White and Chalky Pastel Flower Palette from the RHS Tatton Park Flower Show

Alcea rosea 'The Bride' - white double hollyhock
Alcea rosea ‘The Bride’

It’s just my personal taste, but while white flowers such as this double hollyhock entrance me, I’m rarely convinced by white borders. I take in the overall effect, think “Ooh! A classic white border. Perhaps it will be better at its peak?”, then move on.

This year’s Tatton Park Flower Show gave me an insight into what twist a white border might have that would truly inspire me: chalky pastels.  

Rosa 'Kew Gardens'
Rosa ‘Kew Gardens’

Imagine this recipe: take pure white flowers, sully the mix with flowers that have creamy, ivory or white backgrounds decorated with streaks or blotches of pink, peach, yellow, lavender and green, then add a good helping of pure, pale pastel flowers. Use colours as soft as you dare to create a dreamy effect – I’m thinking of Edinburgh rock colours.

Lilium 'Colosseum'
Lilium ‘Colosseum’

We often see pastels being used in floristry – perhaps half of wedding flowers have a white, cream or pastel theme – but I can’t recall ever seeing a summer garden full of them.

Creamy yellow hollyhocks with a double yellow in the background
Creamy yellow hollyhocks with a double yellow in the background

Don’t get me wrong, I did see plenty of bright, bold colours at the Tatton Park show. Colour trends in horticulture don’t work in quite the same way as they do in the more prescriptive world of clothing fashion and even in fashion, we expect to see several colour themes per season. Gardeners are free spirits – we know what we like; with a little effort, we can usually find out where to get it; and we see no good reason to follow the herd.

Even a cursory look around a major flower show like RHS Tatton Park will reveal almost every colour combinations you can imagine.

Echinacea purpurea 'Green Jewel'
Echinacea purpurea ‘Green Jewel’

This lime green echinacea, discovered by master planter Piet Oudolf, was a new combination for me, planted with chocolate coloured foliage plants, but it was the chalky halo effect round the hedgehog style centre that set me thinking.

For while part of me views horticultural colour trends with suspicion, a bigger part knows that one of the pleasures of visiting a major English flower show is the chance to look out for new colour and plant trends. Imaginary or real matters little – call it an intellectual exercise that helps me process all the different things I’ll see there.

Sometimes what I find is not what I was expecting. If you’d told me the colours that would resonated most with me this year would be whites, greens and soft, sugary pastels, I’d have crinkled my nose.

Primula vialii 'Alison Holland' with hosta
Primula vialii ‘Alison Holland’ with variegated hosta

I first saw Primula vialii ‘Alison Holland’ a couple of years ago and was immediately smitten. The ‘ordinary’ form of Primula vialii is a striking plant, with red hot poker style tiers of tiny cerise pink flowers tipped with a cluster of vibrant red ones. This green tipped white version is a beautiful twist and the pairing with cream edged hostas at RHS Tatton seemed inspired.

Clematis florida 'Alba Plena' - double white clematis with green centre
Clematis florida ‘Alba Plena’

I could tell you a little about each of the flowers I’ve chosen to include here – some old favourites, others newbies – but it’s the effect of combining them that really interests me. You might take a moment to scroll up and down to see what I mean. Together they remind me of the balanced charts of soft paint colours designers have long used to coax us away from white, grey or magnolia interior walls.

While for decades the British have overwhelmingly embraced safe neutrals to decorate our houses, we’ve had no such inhibitions in our gardens. The heat of the summer sun traditionally brings out flowers in bright, intense, fun colours – yellows, reds, oranges, pinks, purples, blues – the more the merrier.

Double hollyhock: Alcea rosea 'Peaches n Dreams'
Double hollyhock: Alcea rosea ‘Peaches n Dreams’

The flowers I’m highlighting here are the same ones we typically see in a summer garden, except it’s as if a heavenly colour mixer has tipped in a whole bucketload of white paint to take away the glare, to soothe us, to pare everything back. The whole look is a contemporary take on retro.

Rosa 'Emily Brontë' - David Austin Rose
Rosa ‘Emily Brontë’

Rosa ‘Emily Brontë’ is a great example. This new(ish) English Rose has a subtle, restrained hue which reminds me more of the works of Anne Brontë than her tempestuous sister. It would be easy to find other English Roses that would also suit a chalky pastels trend: Rosa ‘The Lark Ascending’, Rosa ‘Tottering-by-Gently’,  Rosa ‘The Mill on the Floss’, Rosa ‘Olivia Rose Austin’… and we could pop the green rose, Rosa viridiflora in for good measure. I haven’t seen this year’s Rosa ‘Eustachia Vye’ in the flesh petals yet, but I imagine that would be perfect.

Foxglove 'Dalmation Peach' - peach foxglove
Foxglove ‘Dalmation Peach’
Dahlia 'Café au Lait' - dinnerplate dahlia
Dahlia ‘Café au Lait’

Restricted colour in the garden is nothing new. Designers have given us red borders, such as the famous one at Hidcote; hot borders; yellow borders; and the white borders I was mean about earlier, sometimes called moon gardens because of the way the moon makes the white gleam.

Lilium 'Lovely Day' - white lily with pink streaks and spots
Lilium ‘Lovely Day’
Penstemon 'Devonshire Cream'
Penstemon ‘Devonshire Cream’

So am I going too far to hope for summer pastel borders, a sweeter take on the classic white?  The more I look, the less I know why these colours should give me pause.

