Wild About Texas – October, 2007

Designing with Form and Texture Using Texas Native Plants

Creating beautiful gardens with native plants requires consideration of more than just color (the main focus for most gardeners). Artful planting designs are crafted with form and texture in mind to foster general interest, sophistication and drama in the garden.

A simple formula for achieving dynamic plant compositions is to combine contrasting forms and textures of flowers, foliage and entire plants. Some flowers are globular or button-like; others grow on spires or plumes. Umbrella-shaped flower clusters and various plants with daisy-like blossoms offer more shapes with which to play.

Foliage patterns can be generally categorized as having fine (small or narrow) or coarse (large or wide) textures. Additionally, plants may have round, lobed, triangular, heart-shaped, palm-like, linear or other foliage shapes. Spectacular scenes can be created by placing coarse-textured plants behind fine-textured ones, or try round in combination with linear or strap-like leaves.

Overall plant forms are also critical in successful arrangements. Plants that trail or form mats create a nice foil for those with mounding, arching or vase shapes.

Here are a few Texas species to use in the garden according to texture and form:


Globes/Buttons: alliums (Allium spp.), eryngo (Eryngium leavenworthii), Barbara’s buttons (Marshallia caespitosa), thistles (Circium spp.)

Spikes/Plumes: gayfeather (Liatris spp.), mealy blue sage (Salvia farinacea), goldenrods (Solidago spp.), kidneywood (Eysenhardtia texana), standing cypress (Ipomopsis rubra).

Umbels: prairie parsley (Polytaenia texana), milkweeds (Asclepias spp.), wooly ironweed (Vernonia lindheimeri).

Daisies: purple coneflower (Echinacea spp.), rudbeckias (Rudbeckia spp.), asters (Symphyotrichum or Aster spp.), blackfoot daisy (Melampodium leucanthum), four-nerve daisy (Tetraneuris scaposa).


Fine: most grasses, autumn sage (Salvia greggii), prairie fleabane (Erigeron modestus), kidneywood (Eysenhardtia texana), cedar elm (Ulmus crassifolia).

Coarse: agaves (Agave spp.), prickly pears (Opuntia spp.), datura (Datura spp.), turk’s cap (Malvaviscus arboreus), redbud (Cercis canadensis).

Plant forms:

Trailing/mat-forming: frog-fruit (Phyla spp.), scarlet pea (Indigofera miniata), silver ponyfoot (Dichondra argentea), Gregg’s dalea (Dalea greggii).

Globes/mounds: damianita (Chrysactinia mexicana), cenizo (Leucophyllum spp.), columbines (Aquilegia spp.), winecup (Callirhoe involucrata).

Arching: American beautyberry (Callicarpa americana), Lindheimer’s muhly (Muhlenbergia lindheimeri), inland sea oats (Chasmanthium latifolium), dwarf Barbados cherry (Malpighia glabra).

Vases: penstemons (Penstemon spp.), gayfeather (Liatris spp.), horsemint (Monarda citriodora), Engelmann’s daisy (Engelmannia peristenia).

For more information about Texas native plants, visit the Wildflower Center’s Web site at: www.wildflower.org.

About the author: Andrea DeLong-Amaya is the Director of Horticulture at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center in Austin.

Posted by Neil Sperry
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