texture in garden tip

Have you ever encountered a garden that completely pulled you in, drawing your eye from one place to the next and enticing you to pause and consider every element? As with most design endeavors, it turns out that the key lies in achieving the right mix. Eager to take our landscapes to the next level, we asked Tyne Martinez, garden designer at Atlanta, Georgia-based landscape architecture and garden installation company Floralis, to share the keys to creating a dynamic, layered look. Here are her recommendations.

Take the architecture of your home into consideration. “When we start the process of designing a garden space, it’s important, first and foremost, for the garden to be reflective of the style of the home while honoring the wants and desires of the homeowner,” Martinez says. For example, Martinez pairing classic architecture with a landscape that’s clean and simple with an emphasis on form and less on abundance of color—think boxwood rounds and hedges, with camellias and tea olives to help define the space and a provide a counterpoint for looser hydrangeas, roses, and perennials that flower in abundance. Cottage gardens, in contrast, are less about structure and more about color and texture within the garden, Martinez says. Roses, peonies, iris, catmint, etc., are lovely mixed with spirea and other flowering shrubs to provide color.

Combine different elements to add visual interest. When your garden is all one note, the eye doesn’t know where to go. To create an outdoor space that makes you stop and take a second look, Martinez says, “Combine different forms, leaf and bloom colors, fine and bold shapes, to develop a space that’s intriguing.” Here, she breaks these concepts down further:

  • Leaf colors: Silvers and greys from plants like artemisia, lavender, catmint and lambs ear allow for bolder flowers, such as roses and peonies, to shine and command center stage. For example, combining a gold spirea with the silver foliage of lambs ear and the blue of a bearded iris provides interest for multiple seasons, even when not in bloom.
  • Fine forms: Fine textured plants are those that tend to be wispier, with thinner foliage, and often smaller blooms. They are a bit more subtle than their dramatic counterparts, but they highlight those around them. For example, when combined with hydrangeas and camellias, ferns and grasses will add the perfect loose texture to enhance the planting combination.
  • Bold forms: Plants that command center stage tend to be bolder forms with larger leaf shape and/or blooms. Choose thoughtfully in a space to allow for those plants to shine and not fight for attention. For example, bold, chartreuse hosta in a garden with saxifraga, astilbe, and a soft fern will provide interest and draw your eye to the space.

Remember to layer. When approaching a new design, Martinez immediately asks, what will give the space structure? Then, starting with the largest element (usually a hedge), she adds in layers that check all the boxes for different elements of texture: fine, bold, and color. “A boxwood hedge allows roses, peonies, and other perennials to bloom in abandon, while providing a clean form to compliment the ‘wilder’ garden,” she explains, adding, “A hornbeam hedge surrounding a pool creates a room within the landscape.”

Don’t forget about hardscaping. We tend to think of our gardens primarily in terms of plants, but elements like large pavers and gravel fillers are hugely instrumental in adding interest and definition to your outdoor spaces, Martinez says. For instance, “Bold, yet simple blue stone surrounding a pool highlights the fine texture of a pea gravel sitting area,” Martinez explains. “Compliment that with striking containers that give seasonal color and a looser form.”

Keep your containers interesting. The concept of texture doesn’t just apply to large-scale garden plans—it’s key to designing container plantings as well.  “It’s important to consider the various leaf shapes, bloom colors, as well as how the plants will grow together over the course of the season,” Martinez says. For example, “A strappy-leaf agapanthus provides structure for the looser, fine-textured, white flowering euphorbia diamond frost. Finally, adding a bold texture with a silver echeveria gives the container a bit of pop.”

 Photography by  Neil A. Landino. TSG Tip 312 from Tyne Martinez of Floralis in Atlanta, Georgia. Floralis is featured in The Scout Guide Atlanta.