Many elements come together to create a well-balanced garden. One important element to consider when designing your garden is plant texture. Texture can be hard to define but every plant has its own, identified by the surface pattern, size, and shape of the leaves or flowers. The broad spectrum of texture spans from bold and architectural plants to wispy and fine. Most plants fall somewhere in the middle, but excitement comes from pairing contrasts in the garden.
To strike a good texture balance, begin by choosing your bold and bulky plants first. These will take up the most space and dictate how much sunlight passes through the leaves into the garden. Position them strategically so that they are evenly spaced and will not compete with each other once they reach maturity.
Choose a few architectural plants — these have a strong form and create an upward feeling of movement. Specimens of phormium, cordyline, Rheum palmatum, and even Agave are ideal. Their tall strap-like leaves provide vertical structure and perfect backing to more rounded or undefined shapes. Statement plants like Yuccas can also naturally serve as focal points in the garden when planted alone.
Spiky flowerheads can also add dramatic texture. Experiment with Echinops, Eryngiums, Cardoon, and thistle to achieve this effect.
Drama need not always be spiky. Plenty of bold plants, on the contrary, have broad statement leaves. Consider the glossy veined foliage of Hostas or the hairy coarseness of Gunnera, which does so well planted by water features and streams. Other striking broadleaf varieties include Ligularia, Darmera, Petasites, Colocasia and Magnolia.
Too much of one texture can be unpleasant to the eye. To create a balanced garden, opt to plant a few fine-textured plants for every bold-textured one. A mix of one-third bold to two-thirds fine texture serves as a rough guide.
When it comes to choosing fine-textured plants, the possibilities are vast. Consider Threadleaf coreopsis with its delicate feathery look. It looks most effective against a plain wall or next to plants with bold leathery foliage. Similarly, Cosmos, Baby’s breath, Amsonia, and Boltonia make fine specimens. Too much wispy foliage, however, can look fuzzy from a distance and doesn’t provide much structure when planted without the foil of bigger bolder plants.
Plants with feathery flower heads will also look fantastic planted against dense bold leaves. Consider Perovskia, Astilbe, Yarrow, Aruncus, and Santolina.
Soft and feathery silver foliage looks stunning grown against flat, dark green leaves. The broad leaves will provide structure to plants like Lamb’s ear, Artemisia, lavender, sage and curry plant.
You can also offset wispy foliage and flowers by pairing them with round and clipped plants, such as box balls or bay tree standards.
After positioning your bold and fine-textured plants, round off the garden by adding art and objects like stones. A smooth stone can provide an intriguing contrast to a tall architectural plant.
We have looked at various ways of adding texture to the garden. It is important to remember that ultimately the interplay of all the plants will dictate the final garden feel, and dynamism comes from pairing contrasts.
It takes time and skill to use texture in a way that interests and pleases the eye. The aim is to create a balanced look. We are truly creating a living 3D sculpture.