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Beauty without flowers

By Hosea Omole | January 26th 2017
Apart from enhancing aesthetics, patterns in the landscape can meet functional needs like directing movements or defining special-use areas within the garden.

The notion that garden beauty is about flowers is widespread but flawed. In fact, flower colour plays just about the same role as paint does in a room: highlighting what is already good and enhancing the mood within finished garden rooms.

The visual quality of a garden is a result of many other factors, including form, balance and proportions.

When these other factors are taken into account, it is possible to have a completely rewarding outdoor space without a single flower.

Leaves and grasses come in many different colours, form, textures and even aromas. Even green leaves come in different shades and tints.

This offers an incredibly large palette to work with. Here are some tips to help you create beauty without relying on flowers:


Many plants have earned their legendary status from their unique forms rather than flowers. Palm trees, for instance, don’t have flowers yet they always command the most prominent locations in many a garden.

From the overall form of a plant (round, conical or columnar) to the more intricate shapes of their leaves and branching patterns, garden designers have a great opportunity to wow even the harshest of critics.

Size and proportion

Size and proportion are important considerations in the design of any mixed-plant beds.

Before any plant is chosen, it is always important to take into account the expected growth dimensions of each as compared to the other plants in the bed and the bed itself.

In a foliage garden, size and proportion bares even greater significance. There is a need to distinguish between one plant and another. This calls for a more critical look at the relative sizes of the plants to reduce competition and enhance visibility so that the foliage can truly be enjoyed.

To ensure that all plants in a bed are equally visible, taller plants are placed at the back of the bed followed by the medium sized ones and finally the ground covers are tucked along the edges where they can be easily seen.


Texture is the surface quality of an object. In the context of plants, it is determined by leaf sizes as well as the degree of leaf compaction.

A plant with tiny, closely compacted leaves is said to have a finer texture than one with large scattered foliage.

As with size and proportion, texture assumes greater significance in the absence of flower colour. Incorporating plants with different textures is not an option here. In your arrangements, transition from fine textures to moderately coarse and eventually to rough textures. Occasionally, place a coarse-textured plant in the midst of a fine-textured group to create accents.

Foliage colour

Foliage comes in many different colours, shades and tints. This opens a whole world of possibilities.

You could create accents by placing contracting foliage side by side. A green plant next to a red-brown acalypha will make both plants pop.

Many other plants have variegated leaves. This means their leaves have more than one colour. Even by themselves, such shrubs and perennials add exciting accents to the foliage garden. For instance, the variegated foliage of the tri-colour sedum, is an excellent perennial for adding colourful accent to a rock garden.

— The writer is a landscape architect.

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