One of the easiest senses with which to design is that of touch, also described as texture. As children, we love to pet animals because they are soft and furry but we also learn not to touch things that are spiny or too hot. Those who are disabled by impairment of sight have sharpened awareness of the other senses.
As avid gardeners work in the garden, they naturally touch the plants and are aware of the wide variety of textures. Fuzzy foliage is beloved by children. Stachys byzantina (Lamb’s Ears) is the best known of the fuzzies but Arabis caucasica (Rock Cress) is also furry and one of the cultivars is variegated. Crinkly foliage is my favorite texture but also the rarest and, to my knowledge, found only in curly parsley. It makes a beautiful edging in vegetable gardens and also sets off the flowers of Autumn Crocus.
Symphytum grandiflorum (Comfrey), a weed-smothering groundcover for shady areas, has large, rough foliage and creamy white bells in May. In the sun, many of the herbal sages would also fill the rough category. In contrast, Asarum europaeum (European Ginger), a slow-spreading evergreen groundcover for shady areas, has smooth, shiny, round foliage.
Helleborus orientalis (Lenten Rose) has very large divided leaves that are leathery, stay relatively evergreen in the North, and bear a wide color range of flowers that last at least two months. Hellebores love partial shade as does Alchemilla (Lady’s Mantle) but the foliage of Alchemilla is pleated and probably most stunning after a rain when the water droplets glisten on the surface of the leaves. Happily, Alchemilla also thrives in the sun if supplied with moisture. Quilted textures are most often found among the heavily substanced hostas with a choice of green, blue, or yellow foliage.
Lacey foliage is found easily in shady sites with any of numerous ferns but in the sun, try Filipendula hexapetala ‘Flore-pleno’ (Dropwort). Its delicate foliage and dainty white flowers belie its toughness in dry sites. Sedum foliage (Stonecrop), especially that of the upright types, is the essence of succulence – thick and fleshy.
Spiny foliage or flowers are a bane of gardeners but add drama to the landscape. Most of us think of spiny foliage first but don’t forget about Eryngium (Sea Holly) which has spiky, steel-blue flowers during the summer. There are several species and cultivars but one of my favorites is ‘Blaukappe’ (Blue Hat) that grows two feet high and self-seeds a bit. The foliage is not spiky at all. Acanthus spinosus (Bear’s Breeches) has huge indented, arching, glossy, thistle-like leaves that are ornamental even before and after the flowers appear. The three foot, fat, cylindrical flower spikes area blend of purple and white and bloom from late spring into mid-summer.
How many different textures can be found in your garden?