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Combining landscape textures

By | September 15th 2011
By | September 15th 2011

By Hosea Omole

It is easy to be attracted by colour when selecting plants and materials for your garden to the extent of forgetting all the other important design qualities. Yet it is these subtle qualities that make the difference between a mediocre garden and a successful one.

Texture is one of those qualities that we almost never think about when planning our gardens, yet it can have such far-reaching effects on the final outcome. In fact, experiencing different textures in the garden is a crucial part of our sensual enjoyment of the spaces therein.

If you are in doubt, just try and picture yourself in a room where everything (the floor, walls, ceiling and furniture) is of one texture. Quite plain, isn’t it?

In the same way, failure to articulate texture in the landscape produces plain results.

Here are a few tips to help you understand how to work with textures in your garden.

Types of textures

There are a number of basic categories that describe different textures in the landscape. Some of them relate to how something feels and others to how light affects a material’s appearance. The most obvious ones are rough and smooth textures.

Rough textures in the landscape may include stone chippings, dry stonewalls, peeling tree barks or prickly plants. Smooth textures may be manifested in flat or rounded surfaces such as concrete cubes and spheres, plain pots, smooth tree barks and water-worn cobblestones.

Glossy textures are shiny and include polished granite, stainless steel, chrome or still water while matt textures include cut timber, galvanised metal planters and mazera stone surfaces.

Sometimes textures can also be categorised as either hard or soft. Soft textures are warm and irresistible to touch. They include furry-leaved plants, fluffy seed heads and furniture cushions. Hard surfaces, on the other hand, are solid and give a sense of stability whenever they are used.


The beauty of applying textures in the landscape is in contrasting them in a simple but logical pattern. Combine plain surfaces with patterned surfaces, shiny with matt, smooth with rough and so on.

Pay particular attention to the borders where the different textures meet. A sudden break from, say, a glossy surface to a matt surface produces a bold and dramatic effect suitable for capturing attention as in an accent. On the other hand, a gradual transition from a smooth surface into a not-so-smooth one and finally into a coarse textured surface produces a calming and more natural environment.

Other interesting texture effects can be achieved by pairing strongly vertical plants with horizontal decking or a glittering water feature with matt-textured ferns or lilies. You can also contrast soft textures such as a water surface with the hardness of rock or a concrete wall.

Remember, however, to put a cap on the number of textures you combine in one space. Too many different surface qualities produce a busy and clattered look. A well-ordered combination of two or three hardscape textures with a similar number of softscape textures work just fine.

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