Texture in the garden

Designing with texture in the garden

By Wendy Shearer

The well-designed landscape has several key attributes. The foremost is that the plant materials and hard landscape features are all carefully composed to enhance the enjoyment of the space. The landscape acts as the backdrop to the wide range of activities taking place in a space. The designer purposefully selects and places materials to create a harmony of colours, shapes and textures for maximum visual impact.

     Texture is by definition a quality of the surface of a material. Colour, hardiness and overall size are of secondary importance to the visual character of the material. As a result, texture is best appreciated through direct tactile experience. The growing popularity of moss gardens is a clear indication of the gardener's appreciation of fine textures, especially when coupled with natural stone or water.

     Texture invites the garden visitor to touch as well as look. The irresistible velvet leaves of stachys, the satin bark of white birch, and the cat's tongue roughness of cord grass are all examples of contrasting textures, which can be directly experienced. The successful garden designer places a variety of these tactile surfaces close to walkways and seating areas to maximize the touching opportunities for the visitor.

     The garden designer must also be aware of the texture of a material throughout different seasons. For example, the fine soft foliage of artemesia, which is most evident in spring and summer, is invisible in winter. The successful designer will compensate for this seasonal variation in the overall garden plan. Feature areas will be highlighted in different parts of the garden throughout each season. The designer thinks of the garden as a theatre stage, where a spotlight moves to follow and highlight the dramatic action.

     One way to increase the tactile qualities of a garden is by varying the types of paving on the site. Each material, be it concrete, timber, natural stone, turf or aggregate, brings to the garden its own unique textural qualities and characteristics. Simply walking on such materials allows for them to be experienced as effectively as touching them with the hand.

     Texture relies on contrast for effect. Placing fine and coarse textured materials close to each other enhances the visual qualities of each. The climbing hydrangea on a brick wall in winter has a strong dramatic effect because the distinctive rustic bark contrasts with the smoother surface of the brick.

     Texture may be further enhanced by using light and shadow to the designer's advantage. For example, the same foliage combinations that give a uniform texture to a planting bed during the day can be transformed into a dramatic backdrop with the addition of decorative accent lighting. Landscape lighting should be limited to one light per feature and if possible, be set at an oblique angle to the object to increase the perception of the depth of the object.

     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.

Plant textures to consider when planning a garden

The following plants will provide a range of textural qualities in any landscape.

TextureExample VelvetyStachys (Lamb's Ears), Lychnis (Campion) SmoothSempervivum (Hen and Chicks), Mahonia (Grape Holly) FineChamaecyparis (False-cypress), Pinus strobus (White Pine) RoughHydrangea (Oak-Leaved or Climbing), Euonymus alata (Burning Bush) RuggedYucca (Adam's Needle), Stipa (Cord Grass) QuiltedHosta sieboldiana, Hamamelis virginiana (Witch Hazel) CoarseRicinus communis (Castor Bean Plant), Catalpa (Umbrella Tree), Acanthus (Bear's Breeches)

Different hard and soft textures, when combined imaginatively and judiciously, will transform an ordinary landscape into a much-appreciated thing of beauty.

Wendy Shearer, OALA, CSLA, ASLA, is principal in the firm Wendy Shearer Landscape Architect Limited, established in 1984. The award-winning firm provides design services to a wide range of corporate, municipal and institutional clients from their office in Guelph, Ontario.

Texture - Plants with feelings

By Sherry Smith

Texture. The word itself conjures up images of rich brocades, plush velvets and soft silks. Although these terms are used to describe fabric, they can be applied to landscapes as well - for example, the rich tapestry of flowers and foliage, a velvety lawn or the soft silky petals of roses.

     Texture is generally low on the list of priorities when selecting plants for the landscape. Yet without a variety of textures in the garden, our landscapes would seem very dull.

     Today's trend is toward smaller spaces. This means that the plants chosen must do double duty. They are expected to not only have attractive flowers but appealing foliage as well. Foliage that is rich in texture would be preferable so the landscape does not appear static. Contrasting plants with different textures creates interest so the eye (and subsequently, the body) moves through the garden. Texture plays an important role especially when plants are viewed up close. Some plants such as Stachys (Wooly Lamb's Ears) are especially inviting. Their soft leaves beg us to reach out and touch them. By doing this, we become even more interactive with the garden. It's O.K. to touch the plants. It makes us feel good.

