Garden Designer’s Roundtable: Speaking Of Texture


Texture refers to the quality or nature of a surface.  Any surface.  The texture of a marble sculpture might be described as smooth and voluptuous.  A china plate has a hard and shiny texture that repels water.  A lake might be as smooth as glass one day, and choppy the next. A woven fabric can be nubby and open textured, or silky.  This farfugium leaf is a study in contrasting textures.  The body of the leaf is smooth to the touch, and strikingly veined and shiny to the eye.  The edges of the leaves are markedly ruffled; the leaf edges are sharp.  Were I ever to eat farfugium, I imagine its texture would be juicy and crunchy.

panicum virgatum

Texture engages the senses. You can see a surface. This panic grass is primarily and busily vertical, with an occasional and beautifully draping stem. You can feel the surface.  Ornamental grass leaves can cut your hands-the edges of the blades are sharp!  Feeling that texture can be irritating.  Animals who eat grass-who knows how they would describe the texture.  I would guess it is chewy and stringy.  Raw carrots are as remarkable for their crunch as much as their taste.  Oysters and okra are slick, and slide down easily.  Bread can be doughy, or dense.  Or light, as in a souffle.  Texture can be tasted.  It can be seen.  It can be felt.  Heavy clay soil can be greasy.  Sandy soil is gritty.  Soil loaded with compost has such texture that air has an easy time finding a home in it.  I cannot imagine how many adjectives exist to describe various surfaces-it would be a daunting task to make a list.

Suffice it to say that there are a multitude of utterly unique and enchanting textures in plants.  Salvia argentea is notable for its felted leaves.  It is the devil to grow, but its surface, its texture, is utterly unique.  I have no luck with this plant in the ground, and only sporadic luck with it in containers, but I keep trying.  The texture of the leaves reminds me of fur and felt both.

This pilea involucrata “Moon Valley” is noted for its markedly fissured leaves.  The leaf is rough to the touch.  It is interesting to the eye.  Designing a container, or a garden, or a landscape, asks for all kinds of attention beyond the horticulture. The design details can endow a planting with a special beauty.  There is color to contend with.  There is volume and mass.  There is line, and form.  And there is texture.


I do not grow vegetables to eat.  But I do grow them to look at.  This ruffly leaf lettuce satisfies my eye’s demand for interesting texture, just as much as I admire the color.

lime club moss

Selaginella, or club moss, has dimuitive leaves.  I would say it is very textural-the surface is lively.  But given that it is a very small plant that hugs the surface of the soil, I would describe its texture as densely uniform.  The idea here?  Small leaves have an entirely different texture than big ones.  The relationship of one texture to another adds another layer of interest to any planting.

On a stormy night, my boxwood read as a mass-the individual texture of all of those individual leaves is not so apparent.  The roses are a lot of fluff, a lot of stalky canes-the blooms are soft to the touch. The roof is smooth from this distance; the clouds have a lot of color, a little bit of volume, and a weighless appearance.  Many textures are apparent here. The relationship of one textural element to another is what makes for a design party.


A lanmdscape is comprised of many different elements-each of these elements have a surface and texture all their own.  The relationship between distinctive and individual surfaces is what insures an enduring visual interest in a landscape.

Every surface here is hard-as in impermeable, or shiny.  The textures are smooth and uniform.  My client is asking-what would you do here?  Perhaps, a contrasting texture!

This essay was written in conjunction with all of the other members of the Garden Designer’s Roundtable-be sure to check out all of their postings!


Thomas Rainer : Grounded Design : Washington, D.C.

Rebecca Sweet : Gossip In The Garden : Los Altos, CA

Pam Penick : Digging : Austin, TX

Lesley Hegarty & Robert Webber : Hegarty Webber Partnership : Bristol, UK

Douglas Owens-Pike : Energyscapes : Minneapolis, MN

David Cristiani : The Desert Edge : Albuquerque, NM

Christina Salwitz : Personal Garden Coach : Renton, WA

Rochelle Greayer : Studio G : Boston, MA


  1. I enjoyed your writing in this post. Your focus on individual textures made me wish I knew more about the morphology of plants. Each plant’s unique texture is an evolutionary response to a particular environment. Tomentose leaves trap moisture in the air in dry environments; large-leaf shade plants allow more surface area for light penetration. I’m sure there’s a reason why the Selaginella (great plant!) has it’s unique shape.

    Texture can be used to ornament our gardens, but it also is an expression of place.

    • Deborah Silver says

      Thanks for writing, Thomas. It is an interesting notions, yours-that texture is an expression of place. Maybe that’s why the large leaved tropical plants do not appeal to me as much-they seem out of place. You are right, leaves don’t look like they do to make people happy-they have evolved to be able to survive and thrive in their environment. There is a beauty to science, no doubt. Deborah

  2. I’m so happy to hear someone else doesn’t grow veggies to eat. They’re fab for texture and foliage color. I’ve been using Swiss Chard, lettuces and kale in containers for eons. Also, your post brought me back to my houseplant days in the 70s. I had a Watermelon Pepperomia that first got me thinking about texture and foliage as garden design options. I haven’t thought about that plant in years but can see it in my mind’s eye right now…down to the hand made porcelain pot it was in. Thanks making me remember that.

    • Deborah Silver says

      Dear Susan, I don’t cook, and I don’t shop-thank God I have a partner whose idea of a good time is cooking a meal. Otherwise I would be living on canned garbanzo beans, canned tuna, cheese and crackers. But I do like looking at vegetables-yes. I have always had a similar grudge against house plants, but those pepperomias are ok, aren’t they? Thanks for writing, Deborah

  3. Loved your unique take on this theme Deborah. That patio IMHO is screaming for an artist to stain a beautiful, detailed carpet of pattern on it. 🙂

    • Deborah Silver says

      We’ll see what happens with that spot, Christina. It is as hard looking and as hot as blazes. What to do that still has a very crisp and contemporary look? Color on that surface might work-thanks for the idea. Deborah

  4. I enjoyed your evocative post, Deborah. It also made me hungry! Reading Thomas’s comment, and your reply, makes me think about my own hot, dry region’s textural evolution: spiny, furry, tiny leaves to avoid excessive moisture loss and to increase sun protection. Throw a few broad-leaved agaves in there for contrast, and now you have a picture of the central Texas landscape.

    • Deborah Silver says

      Dear Pam, textural evolution is such a great and succinct way to put it. Good to hear from you, Deborah

  5. I have a hard time with that salvia as well, but like you…I keep on trying. How could I not with texture like that? Love the photos in this post – all the close-ups illustrate so beautifully the plants’ textural differences. Lovely job!

  6. Thanks for your detailed take on so many possibilities of “texture”. I’ve seen those forms on the unfamiliar plants to me, as well as key into the boxwood and rock edges immediately. Growing vegetables for asthetics…very interesting…I can see that, now!

  7. What a great examination of texture, its mutability, relativity, uses and some lovely examples. Love selaginella and yes veg are fantastic for texture. Of course we both had to hit on the Salvia. I am putting vitriollically deep pink, fluffy cushions on those sun loungers!

    • Deborah Silver says

      Dear Robert, what is your common name for selaginella-I had questions about it today. I am liking your suggestion! I have a feeling that vitrolically pink would appeal to my client-I’ll let you know. Thanks for reading, Deborah

  8. Great write-up, Deborah! I especially like the illustrations of your home garden; multiple textures — done well — do not invoke chaos, but do drive interest, even in a “simple” design.

  9. Deborah- I cannot for the life of me find out the species of peperomia you mentioned in this post. Please help!!


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