Take a visual tour of four gardens that use a combination of trees, shrubs, grasses and perennials, as well as interesting hardscape materials, to celebrate autumn through form and texture.
By using texture-rich building materials, landscape designer Georgia Lindsay of London-based Georgia Lindsay Garden Design can pack a lot of interest into small city gardens with limited planting space.
For example, consider the design of this courtyard garden in converted stables, or “mews,” in London’s Camden neighborhood. Each element — including the smooth concrete floor, exposed existing brick walls, slatted wood gate and three-dimensional Cor-Ten steelwall panels — adds texture to the space. Then furniture, cushions and throw blankets come in.
Plants in the built-in bed — such as delicate ornamental grasses, lace-like ferns and glossy-leafed mirror plant (Coprosma sp.) — stand out with bronze and green hues and a variety of leaf textures and forms.
Working texture into the design with the building and hardscape materials ensures that the courtyard will have year-round interest, even when plants are more bare.
Landscape designer Donald Pell of Donald Pell Gardens uses the garden around his studio in East Vincent Township, Pennsylvania, as an expression of his design philosophy and to try out different planting combinations. The textures of plants and other garden elements, like hardscape and sculpture, play a starring role and give the garden year-round interest. “Flowers can be so ephemeral,” Pell says. “I generally focus on textures of foliage and bark.”
Here, the plumes of ornamental grasses (Miscanthus sinensis ‘Gracillimus’ and Miscanthus x giganteus), fading flowers of Russian sage (Perovskia atriplicifolia ‘Filigran’) and lingering seed heads of giant coneflower (Rudbeckia maxima) form a textural feast alongside a stacked stone cairn.
Caution: Some species of Miscanthus can self-seed and become invasive. Check your region for invasiveness before planting.
“Molinias don’t generally stand up great in the winter,” Pell says, “but two seasons ago it turned brilliant gold and even when [it later] flopped over, it had the most vivid effect all winter. I think we’re better off when we enjoy the evolution, relax and put the pruning shears down.”
This naturalistic meadow garden located in Friesland, a province in the northwest of the Netherlands, is a tapestry of color and texture throughout the seasons. In spring and summer, perennial flowers and bright foliage stand out in ribbons of color through the ornamental grasses. In fall and winter, the texture of grasses, seed heads and stems form a more subtle display.
This Wisconsin garden proves that brilliant fall foliage and more subtle textural variation can be used together to create a dynamic garden. Designer Michael Patek of Cottage Gardener used a variety of deciduous trees, ornamental grasses, evergreen conifers and perennial flowers to create a garden that’s interesting throughout the year.
Here, a paper birch (Betula papyrifera ‘Renci’) and red Japanese stewartia (Stewartia pseudocamellia) form a vivid backdrop for the pond and patio.
A close-up of a waterside planting bed shows the contrast in color, form and texture between fine-leafed gray-green juniper, a mounding dwarf pine, bold, spiky-looking yucca, red barberry and weeping foliage of a yellow ‘Tiger Eyes’ staghorn sumac.
1. Pick out plants with a wide range of leaf types and forms. The keys to making texture stand out are variety and proximity. If you’re planning a new garden bed, choose plants with different leaf forms, from fine-textured grasses to large-leafed varieties. If you’re adding plants to an existing garden, look for the texture you’re missing.
2. Place plants with different textures in close proximity. The closer two plants are with different textures, the more our eyes recognize — and appreciate — the juxtaposition.
3. Skip cutting back ornamental grasses. It’s tempting to get out the clippers once grasses start to turn dormant, but even as colors fade, their textures can add to the overall bed design.
4. Allow perennials to go to seed. Likewise, wait to cut back flowering perennials like astilbe, coneflower, beebalm, Japanese anemone and others until the plants really start to molder away. In fall and often well into winter, the seed heads provide a food source for birds and an interesting accent to gardens.
5. Choose hardscape materials carefully. Crunchy pea gravel, rough boulders, smooth poured concrete and polished river rock can all add textural interest and contrast to gardens.