Textures in garden design

Its leaves may be large, but everything about lamb’s ear whispers “soft texture.” Kids love to feel this sweet little border perennial.

(Garden tip: Keep lamb’s ears’ flowers pinched or pruned off. They ruin the plants’ growth habit.)

It’s almost like eating pizza without toppings – landscaping without tapping into textures, that is. We fail to give even passing thought to the textures plants and hardscaping elements bring to their surroundings.

Texture might be described as “visual weight” of a plant or an object. That’s where we pick up terms such as “heavy-” or “light-textured.”

Oakleaf hydrangea outside my windows where I type up e-gardens provide bold texture to their surroundings. Contrast that with the fine foliage of eastern redcedar junipers.

Plants with large leaves are labeled as “heavy-” or “bold-textured.” That list is lengthy, but just as a few examples, bur oaks, elephant ears, fatsias, oakleaf hydrangeas and southern magnolias all are visually heavy in a landscape.

Asian jasmine, wood ferns and mondograss are all soft-textured plants. Large-leafed hollies are nearby for contrast.

Ferns, dwarf yaupon hollies, nandinas, junipers, liriope and ornamental grasses all bring light, or fine textures. Some might describe them as “airy.”

This sundial has a commanding presence in its part of this garden. It looks like it weighs a ton, and it becomes the focal point of its domain.

Every last thing that you add to your landscape has its own inherent texture. Boulders, concrete pedestals and flagstone walks all are obviously heavy-textured, while wrought iron and fine gravel bring a much lighter feel.

A plant’s growth form also plays a part in determining its textural value to your garden. Unless leaf size or bark character trump the growth form, rounded and oval plants have neutral textures. Weeping and arching plants have a lighter texture. Some arching plants become very heavy visually, however, as they mature. I can think of weeping mulberries and even weeping yaupon hollies as two good examples.

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Decidedly upright plants are so dramatically unusual that they predominate their parts of our gardens. They, too, become visually overpowering unless they’re used with great caution. Italian cypress and Skyrocket junipers are examples. They have other problems anyway, but I just thought I’d throw those thoughts into the mix. If you need strongly upright plants, the next best options might be Oakland hollies or the less-common Scarlet’s Peak yaupon hollies.

From ornamental grasses to landscaping boulders, look at all the diversity of textures in this stunning Texas landscape. The vitex and roses complete the patriotic color scheme. There’s a lot going on in this corner of these folks’ plantings.

As with any kind of decorating, you want to use a nice blend of a variety of textures. Use bold-textured plants and hardscaping to draw attention to an otherwise uninteresting area. Large fountains and urns become the focal points of their surroundings. Stone walls draw a definitive boundary to their gardens. They stop your eyes’ flow across the landscape.

Use fine-textured elements to make a small garden appear larger. Cover a bank with a trailing groundcover such as Asian jasmine, purple wintercreeper euonymus or Tam junipers. Use arching Italian jasmine or Sea Green juniper as a soft backdrop to other plantings. Japanese maples add color to a shaded garden without shrinking its apparent size.

Trunk and bark play a part in determining a plant’s textural contribution to a landscape. Slick-trunked crape myrtles, yaupon hollies and Texas persimmon give a lighter feel. Heavily fissured barks of eastern persimmons, bur oaks and cottonwoods pour in more drama. Bark may not be something you’ve spent much time considering, but it’s deciduous plants’ main visual contribution for several months every winter.

One of the really effective ways to show that you fully understand this entire topic is to use contrasting textures side-by-side. Mondograss is handsome next to Carissa hollies, English ivy or rounded river rock. Or, if you’re using mondograss as a replacement for turf due to excessive shading, contrast its texture by planting oakleaf hydrangeas or Mary Nell hollies within the bed.

A closing personal note…
I visited a very special residence almost 40 years ago. It was the home of one of Texas’ finest landscape architects, the late Richard Myrick of Dallas.

As I walked toward his door to pick up plans he had drawn up for our Pavestone driveway, I realized that his entire shade landscape was done featuring green plants and their endless variety of textures. I told Dick what a lesson he had taught me.

What a master Richard Myrick was. His great works still live and grow all across Texas and beyond, and maybe through my meager words you can help me carry the message.

Posted by Neil Sperry
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