Create Texture in Your Garden with Wispy Plants

Garden designer Rebecca Sweet knows texture is a powerful tool in the garden. Here she shares tips and plant selections to help you create texture in your own garden. (She’s also got tips on the power of the triangle in the garden!)

Texture creates an irresistible physical reaction among kids and adults alike. Gardeners favor delicate, wispy foliage and flowers to help create a soft and welcoming atmosphere. These wispy elements can disappear in the landscape if they aren’t used correctly. It’s important to understand these basic guidelines on how best to incorporate this design element in the garden.

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Wispy grasses and needly rosemary provide soft contrast to focal-point Agave americana. (Design, Oehme van Sweden & Associates.) Photo credit: Rebecca Sweet

Texture: The Right Placement Matters

When using only a few fine plants, place them along the front of the border or in a container on the patio, where their intricate details can be appreciated up close. Placed farther back in the garden, a plant with delicate details, like Arkansas Blue Star (Amsonia hubrichtii; USDA Zones 5–8) or ruby grass (Melinus nerviglumis; Zones 8–10), is likely to disappear among its highly textured neighbors.

Breaking the Rules the Right Way

If you do want to plant delicate textures farther back in the garden, you can prevent a disappearing act by using a single variety grouped together in drifts. The mass created by drifts (or bands or swaths) will create an exciting visual impact, allowing fine-textured plants to be appreciated from afar.   

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Drift of salvia acts as a binder of sorts, tying separate areas of the garden together with a cohesive and orderly flow.

Drifts of fine textures also have a magnificent ethereal effect, similar to clouds, and they can softly fill the negative space in between larger, bolder plantings. These drifts act as a binder of sorts, tying separate areas of the garden together with a cohesive and orderly flow.

Drifts also bring a sense of order to the garden, helping to keep a gardener’s ever-expanding plant palette in check. You may have a large collection of plants, but when the mind registers visual continuity, your garden will not look mismatched and cluttered.

Supporting Cast

I often think of my garden as a grand theatrical performance, filled with highs and lows, lots of dramatic twists and various stars that make their appearance throughout the year. Along this line, finely textured plants often function as a play’s supporting cast, helping those heavily textured drama queens stand out from the crowd. For example, the lacy foliage of threadleaf coreopsis (C. verticillata ‘Moonbeam’; Zones 3–9) or the wispy blades of Berkeley sedge (Carex divulsa; Zones 4–10) can help shine the spotlight on the big, bold leaves of an artichoke plant that they surround.

As with most things in life, if a little is good, a lot isn’t necessarily better. Proportion is vital to a garden’s harmony, especially when fine-textured plants come into play. A scene should comprise one-third fine-textured plants and two-thirds coarse-textured plants. This proportion maintains enough contrast without visually tipping the scales in one direction or the other.

Rebecca Sweet is a garden designer with her company, Harmony in the Garden, located in Northern California. Rebecca is a lifelong gardener, passionate about design, plants, and creating beautiful spaces. She is a regular contributor to Horticulture.

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