Gardening is an evolving process. Tastes, sensibilities and interests change over time as you work with plants and expand your garden. Appreciation of color and flowers can lead to an interest in fragrance. More subtle differences in form, foliage and texture can develop from other gardening interests. Herbs add so much in terms of foliage and texture to nearly every garden setting.
Texture generally relates to a plant’s leaves, although it can include flowers. Fine textured foliage is generally narrow, needlelike, finely cut or ferny. The needlelike foliage of rosemary, narrow leaves of thyme or the ferny foliage of dill and fennel are examples. Coarse foliage is larger and often more complete. Hollyhock, sage, coneflower and lady’s mantle have coarse foliage.
In garden design, you strive for sameness to provide continuity, but also differences to provide interest. Alternating textures can provide subtle differences in a garden design tied together by repetition of like plants or colors. Among drifts of similar flowers or colors, a few interesting foliage plants can provide contrasting texture in any planting. In a shady spot, finely cut sweet cicely foliage would contrast nicely against broad foxglove and lady’s mantle leaves. In our sunny beds, narrow-leaved hyssop complements coarser coneflower and perennial salvia. Also, broad-leaved hollyhock, echinacea and joe-pye weed stand in contrast to finely cut Russian sage, hyssop and dianthus.
Herbs, whether they flower or not, can provide interesting textural notes with their foliage. Look at plants—flower and foliage—and begin to categorize them by texture.
Grass-like - Includes Chives, Lemon Grass and Blackberry Lily
Ferny - Includes Bleeding heart, Love-in-a-mist, Chervil and Feverfew
Finely cut - Includes Dill, Blue flax, Chamomile and Cosmos
Narrow/needlelike - Includes Rosemary, Curry plant, Lady’s bedstraw and Lavender
Broad - Includes Sage, Cleome, Comfrey, Many basils. Borage and Valerian
Look around your beds. If you have basil, borage and lovage growing together, add a contrasting foliage, like feverfew, love-in-a-mist, blue flax or parsley for textural variation.
Scented geraniums are great for adding textural interest. Although related, the differences in texture and foliage within the group are amazing. Peppermint and chocolate mint produce broad, fuzzy leaves. Foliage of concolor lace and lemon is small and crinkled. Nutmeg, lime and coconut have smooth, rounded leaves. Rose, apricot and lemon rose have coarse texture with deeply cut leaves. A collection of scented geraniums provides a bounty of contrast in terms of texture, foliage and fragrance.