Last Thanksgiving I participated in a Facebook challenge to post black and white photos of my life. I noticed that some photos of my garden looked as good in black and white as in color; the best ones were of contrasting leaf shapes and sizes. These leaves provide visual texture in my garden. Garden textures are determined by the size, shape, and form of plant parts, and can be described as fine, medium, or bold. Most plants have a medium texture, so by adding fine or bold plants to your garden, you can add interest.
Plants of fine texture have small or narrow leaves, and can provide an airy look – some may seem almost ‘fluffy’. This includes shrubs like azalea, abelia, and spirea; trees like cedar, crape myrtle, Japanese maple, and desert wilow; and perennials/annuals like ferns, euphorbia, marigold, and fennel. Bold-textured plants have large leaves and usually evoke a sense of the dramatic – to me it’s a tropical feel. They are the attention-getters of the garden. Some of my favorite bold-textured plants include shrubs like hydrangea (both oak leaf and mop head/big leaf), cashmere bouquet, and Japanese aralia; trees like fig, saucer magnolia and catalpa; and perennials/annuals like caladium, hosta, banana, cast iron plant, and canna.
Gardeners can use texture in a garden to create moods or interest. Using the same texture can be unifying, especially if they are different colors or heights. It can also be boring or monotonous. Adding in a different texture interrupts the eye and provides interest, especially when the plants are no longer in bloom or at times when the colors aren’t as vivid, such as at dusk. Also, as we age and our vision deteriorates, contrasting texture becomes more important. However, if you overuse texture changes, your garden may seem hectic. To evaluate the different texture in your beds, take some photos then look at them in black and white; without the color, you can focus on the form. This will help you decide if you need a texture change, or if your garden is too busy.
I have a confession: I garden with reckless abandon. Many of my personal gardens have an almost chaotic feel to them, with big, bold textures and lots of textural contrast. Since my garden is large, the scale seems right to me– almost a ‘Jurassic Park’ garden - and the large plants provide an intimate feel to the area. It may not be a classic garden style, but it appeals to me. And garden texture is a personal choice.
You can experiment with texture changes on a small scale. Select a seating area or a meandering path in your garden, and create a small pocket of textures. By one bench in the shade, I combine the soft lacy foliage of Southern wood ferns with hosta so that the leaves of both intertwine. Planted along a path leading to the bench is another favorite combination – mophead hydrangea and autumn fern. Along another section of the path, Southern wood ferns grow around the shiny, spiky leaves of a ‘Tropical Giant’ white spider lily, providing interest even when the spider lily isn’t in bloom. Repeating the use of the fine texture of ferns in my planting combinations helps lead the eye – and the garden visitor - from one pairing to another.
In these hot summer days, when only a fool or a gardener ventures outside, sit down with a glass of sweet tea and your garden photos, and look for opportunities to improve the textures in your east Texas garden.
About the author: Lin is the garden manager at the Quitman Arboretum and Botanical Gardens. Email gardening questions to her at firstname.lastname@example.org. Join her and other volunteers each Wednesday morning at 9 at the Arboretum for gardening fun.