     Texture contributes to the overall design and mood of the landscape. Large, coarse foliage creates a rough feeling, while finely cut leaves give a delicate, airy feeling to the garden. Take a cue from the hard landscape materials used and choose strong bold foliage to accompany rough stone walls and wooden fences. Hydrangeas, Magnolias, Rhus typhina and large leaved Hostas are just a few from which to choose. Smooth flagstone surfaces lend themselves to plants with smaller leaves and a moderated outline. Use plants like Spiraea 'Snowmound', Roses, Tsuga (Hemlock) and perennials such as Coreopsis 'Moonbeam', Gera­niums and delicate poppies to create a cottage-type feel.

     Texture can also be used to help create the illusion of depth and space. Just like arranging furniture in your home, if you place large bold foliage in the foreground and smaller, finer foliage to the back, a feeling of increased distance is created. Conversely, the opposite arrangement will make a garden feel smaller and closed in.

     Trees and shrubs massed and viewed from a distance tend to blend and become a neutral backdrop. A hedge of spruce, cedar or hemlock will appear to have a medium texture, which makes a beautiful foil for fine- or coarse-textured plants. Smaller shrubs and perennials need this contrast to be seen and not lost within the garden. Coreopsis 'Moonbeam' is more noticeable against a solid background of yew than mixed with other fine leaved plants such as Perovskia (Russian sage) or Amsonia ciliata (Bladderpod). Smaller shrubs and perennials can also play against one another. Fine leaved Cotoneaster dammeri (Bearberry) beneath bold, dramatic Rhus typhina (Sumac), or the classic shade combination of large, bold Hostas with delicate fern fronds are just a few examples.

     Texture becomes very important during the winter when there is little else in the garden. Imagine the delicate tracery of branches against a winter sky. The exfoliating bark on trees, shrubs and vines becomes even more prominent. The dark furrows in the bark of mature trees gives some relief and enjoyment for the eye from the stark whiteness and bareness of the landscape at this time of year. Grasses waving their dried inflorescenses are particularly attractive during winter. As they sway and rustle in the wind, they create movement in an otherwise static landscape. Grasses are enjoyable throughout the year. Their fine texture is particularly suitable for a lot of our modern concrete buildings. The spiky lines of grasses mimic the straight lines of modern buildings and seem to help anchor the building in the landscape. Texture is another element to consider when designing a garden. It can help to create a specific mood, and by juxtaposing fine leaved plants with coarse leaved plants, interest and movement is created. This leads to a garden that is actively enjoyed.

Some fine textured plants
Many perennials and small shrubs feature finely dissected or small foliage. Delicate flowers will also create a finely textured look. Many of the ferns with dissected fronds and grasses can also be classified as finely textured.
Ribes alpinum (Alpine Currant)
Thuja occidentalis (Pyramid Cedar)
Buxus cvs. (Boxwood)
Tsuga canadensis (Hemlock)
Pinus strobus (Eastern White Pine)
Euonymus cvs.
Salix sp. (Willow)
Spiraea sp.
Taxus sp. (Yew)
Acer japonica (Japanese Maple)
Corydalis sp.
Geranium sp.
Coreopsis 'Moonbeam'
Dicentra formosa
Artemisia sp.
Gaura cvs.

Some coarse textured plants
These plants usually have large, dark and sometimes dull foliage.
Hydrangea macrophylla cvs.
Hydrangea 'Annabelle'
Rhus typhina (Sumac)
Hosta sp.
Rudbeckia sp.
Hemerocallis cvs. (Daylilies)
Eryngium sp. (Sea Holly)
Kirengeshoma palmata (Yellow Waxbells)
Rodgersia sp.

Interesting bark
Peeling and exfoliating bark is most evident during fall and winter, and provides added texture to the winter landscape.
Betula papyrifera (Paper Birch)
Fagus sp.-smooth bark
Acer griseum (Paperbark Maple) - interesting bark, which peels away in strips
Physocarpus opulifolius (Ninebark) - bark on older stems peels away in strips
Hydrangea anomala subsp. petiolaris (Climbing Hydrangea) - very interesting exfoliating bark on older stems
Hydrangea quercifolia (Oak­leaf Hydrangea) - often over­looked, but has attractive exfoliating bark that is noticeable in winter

Sherry Smith is a horticulturist for JEA Perennials in Strathroy, Ontario. Previously, Ms. Smith held a horticulturist position at PAO Horticultural in Milton, and gained seven years of experience as a horticulturist at a garden centre/greenhouse operation in St. Catharines, Ontario. Ms. Smith is a regular contributor to Landscape Trades.

