Building Texture – Just the right touch

Croton “Petra” enlivens gardens with its leathery, strap-like foliage, not to mention its vibrant colors.

Lamb’s ears’ velvety foliage, crotons’ leathery leaves, sedums’ smooth surfaces — few elements enrich gardens like texture. But the remarkable surface qualities of foliage that compel us to reach out and touch are only part of texture’s gift to gardens.

Variegated fern fronds provide frilly detail and glorious color to this garden.
Bold texture expresses itself with large, attention-grabbing foliage, among other characteristics.

Plant shape (cone, dome, column, or ball), leaf characteristics, and plant structure all create textural impressions. Look closely. Butterfly bush is as light and airy as the butterflies drawn to its nectar-rich blooms; boxwood seems impenetrable. Plants such as ferns seem to float across the landscape; others, like iris, stand their ground.

Ornamental grass adds texture and motion to gardens.
Water droplets add intriguing texture to ornamental grass.

There is a capricious quality to texture, as well. In bright sunlight ornamental grass plumes sparkle with energy; on overcast days they resemble feather dusters. Time of day, intensity of sunlight, breeze or lack of breeze: often, texture is up for grabs depending on nature’s whim.

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Bark is a texture-builder, especially in winter when there is less competition from foliage.

Seasonal changes are another aspect of textural variation. Plants bud, then bloom; they set fruit; they produce seedpods. In summer, foliage is the king of texture. In winter, twigs, bark, branches, and berries decorate landscapes.

Wispy salvia complements bold elephant ear in both color and form.

Despite nature’s complexities, texture-building in its simplest form consists of combining various plants into pleasing combinations. But getting texture right takes restraint. Like too much of any good thing, too much wispy foliage or too many spiky leaves can overwhelm. For the best textural balance in beds and borders, some experts suggest mingling 1/3 finely-textured plants with 2/3 boldly-textured plants.

Succulents offer smooth, waxy foliage. Many grow in tight rosettes adding additional detail to gardens.

Once you’ve cultivated an appreciation for surface texture, learned to recognize plant shapes, and familiarized yourself with plant characteristics, the best thing to do is step aside and let Mother Nature do the rest.

Texture sampler

Fine texture: Use delicate looking plants to fill space, make small areas appear larger, and accentuate the forms and colors of other plants. Examples include baby’s breath, cosmos, asparagus, maidenhair fern, dill, spiraea, artemisia, and threadleaf coreopsis.

Delicate maidenhair fern cozies up to hosta in an eye-pleasing border.
Petite foliage characterizes variegated lemon thyme, a useful and beautiful plant.

Medium texture: These beauties make up the most common category. Use them to form anchors in beds and borders. Examples include azalea, English ivy, camellia, and gardenia.

Vines take texture to new heights, like this Angyo Star tree ivy with its large, variegated, star-shaped foliage.

Bold texture: These drama queens possess large leaves, big flowers, and/or rough bark. Many boldly-textured plants have a tropical appearance. Favorites include hosta, comfrey, banana, saucer magnolia, canna, foxglove, and hydrangea.

Coarse spikes reach for the sky in this architectural duo.
Flame grass sets texture on fire with its narrow, upright scarlet foliage.

Spikes: Ornamental grass and other soft-spiked selections add texture, sound, and movement. They are ideal as specimens and accents. Use yucca, iris, agave, aloe, and other plants with coarse spikes as architectural accents.

Posted by Diane Morey Sitton
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