All too often when we are planning our perennial gardens, we consider color—and color only. This makes sense for a garden filled with annuals but perennials do not bloom for the entire growing season. Consequently much of the time we are left looking at green leaves.
In azalea-crazy North Carolina, there are many gardens containing long rows of azaleas. Now I like azaleas in bloom as much as the next person but for most of the year that azalea row detracts from the garden. The leaves are little and rather dull. There is nothing of interest to stop our eye. This is where texture comes into play.
Get in the habit of looking, really looking, at your garden twelve months of the year. What captures your eye? For me, it is my palms—windmill, Sabal minor, and Mediterranean Fan Palm—that cause my eye to stop in concentration. This is because their large, notched leaves are a delightful contrast in a garden filled with small-leafed plants.
There are many ways you can add texture to your garden.
Consider leaf size.
So many of the plants we use in the South have small leaves. Consider placing the azalea next to a plant that has large leaves, such as Fatsia japonica or even a Colocasia. After the azalea has bloomed and has slunk back into anonymity, the larger leafed plants will grab your attention.
Consider the shape.
Many perennials have a mounding shape so consider adding a plant had has an irregular one. Solidago ‘Fireworks’, a spectacular fall blooming goldenrod, adds irregularity in the garden world of shapes.
Consider bloom time.
Perennials bloom at different times. While a spring splash is lovely, you’ll be looking at green for most of the year. By interspersing perennials with different bloom times throughout the garden, you might be giving up the big splash but in the long run you will be creating greater garden interest.
By all means consider repetition—but break it up.
Repetition doesn’t have to be simply a long row of azaleas: It can consist of a series of three or five plants planted in a repetitious pattern in the garden. The eye doesn’t see this as monotony because different plants are placed in juxtaposition next to each other.
Consider the color green.
Because plants photosynthesize, they have green leaves—but there are many variations on the color green: blue-green, yellow-green, chartreuse, and teal to name a few. Chartreuse, a color I dislike in clothing, is dynamite in the garden where it cries out, “Look at me!” The green variations may be subtle but they will catch the eye.
Consider leaf variegation.
Variegated plants can be a bit tricky precisely because their leaves are variegated; in some cases these leaves have fewer chloroplasts, which aid in photosynthesis. There are many reasons for variegation in plants and many perform beautifully in our gardens. They are very effective in breaking up the monotony of green.
Consider leaf texture.
Leaves are soft, fuzzy, brittle, shiny, and dull, among other attributes. Placing the soft, fuzzy leaves of Stachys byzantine, the ubiquitous lamb’s ear, in the front of a perennial border can add just the right touch of velvet.
With a little thought and planning texture can be yours in the garden.
A serious gardener for the past twenty years, Kit Flynn resides in Chapel Hill. She is also a Durham Master Gardener.