W4W – Texture and Pattern in Design

Words 4 Wednesday – Texture and Pattern

When we talk texture, we look at it to describe surface quality that can be either felt or seen. In reference to gardens and landscapes, it is usually, but not exclusively, the visual aspect of texture with which designers are most concerned. Textures can range between fine to medium to coarse or bold.

Texture relies on contrast for effect. Placing fine and coarsely textured materials close to each other enhances the visual qualities of each.

Most plants are of medium texture and increase in interest when combined with fine or bold plants. Medium plants also standout from one another if you select plants of differing shape.

They can accent the form and color of other plants if they are of contrasting texture. In groups, they can appear soft or bold, depending on lighting and bloom type.

Fine plants recede and are relaxed. Finely textured plants are maidenhair fern, baby’s breath, lavender, and a number of shrubs like boxwood, yews, and barberries. They are fine because their leaves or blooms are small and many, or light and airy.

Coarse plants have larger leaves and flowers generally. You might think hosta, hydrangea, saucer magnolia, or really big, like canna or castor bean. Even plants like hosta and hydrangea have a quilted look, a patterned texture within a bold texture.

Texture is enhanced by light, in the way it mottles a surface with accentuation of pattern or surface texture. Case in point with the hydrangea above. It has such a detailed and crenated edge where it creates wonderful shadowing and light passage through the recesses of the leaf. It visually enhances a surface in the way it reflects light from the surface. Think of the many tiny leaves or needles glistening in the sun and dappling on the ground plane. This adds pattern and changes throughout the day.

Branching also affects the texture. Tightly branched plants give the impression of a solid like a yew hedge, whereas a loosely branched plant gives an open and airy feel, like a honey locust.

But then again it depends on how tightly grouped a number of like specimens are as to whether they appear fine or coarse. The yew is a case in point. Up close, you might describe it as a finely textured plant, but in a group, a solid, they can appear as coarse.

The seasons affect the plants in the landscape as well. Trees that have many slender branches look finer in appearance than does those with fewer and thicker stems. This is most evident in winter when leafless branching provides landscape interest.

Motion also speaks to texture like with the ornamental grasses shown at the beginning of the post.  Swaying in the wind, they have a finer texture than when they remain still. They change the pattern of the light too.

Texture may be best appreciated through direct tactile experience. The popularity of moss gardens is an indication of the appreciation of fine textures, especially when in association with natural stone.

A successful garden will site a variety of these tactile surfaces close to walkways and seating areas to maximize the tactile opportunity of the visitor. It is hard not the run your hand across the soft lambs ears or fuzzy Artemisia.

They beg to be petted. Same with moss, the softness is a tactile experience.

A designer trick is to desaturate an image to better see pattern and texture. It is a good tool to see why a grouping works or does not. The garden below has vertical surface textures also.

The lights, darks and small detail are more evident, and that is an important aspect in textural differentiation.  Try that with your photos of your garden. Plants of scale can be seen more clearly without the distraction of color. Can you tell that this is the same garden shown above this B&W image?

The proximity to a plant can affect our view of it. Up close we notice detail, from a distance we perceive a larger scope. Plants come in so many forms that texture is evident in the flower, leaves and the form the plant assumes.

Trees add texture to a landscape.

With the bark and the leaves.

And sometimes a sapsucker woodpecker does too.

A needled tree may look fine from up close, but in a group of many, looks course.

Did you know that material used in the garden like fairly bland gravel, wood, concrete, stone and water are considered neutrals? These visually undemanding natural materials make a good foil for more complicated design.

Other patterns, like the concentric circles in the image above are restful shapes and elicit that feeling in the landscape.

Cues can be gotten from nature just about anywhere. A textural surface provides traction on a potentially slippery slope. The greenery between the paving visually softens the harsher concrete, but does increase the slippage of the surface. It depends on the style of design if a homeowner chooses to let mosses grow. Highly formal designs, like below, treat the surface, or in this case, use polymeric sand to substantially prevent occurrence.

Pattern can be graphic when plants paint the ground surface just like in the image below.

They can become three-dimensional with adding height and layering, which also adds texture.

The ground plane is a perfect place to weave pattern and texture. It does not have to be so overt as above either. But don’t dismiss the vertical planes of the garden. It is so trendy now adays to plant a living wall full of texture, color and pattern.

Color and texture come into play when choosing groundcover plants. In this type of planting the plants lose their individuality forming and blending into a mass. The mass can be smooth, fine, course, soft, wiry, but its main purpose is to provide texture and visual contrast to plants deemed more desirable.

Speaking of painting the landscape, it can be accomplished nicely in a rock garden. Texture is a given, but pattern comes into play when you mimic a textile and go for tapestry. This is early Spring and the flowers are not yet in bloom, but even in green you can anticipate the tapestry to come.

This is a very natural looking rock bed, with plants weaving in and out, as is the image below. Notice the scale of the rock below. See how the plants balance the massive rock? A lot of texture in these two hillside gardens.

My best advice, fill your garden with texture, pattern, color and scale. The blooms are the icing on the cake.

And take cues from nature too. There is variety in the natural landscape.

Count how many different textures you see below and see how they highly contrast to their neighbors. They make a pleasant sight, no? You can drop the color and still see a big difference. Try that at home.

Take our poll below and pick the word, you as the reader, want to see expressed in images. No email, just a click of your mouse on your choice.

