Just the Right Touch: Contrasting Textures in Container Gardens


Just the Right Touch: Contrasting Textures in Container Gardens
  • Posted May 22, 2017

Upon seeing a group of plants, we receive an impression of what it might feel like touch them. This is texture, which has a lot to do with how plants make us feel in an emotional sense, as well. Because container gardens are so tightly arranged and usually viewed from up close, they are the perfect venue for studying texture and designing plant schemes with elegant ambiance.


Soft or Rigid

Azalea Bonsai with a grass underplanting
When composing a container garden, it is most effective to use two distinct textural themes, rather than a medley. This is so the textures can comment on each other, bringing the landscape to life with the unique personalities of each plant. For the plants to converse there needs to be a common thread between them in addition to the contrasts.

For example, a carpet of small, clumping grasses—the sort that looks like a soft bed where a fawn might take a nap—pairs well with a bristly conifer rising above it. The statement in the composition is clear: the landscape is both welcoming and protective. The common element between the two is their lack of 'true' leaves; the foliage of grasses and conifers is narrow, elongated and pointy, yet they have strikingly different personalities.


Pictured: Azalea Bonai with a grass underplanting.


Fine or Coarse

Ficus tree with Baby's Tears underplanting
In the plant world, texture also refers to leaf size. Banana trees, with their 4-foot leaves, are extremely coarse-textured. Baby's tears, whose leaves are as tiny as the name suggests, has a luxuriously fine texture.

The notion of complimentary contrasts applies here, as well. A potted banana looks nice coupled with a large-leafed variety of begonia, such as one of the “beefsteak" cultivars. Both plants have large leaves for their size (the commonality), but banana leaves are oblong and smooth, while begonia leaves are spade-shaped and ruffled. The little leaves of baby's tears have a circular shape, making it an effective partner for a round-leafed shrub with proportionately larger leaves, such as smoke bush.


Pictured: Ficus tree with Baby's Tears underplanting.


Natural Harmony

Mandevilla with 'White' Euphorbia and 'Lavender' Verbena
All these plant pairings are effective in a single pot—the larger species is the focal point and the accompanying groundcover softens the transition between the upright stems and the surface of the soil.

A third texture could be added to any of these using other pots in the background. As long as each species occupies a distinct niche (a different height, width, texture or branching pattern), the resulting composition is sure to be engaging.


Pictured: Mandevilla with 'White' Euphorbia and 'Lavender' Verbena.

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Brian Barth
About the Author

After 15 years as a professional landscape designer and horticulturalist, Brian Barth embarked on a second career to share his passion—and the knowledge he's accrued—through writing. His love of plants is all-encompassing, but he has a particular soft spot for culinary crops.


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Just the Right Touch: Contrasting Textures in Container Gardens

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