Combining Plant Textures in the Garden

When people think of designing their garden, they usually think of size and colour first: how big is the plant going to become? What colour will it be in summer? in autumn?
Then they attempt to place the different plants into beds using the design concepts of proportion, order and repetition.
It's easy to forget about or ignore texture but this element is also very important.

Texture refers to the surface quality of a plant. Plant textures range from fine to medium to coarse. Most plants have a medium texture so it's a great idea to combine medium with fine and coarse. This adds interest as well as achieves an atmosphere of calm relaxation or of drama.

Feather Reed grass 'Karl Foerster" has 2 types of texture: the sharp, vertical stalk and the fluffy soft plumes.

An article from Landscape Ontario says that "…the easiest way to assess the amount of contrast in the texture of the garden is to imagine a black and white photo of the area. The removal of colour helps to focus attention on the size and shape of the foliage and woody components beyond the appeal of their overall form and colour."

I tried this and it works!! Compare above and below. Look how the sharp needles of the mugo pine contrast with the thick, rounded leaves of the Sedum and the long, thin foliage of the Miscanthus grass and the Pennisetum.

Below is a good example of varying textures: the droopy Miscanthus foliage, the curvy crunchy leaves of Kale, the delicate small leaves of periwinkle and lamium. Sedum 'Autumn Joy' peeks out from the back.

Here's another shot of the same area, when the Sedum flowers have turned pink and the Pennisitum has feathery plumes.

This is a close-up of Sedum 'Autumn Joy'….

…and Sedum with grasses and Mugo Pine.

Above is a good example of combined textures: a sleek purple Siberian Iris on a long thin stalk is directly in front of a sharp needled Weeping Norway Spruce. And beside it is a coarse-leaved blue Hosta.

The Queen of textures is probably a cactus!!

When I was on this garden tour, the home owner had combined large heart-shaped Hosta leaves with smaller triangular ones. A tiny tiny spiky Hosta, the miniature 'Pandora's Box' is the focal point. The blue geranium alongside provides another type of texture as well as colour.

Many textures are to be found in the photo above: coarse (Hosta) fine (Euonymus) and very fine (evergreen).

Viburnum 'Mariesii', with its drooping horizontal branches and flowers runs right into fine, grass-like daylily leaves.

 Coarse plus 2 types of fine texture: thick leaved blue Hosta with a geranium and Painted Japanese Fern.

Indoor plant Caladium does just fine in containers in northern climates. Its colourful leaves are its own source of texture.

Feathery white Astilbe 'Deutchland' flowers beside smooth, velvety begonia blossoms.

Add a bit of hardscaping (cement pot and statue) to frothy ferns, Japanese Golden grass and soft leaf Helichrysum and you create a dramatic but harmonious area in the garden.