized I don’t have many white flowers between Trillium grandiflora and Jp. Anemones, just a few Tiarellas and pale Geraniums. Thank goodness I just picked up a couple of swamp milkweed with white flowers. Not nearly as hot here as you, but now it’s too wet to work in the garden for a couple of days. Always something.

    • bittster says:

      Yes. Always something.
      We’re approaching that time of year when (I at least) start racking up projects and plans that I’m too late for. I can manage the bigger ones, but all those ‘dig up that little batch of crocus’, ‘move those two daffodils’, ‘replant that one iris that’s almost completely gone’ to-do list items are entering the ‘maybe next year’ stage. I should just rip out sections of the garden and completely replant rather than bother with every single plant’s special needs. Lord knows I have enough spare plants to pull that off!
      Have a nice holiday weekend!

  7. Pamela Hubbard says:

    You have a very perceptive child, Frank. Longwood is always good for a trip. Or was that your suggestion? You show a lovely variety of white blooms. Your garden is several weeks ahead of mine so I don’t have too much yet. I like the idea of planting white for the cooling effect on a hot day. I plant white flowers to provide rest for the eyes among the colors of the cottage garden. We are not quite as hot as you in the mountains, but my phone just told me the real-feel temp here is over 100°F. And it’s still only June. Px

    • bittster says:

      Haha, the Longwood comment was completely unsolicited, although I did call the child over to smell the lilies 🙂
      The heat really brought things along quickly, and I was surprised how much cooler it was in the mountains… until it wasn’t! -and rainier- I bet the rain did wonders for the garden, it helped here but of course it takes a real downpour to penetrate the leaves and we didn’t get that downpour.
      We will see what July and August hold in store. I see a hurricane on its way to Florida and wonder if that’s a sign of a rainy, humid summer.
      Have a great holiday!

  8. Add me to the list of Mammillaria plumosa fans. Very cool plant but I think I’ll just admire it on your doorstep. And since when is larkspur a weed?

    • bittster says:

      The cactus is far less dangerous than you might think. With a light hand it’s actually pettable, but then what kind of a weirdo goes around petting their cactus? Not me of course.
      I had so many larkspurs sprout this spring I had to weed and mulch so that only a few stronger ones stayed for the show. Poppies too, but they aren’t nearly as nice. I might have to cross them off the guest list.

  9. Yes, white is certainly a cooling color. Love those Lilies – I don’t have that kind. But my Annabelles are also blooming.

    • bittster says:

      I would grow a lot more lilies if that beetle wasn’t on it’s way to my garden. Regal lilies are so easy and even from seed will flower in about three years.
      We had a late freeze last year which turned about half the lilies into mush and they disappeared for the whole season. Even some of the big orienpets like ‘silk road’ took the year off. Now I’m amazed that many are back as if nothing happened. Some are smaller, but many look just fine which is something I didn’t expect.

  10. Being firmly in the “white isn’t white unless it’s an icy blue-white” camp, I am probably the pickiest white-flower geek on earth! So of course I beat my head against the wall by expecting an acceptable white from any daylily. One of them (Clarity of Purpose) is going to get relocated for the second time in as many years because I stupidly put them within eyeshot of a Cornus kousa that blooms at the same time; the dogwood’s flowers really ARE white, and thus make the slightly-off-white daylily clump look cream/pale beige. I really like your white larkspur!

    • bittster says:

      I’m with you on those ‘white’ daylilies. Cannas are another one where white is kind of iffy.
      I’d love to add a kousa dogwood but an added problem around here are the white vinyl fences which the neighbors love. I spend so much time trying to hide them I’d hate to plant something which ‘brings out the white’… except the white has become not-so white as algae and dirt build up…

      • LOL, there is a white vinyl fence directly behind my kousa dogwood! However, the dogwood is at the front of that border and there is an overgrown conifer blocking part of the face of the fence. Btw, the best thing I have found to easily remove algae and dirt from white vinyl fencing is the ‘LA Awesome Cleaner’ that is sold at Dollar Tree. A couple of bottles of that, plus a couple rolls of cheapie paper towels, and that fence will be blinding white in no time, LOL

  11. […] be putting white larkspur on my seed list for next year. I am rather envious of the white ones Frank at Sorta Suburbia has drifting romantically through his Potager. […]

  12. Kevin says:

    Hi Bittster. I love white in a garden. It makes all of the other colors pop and I love that it reflects moonlight. Just lovely!

  13. Chloris says:

    White is cooling for sizzling days and we don’t have much call for that here. But I love how white comes alive at dusk on summer evenings and illuminates the garden.

    • bittster says:

      Heh heh. Here dusk on summer evenings practically screams mosquitos, but even under the glow of a tiki torch and bug candles white has a wonderful nighttime effect. I should do more evenings in the garden.

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