Texture Chat: 4 Foliage Types for Distinctive Gardens

The word”feel” generally brings to mind the visual characteristic of an object — it feels to the touch — but we’re talking about the visual part of texture. Texture is a part of design which may be used to make distinction among compatible things; for anglers that means plants in the landscape. Foliage feel is what allows us to”watch” plants in the landscape even if they are of similar size, shape or color.

Bliss Garden Design

Texture affects both small and large plantings, and may be applied to any design style or habitat. Leaf texture is a function of leaf form and size, and makes a unique visual statement.

Kenneth Philp Landscape Architects

I love to think about leaf shapes as being in four broad classes: straightforward, linear or grass-like, fern-like and elaborate. Here’s how I love to work together.

Jocelyn H. Chilvers

Simple Foliage

Leaves with simple shapes — oval, heart, round, arrow etc. — should not be boring. In this photo we see the large, undulating leaves of silver mullein (Verbascum bombiciferum) juxtaposed with all the small, delicate leaves of dwarf butterfly bush (Buddleia spp).

In the photograph below, the large, heart-shaped foliage of variegated false forget-me-not (Brunnera macrophylla‘Jack Frost’) is put off nicely between the tiny, simple foliage of a ground cover and the airy, linear foliage of a pot.

Creative Garden Spaces

Dear Garden Associates, Inc..

Linear Foliage

Beyond ornamental grasses, linear leaf shapes are characteristic of iris (Iris spp) — the purple blossoms shown here — red-hot poker (Kniphofia spp), yucca (Yucca spp) and spiderwort (Tradescantia spp), to list a couple.

The Plant Man Nursery

Linear foliage may be strongly upright, as in’Sticks on Fire’ Euphorbia (shown here with Agave parryi), or it may be softly arching or perhaps horizontal.

Jocelyn H. Chilvers

Fern-Like Foliage

This may be deeply cut (dissected), such as true ferns, partridge feather (Tanacetum densum sp. Amani, revealed here) or yarrow (Achillea spp).

An identical feel could possibly be achieved with pinnately compound foliage such as that of European mountain ash (Sorbus accuparia), many sumac species (Rhus spp, revealed next) and honeylocust (Gleditsia triacanthos).

Le jardinet

Fern-like textures add a delicate sophistication to planting designs.

Stone Farm

Fancy Foliage

Fancy leaf shapes are deeply lobed or indented and have a lacy, complex look. Perennial geraniums (Geranium spp) have a wonderful array of elaborate foliage, as with all the Geranium macrorrhizum shown here. Oakleaf hydrangeas (Hydrangea quercifolia, next photo), maples (Acer spp) and sweet gum (Liquidambar styraciflua) have elaborate foliage.

Fancy foliage is that bit of bling that each well-dressed garden requirements.

Jocelyn H. Chilvers

Combining Texture and Foliage in Your Landscape

Once you’re familiar with the basic types of foliage feel, how can you make the most of them in your garden? Comparison.

By putting plant materials with strongly contrasting feel alongside one another, you bring their differing characteristics to the fore and strengthen them. Additionally, various textures capture and reflect light and shadows otherwise. All this visual information makes it easier for our minds to identify both individual details and patterns in the landscape.

Even — or especially — if you’re working with plants which are closely related in size, shape or colour, strongly contrasting textures will create your layout pop.

Strata Landscape Architecture

The succulent garden revealed here’s a dynamic combination of large and small leaves, and simple and linear foliage textures.

Bliss Garden Design

In another instance, the ethereal green-on-green colour blend comes to life with all the contrasting textures of fern-like, linear and simple leaf shapes.

Discover more plant combinations in this garden

Jocelyn H. Chilvers

Not sure whether your garden design is taking advantage of foliage feel? Try the white and black photograph suggestion. Would you see distinct plant forms and groupings, or does it look like everything was sprayed from a salad shooter?

Exteriorscapes llc

Once you have your foliage feel sprinkled, you can look to all the other sources of feel for your garden: flowers, bark, fruit, seeds etc.. Have fun!

More: Guides to growing great foliage plants

See related