When the full moon lights up the summer night sky Monday, there will be a magical party at a special garden in the Snell Isle neighborhood. The guest list includes angels, white dragonflies and maybe even a garden fairy or two. Hundreds of white blossoms will dance in the silvery moonlight. If you find a seat on the hammock, you might even catch a glimpse of the hanging white orchids flirting with the oak branches above.
Alice Roess (pronounced "Race") created her all-white garden several years ago when she moved back to Snell Isle, where she was born and raised. It's not that white is her favorite color, although in summer it's practically the only color she wears. She likes the simple purity of white and its calming effect.
On a recent visit to her garden, there was more to this heavenly place than mere white-blooming plants. Placed in a special spot in the garden was a pretty white angel sleeping on a concrete placard with the name "Lori" inscribed. It used to be a slab of sidewalk into which Mrs. Roess' daughter had written her name when the concrete was still wet. Mrs. Roess had the slab placed on a pedestal, and the sleeping angel found her home there.
Mrs. Roess' only child, Lori was 40 when she died four years ago of heart failure. Gardening, which had been a lifelong love, became an even greater passion as Mrs. Roess created her white garden in honor of her beloved daughter.
"Everyone has their own stress reliever, and gardening is mine," Mrs. Roess says. "I think my daughter would love this garden because I love it. She was an avid gardener, too."
Mrs. Roess lovingly selected all the plants in her landscape, including pure white varieties of hibiscus, bougainvillea, plumbago, plumeria, begonia, lily, desert rose, caladium and impatiens. Fragrant gardenia and jasmine plants scent the air with their intoxicating perfume. Although white blooms can be tinted with shades of pink, blue, green and gray, Mrs. Roess prefers pure white varieties, which are especially striking against dark green foliage.
White gardens - also called moon gardens - actually have more green foliage than white. When illuminated by the moonlight or outdoor lighting, the white blossoms or white variegation of foliage plants need the solid green background to define their shapes.
"One word that encompasses the feel of this garden is that it is so peaceful," Mrs. Roess says. "I like other colors, but I am very happy with white. My favorite plants are the fragrant ones. It's just heavenly to sit out in the evening in the hammock."
People are drawn to the garden, including joggers and dog walkers who stop by to ask about it when Mrs. Roess is outside at dusk. Some people who drive by even park their cars and get out to take a better look. A deep green lawn leads up to landscape plants under mature shade trees. Splashes of white are everywhere. There's no resisting the magical aura of Lori's place.
"What mother doesn't think her daughter isn't the most wonderful thing that ever lived? She genuinely loved life," Mrs. Roess recalled. "Lori and I always had a wonderful time."
In her garden oasis, it seems mother and daughter still do.
Yvonne Swanson is a freelance writer in St. Petersburg and a master gardener for Pinellas County.
Creating a white garden
- Situate a white garden near a patio, porch or other area that will be used in the evening.
- Use white-blooming varieties of trees and shrubs, including angel's trumpet (Brugmansia), southern magnolia (Magnolia grandiflora), crape myrtle (Laegerstromia indica "Natchez"), hibiscus (Hibiscus rosa-sinensis "La France," "Dainty White"), oleander (Nerium oleander "Sister Agnes") and plumbago (Plumbago auriculata "Alba").
- Add occasional variegated plants, including jasmine (Trachelospermum jasminoides), peace lily (Spathiphyllum spp.) and caladium (Caladium bicolor "White Christmas," "White Wing").
- Include solid green foliage for dark background color. A thick hedge, green lawn or dark-colored fence will work.
- Scent the garden with gardenia (Gardenia jasminoides) and night-blooming plants, such as night-blooming jasmine (Cestrum nocturnum), giant moonflower vine (Ipomoea alba var.), night-blooming cereus (Cereus sp.) and evening primrose (Oenothera biennis).
- Select varieties of white annuals for extra splashes of white. Begonia, carnation, geranium, impatiens and petunia are good choices.
- Use outdoor landscape lighting to illuminate white blossoms.
- Add white statuary, a bird bath and other garden accents as desired.