Francoa 'Pink Bouquet' with blue thistles

Slender towers of pearlescent pink and white Francoa sonchifolia would fit in beautifully, such as Francoa ‘Pink Bouquet’. It’s weird how after a few minutes spent paring everything back and immersing ourselves in the softest shades, Francoa ‘Pink Bouquet’ and these two Nanus Gladioli almost seem punchy.

Allium 'Pink Jewel'
Allium ‘Pink Jewel’

I can imagine a few of you agreeing with me that Allium ‘Pink Jewel’ is on the lilac side. No matter – it pales beautifully as the flower ages and the green centres and creamy stamens make it perfect for the theme.

Clematis 'Lucky Charm'
Clematis ‘Lucky Charm’

I could have included some dreamy rambling roses – in a real world summer pastels border their panicles of blooms would surely be indispensable. I’m ‘making do’ here with clematis, which would pair well with roses tumbling around an obelisk or pergola.

Allium 'Silver Spring' - white allium
Allium ‘Silver Spring’

Flowers like Allium ‘Silver Springs’ draw us in to admire their subtle contrasts. Sometimes marketed as a white allium, the tiny florets are packed with fine details. The outer white ring has a green streak down the back that appears like an echo through the translucent petals; the next layer opens purple, fading to the palest pink over time; the stamens are tipped with plentiful primrose yellow pollen.

Erigeron karvinskianus spills out of a broken pot
Erigeron karvinskianus

This erigeron frothing its daisy flowers out on wiry stems has a similar blend of colours. I’ve seen erigeron used to great effect this summer in formal and cottage garden settings, in particular at Hestercombe Gardens and Cothay Manor. Daucus carota (ornamental carrot) was popular at the show too.

I could have mentioned campanulas, phlox, Shirley poppies (Papaver rhoeas ‘Angel’s Choir’), scabious, antirrhinums, echinaceas, lupins and delphiniums, but you get my drift. Almost any flowers being actively bred today are now available in modern, pastel versions.

My final selections show that deep maroon and purple can be incorporated while keeping a soft, dreamy feel.

The possibilities are endless and the more I have written, the more I feel convinced that there must be pastel themed summer gardens out there. If  you know of a great one I can add to my to-visit list or enjoy virtually here on WordPress, let me know.

Alcea rosea 'Halo Blossom' with other flowers
Alcea rosea ‘Halo Blossom’

The last week or so, taking a hint from Sarah Emily Porter I started to post a few pictures to Instagram. The jury is out on whether I will take to it, but if you’re active there, please call in and say hello. You can find me here.

36 Replies to “White and Chalky Pastel Flower Palette from the RHS Tatton Park Flower Show”

  1. I don’t do pastels as a rule though I did experiment last year with a white bed. Looking through your gorgeous photos there are several flowers here that make me think, yes, that would be nice. I especially like that white clematis with the dramatic purple crown of staminodes. And the primula is tempting too. And I loved Edinburgh rock when I was younger 😀

    1. I was in three minds as I was writing this. 1 – Is the whole idea of a pastel border just daft? 2 – Are there pastel borders all over the country that I just don’t know about? 3 – A pastel border would be great!

      I crave Edinburgh Rock whenever I think of it. I can’t imagine I’ve eaten a lot of it, which suggests it is scarily addictive.

    1. Erigeron is made to spill. It may be easier to encourage than eradicate in a sunny garden from what I’ve seen, but it’s so pretty that hardly matters.

  2. I read this last night and just didn’t know where to begin with my reaction so I waited until this morning and I still don’t know where to begin. Maybe with Rosa ‘Kew Gardens,’ which stopped me cold. I spent a long time staring covetously. Then to the clematis ‘Alba Plena,’ which looks like porcelain to me. To ‘Peaches in a Dream,’ which reminded me of the bridesmaid’s hats in my parents’ wedding (1941). The design concept of pastels with white is intriguing; I am especially in love with the soft peach tones, and I thank you for the inspiration here.

    1. I’ve lingered over these too while writing. It’s the apricot buds, no doubt, that make ‘Kew Gardens’ so appealing. It’s a wonderful plant, grown well. I’m glad the hollyhock conjured up the nineteen forties. It’s not quite sepia, but perhaps it’s the ruffled lace effect of all those petals.

  3. Thank you for this great article with so many amazing photos of flowers and very informative and so well written text. These flowers indeed look very beautiful. You inspired me to add some more perennials and shrubs blooming in white or pastel shades to my garden.

    So far I have a few light-colour blooming roses like Eden and William Morris, one penstemone flowering in almost white to very light pink, a few white or light purple blooming hostas, as well as mock orange blooming in white.

    I think white or pastel shade flowers add elegance and somehow dream-look and airiness to the garden, as well as seem to make it a bit bigger especially if light shades are placed towards the back of the garden.

    1. That sounds lovely already. The first rose picture I really liked that I’d taken myself was of Rosa ‘William Morris’, so I have a soft spot for that one. At its best, it is very alluring. These colours seem elegant to me too.

  4. Although nice, I’m not so impressed. White is my favorite color. I rather dislike pale whites that me a mockery of it. Pastels that show a bit more recognizable colors such as these are nice too, but as you describe, really are in their own league.

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