The Great White

In the midst of brilliant fall colors visible at every turn, it may seem odd to write about how great a landscape color is the color white.  Every scene of gorgeous fall color that my eyes take in brings up mixed emotions.

While I always feel deep and satisfying joy when taking in the reds or golds of autumn, there is also a twinge of sadness knowing that all too soon the landscape will be dominated by more muted shades of tan and grey, the  dark greens of the evergreen and of course white.

Sometimes white seems like the absence of color, but as I think about some of the most beautiful landscapes I’ve seen, white is often a very important part of the scene.


n the spring of the year, I love the mounds of white produced by Renaissance Spireas, Snowball Viburnum, Showy Mountain Ash and Common White Lilacs.  In early summer, the Catalpa trees and Japanese Tree Lilacs are blossoming and by midsummer, the hydrangeas begin to show their lush white blossoms which continue into fall.

My favorite white plant in the landscape has no showy white blossoms at all.  It is the white birch tree.  There are several varieties of birch that develop white bark, including Renaissance Reflection Paper Birch, Renaissance Oasis Paper Birch and the always lovely Dakota Pinnacle Birch.

Forty-eight years ago, I took my first canoe trip into the Boundary

North Country Birch Grove

Waters Canoe Area, and Ontario’s Quetico Canoe Park, and I fell in love with the stands of paper birch that contrast so nicely when mixed with spruce, pine and cedar.  I love the white barked birch trees not only because they remind me of hundreds of happy days canoeing the sprawling wilderness, but also because they are beautiful year round without any color added besides their regal white bark.  The contrast of pristine white against a background dominated by grey and green that I can enjoy all year long.  The bark of a beautiful paper birch is there to enjoy not just for part of one season on the calendar, it stands out all year long.

Oasis Paper Birch in the Fall
Oasis Paper Birch in the Fall

Renaissance Oasis Paper Birch is my personal favorite of the white barked birch varieties with the striking Dakota Pinnacle Birch a close second. Don’t forget to plan for some white in your landscape.  Over time you too may come to regard white in the landscape as “The Great White.”