How to Use Textures in Garden Design

Including textures in garden design adds depth and interest to your landscape. Blending different sizes and shapes is one aspect of this art. The surface quality of each plant also plays an essential role. You can see the difference with your eyes, but you will also want to reach out and engage your sense of touch. The balance of light and shade in your garden is another element that comes into play. Here are a few ideas to get you started as you explore the textural aspects of your garden.


Elephant’s ear and other varieties of hosta plants are valued for their shiny foliage. Their broad leaves are green accented with blue, yellow, or white. Many types of hosta are shade tolerant making them a versatile addition to any garden landscape. Individual hosta leaves can grow quite large, so use these “coarse” plants in moderation. Otherwise, they may visually overwhelm the less substantial vegetation in your garden.


Grasses, ferns, and other vegetation with fine, bladelike leaves offer delicate textures. In garden design, ornamental grasses such as Pampas are often used as accent features that provide movement as well as form. Coreopsis is a flowering plant (frequently used for edging) that features a bushy clump of fine, thread-thin leaves. Ferns deliver feathery texture that acts as a lovely backdrop for more solid forms.


Yucca, agave, and cactus are visually impressive with their blend of smooth skin and sharp spines. All of these plants thrive in hot weather but are also available in cold-hardy varieties. They don’t tolerate waterlogged soil; drainage is important. The yucca will occasionally shoot up a central stalk with stunning waxy white blossoms as an added bonus. These plants present a solid appearance, so you might mix them with more fragile foliage.


Lamb’s ear and velvetleaf mallow are two popular “fuzzy” plants. The foliage of these species is covered in tiny hairs – giving them their characteristic furry feel. Lamb’s ear is a silvery ground cover that can be used as a garden border or over wider areas of your landscape. Mallow is a much taller plant with leaves similar in shape to those of a sunflower.


Trees around the edges of your garden can provide a light/dark contrast as the sun shines through their foliage. Choose species with a highly textured trunk (such as the shagbark hickory or sugar maple) for additional contrasting elements. Growing vines on a pergola or archway over a section of your garden offers another opportunity to play with the amount of sunlight in your garden.


The visual interest of void spaces is an important concept to bear in mind when using textures in garden design. This is especially true in winter when the foliage has dropped from many plants. A well-pruned crepe myrtle with its multiple, intricately twisted trunks and smooth surface is a good example of a plant that offers both visual and tactile texture.