How to Use Bold Textured Plants for Outstanding Garden Design

If you’re looking for great transitional plants, bold textured plants carry the garden when flowering plants begin to die off for the season. A plant with heavily textured, bold foliage rivals the showiest of blooms. They grab your attention and beg to be the focal point of a garden bed. Garden designer Rebecca Sweet has these expert tips. 

Canna leaves add striking color and strong texture to this bed. Photo credit: Rebecca Sweet

Use restraint when placing bold plants in the garden to maximize their impact. Using too many in a small area will result in a garden that appears chaotic and claustrophobic.

Bold Textured Plants Create Focal Points

Creating a garden within a larger, natural setting comes with challenges. The key is to direct the viewer’s attention away from the grander vista and into the garden. Plants with bold and highly textured foliage are excellent at grabbing the eye and re-directing it. It’s not easy to cast a dismissive glance at a giant butterbur (Petasites japonicus) or elephant’s ear (Colocasia spp.).

Large gardens can feel impersonal. Create intimate spaces within the garden to solve this problem. Larger plants with bold and coarse textures—viburnum, rhododendron, magnolia—create the illusion of intimacy. Their larger sizes not only stand up to the expansive space surrounding them, but their bold textures give the eye a chance to stop and rest for a moment.

Create a Tropical Illusion with Bold Plants

The textural qualities of some plants can create a tropical illusion, especially in climates where tropicals simply won’t thrive.

Bold textured plants

Fatsia japonica ‘Spider’s Web’ evokes the tropics in the very non-tropic Zone 7b. Photo credit: Rebecca Sweet

Many plants that grow naturally in the tropics have oversized, bold and coarse-textured foliage. Palm tree, angel’s trumpet and banana plant are examples. Consider using cold-hardy plants with similar textures to re-create this same effect in your own garden.  Plant choices include Japanese aralia (Aralia elata ‘Silver Umbrellas’; Zones 4–9), Tiger Eyes staghorn sumac (Rhus typhina ‘Bailtiger’; Zones 4–8) or sweet coltsfoot (Petasites frigidus; Zones 4–9). •

Rebecca Sweet is a garden designer and the owner of Harmony in the Garden. She’s written numerous books and articles on garden design, and is a frequent contributor to Horticulture.

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