Garden "architexture" with pavers and walls

By Ray Rodenburgh

The evolution of garden design over the years can be attributed to a combination of inspired designers and the introduction of new plants, hardscaping elements and new design and installation techniques. Landscape architects, consultants, designers, contractors and homeowners all have their own unique way of addressing design issues in the landscape. One area of design that could be looked at more closely is texture. While the use of colour, shape, scale and balance are important, the use of texture in all the elements is a subtle way to add depth, variety and character to any landscape. This aspect of design is well known to the professional. The designer knows how to incorporate these textures into a landscape design, ultimately impacting the "feel" and "character" of the job.

     Texture is achieved in many ways. Landscape elements that affect texture include plants, which provide a foliar expression of texture - for example, conifers vs. deciduous or small leaves vs. large leaves, not to mention the many textures of perennials, annuals, ground covers, and even different types of ornamental grasses.

     Traditionally, texture was achieved in hardscaping by the use of rocks, water features, crushed, washed, split and weathered stone, and even fencing. Texture created by paving elements were pretty much limited to concrete, asphalt, slabs and wood decking materials. Now, with recent advancements in concrete manufacturing, textures never dreamed possible in modular paving units are now available.

     Pioneers in the area of concrete paver technologies have made several products with varying surface treatments. These outstanding products with textures unlike any other paving product were first developed in Europe and are available now in Canada and the United States (U.S.). Among these textures recently introduced, is a "brushed" paver surface that resembles clay house brick, with its deeply etched surface, grainy texture and rich clay colouring.

     Other unique architectural paving products have exposed aggregate surfaces created by the embedment of natural aggregates, such as finely graded granites, basalts, and feldspars. This, backed up by a background colour, provides a seemingly endless palette of texture and colour choices.

     Last, but not least, tumbled pavers have set the stage for a relaxed, comfortable type of paving surface, for which designers have long waited. Formerly, only natural stone could create that relaxed texture in the landscape, but now with tumbled paver products, one can easily create this informal texture in the garden.

Ray Rodenburgh has been Director of Marketing for the Unilock Group of Companies since 1998. For 12 years prior, as Territory Sales Manager, Mr. Rodenburgh provided sales and technical assistance for Unilock clients in eastern Ontario. Mr. Rodenburgh has been involved in various aspects of the company, including video/multimedia development, contractor training, and provided input into new product development.

Adding depth and texture with water

By Dorothy Shand

As a shimmering, reflective pond or a peacefully flowing stream, vigorously cascading waterfalls or an even a gentle bubbler in a small patio con­tainer, the opportunities to add a unique textural element through the use of water are virtually limitless. The essence of water is its smooth, liquid state that, when set in motion, is truly magnetic. The glimmering active element, which is constantly moving and changing, is difficult for a child to pass by without touching it, regardless of the child's age. From soothing to playful splashing and urgently cascading, water's versatility also has the ability to bring a wide range of auditory qualities to the garden. Water's texture affects all of the senses, which is why it can add so much to any garden, regardless of the style, age or size of the landscape.

     Whether the water feature is the landscape's main attraction or incorporated as a secondary element, it is important to determine at the outset exactly the nature of the textural properties the water feature is intended to provide.

     Water is the only natural element that adds depth to the landscape by its ability to reflect its surroundings. The sky, the surrounding landscape or even the impact of garden art, can all be doubled in effect by a water element positioned to become a natural mirror to the landscape. How is a "still" water feature created so that it adds only an element of dazzling reflection in the garden? The key is to keep the area very simple, leading the eye only to the water and the reflection created by its surface. The edging is important and the clarity of the water is essential. The proper choice of mechanical equipment, such as pumps and filters, and the location of all mechanical equipment must all be carefully preplanned.

     Perhaps the landscape calls for the magnetic quality of an active water feature. The positioning of the water feature so that its burbling or cascading sounds can be enjoyed is essential. Water cannot be anything other than liquid so the key is to allow it to do what it does best, which is move, shimmer, reflect and burble within the landscape. The addition of some night lighting to highlight the shimmering effects unique to water is a great benefit to any garden.

     Again, it is important that the eyes and ears not be confused with anything other than the magical nature of the water. It is not acceptable or enjoyable to hear the sounds of humming pumps or pumps gasping for water because they are clogged with debris. While it is important to ensure that all of the best construction techniques have been employed, all mechanical aspects should be kept out of sight for maximum visual enjoyment of any water feature.

Dorothy Shand is principal owner of Water Arts, a company specializing in the art of water gardening and the products needed to create these gardens.