And make sure to join this week. Everybody has texture in the garden. See all the other gardens displaying texture or see unique takes on the words by clicking Mr. Linky for more posts.

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Next post you cannot miss if you really enjoy photographing birds. Trust me you will improve, I did!

About Garden Walk Garden Talk

I love to photograph, paint, draw, design, garden, travel the world, and pass on a few tips and ideas that I learned through experience as a Master Gardener and architect. I am highly trained in my field and enjoy my work each and every day. I garden in Niagara Falls, NY in zone 6-B. Find me at: http://gardenwalkgardentalk.com
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31 Responses to W4W – Texture and Pattern in Design

  1. joey says:

    So enjoyed all in this wonderful/informative post, especially the designer trick to desaturate an image to better see pattern and texture to see why a grouping works or does not. Among other notes, will definitely try this!

  2. Donna, I finally felt that several photos in my current post, November GBBD, fit with your W4W theme so I linked. It was a little confusing but I think I did everything right. Your explanation of the theme is so good and the illustrating photos are perfect. Carolyn

  3. One says:

    This is a beautiful and informative post. Thank you for all the details. I am just posting photos and direct others here for information.

  4. When I was creating new beds and rearranging the rest of my garden this fall, I paid close attantion to how the textures of the foliage would play off each other as well as the colors or foliage and flower. It makes such a difference! Excellent, wise post, as always!!! :o)

  5. Jennifer says:

    Hi Donna, I found this theme challenging, not because it was difficult, but because it was too easy. I quickly ended up with too many images! I may have to divide it into two posts, one for texture and one for pattern. This W4W post is very interesting. I will come back later and read through it again.

  6. Greg says:

    Donna, great post. Love the b&w for comparison. Very interesting. Texture is so important in the scale of a site also. Good to be back. Greggo

  7. andrea says:

    I have made my draft on Monday, trying to be the first, but as usual i forgot to link soonest, LOL. I think this is the easiest word we have so far! I love your photos to illustrate today’s W4W. I most specially love those concentric cobblestones with grasses. It is so simple yet lovely. And the rocky gardens are beautiful too, maybe because i haven’t seen rocky gardens yet in person.

  8. Cat says:

    Great post, Donna! Love, love, love the effect of the small, flowering tree and the curves of the textured, silvery green foliage!

  9. Malinda says:

    A great expose on texture and pattern. It amazes me how much patterns there are in nature. You’re doing such a wonderful job with your blogs. I look forward to reading them and seeing your beautiful photos everyday!

  10. What a great post! So many beautiful photographs showing your skill and the amazing places you have visited! A word focus is a wonderful idea too… it makes me wish I had some more blogging time.

  11. Excellent subject for your meme, Donna! Thanks for the opportunity! And thank you for the garden designing tips. One of these days I will capture some black and white landscape images to analyze areas in the garden that need improvement. There are many, but looking at the garden without the color should help me plan for some of the changes.

  12. Karen says:

    I enjoyed this post very much and a learned a great deal about design from looking at the color vs. black and white images. This is an excellent way to gauge the success of a particular planting, thank you for the tip!

  13. Kala says:

    The lambs ears begging to be petted is a great image as is the one of the stone steps scattered with autumn leaves. Your post is also filled with a lot of interesting information which I will have to think about if I ever have a garden of my own to design.

  14. The photos are all beautiful (as always). And thanks for the great tip on taking the colour out of the photos to see how my combinations look!

  15. I really enjoyed this post Donna, many of the images made my fingers itch to feel the textures.

  16. Tuincoach says:

    Wow, what a gorgious series of pictures to enhance your words. The beauty is in the balance and energy of all textures, forms, materials and colors. That’s why and how I use Feng Shui for gardens. It gives personal and natural beauty and inspiration to the people enjoying the garden.
    With warm regards, Mariëtte (gardencoach in The Netherlands)

  17. Great information and tips! I particularly like the structure of the trees and the bark in the landscape. So important during winter months. Great tip on converting photos to B&W to analyze the textural elements in our landscape. Thank you!

  18. John says:

    Wow, what a great post, thanks! Maybe it was my over-simplistic mode of linear thinking, but I always consciously thought of texture as nothing more than a tactile sensation. But your post really got me to thinking about texture as a visual property and something to be considered when thinking about arrangement of plants in the garden, various combinations of plants, and how to incorporate texture and pattern into the form of the garden. I’ve never really given much consideration to visual texture and pattern and how they orient the viewer towards the garden, but I sure will consider it going forward. Thanks again for such a thought provoking post.

  19. Hi Donna – thanks for the information about designing with texture. I think we amateur gardeners create interesting textural focuses without even trying sometimes. But I will certainly be thinking more about the different textures created with plants when moving forward in refurbishing my garden.

  20. Thank you everyone for commenting, voting and participating. Heather is so right, there is design in all of us and sometimes we create because we know when something is just right and visually works. We may not know the ‘learned’ whys though. That is why, although subjective, a viewer can be awed by something and not know why. Inherently, we just know good design and instinctively can produce it if we open our senses. When we are kids, those abilities come out more readily. Color is easy for kids, but texture and scale are much more mature sensitivities. In architecture, these things were incorporated in building long before they had ‘design principles’ to support them. But we admire the beauty of these really old structures and wonder how they came to be. I know this is way off base from this post, but I wanted to mention that ‘good design’ is in all of us. Sometimes it just takes a little nudge.

  21. Donna I really enjoyed learning more about texture and form in the garden. I love the idea of making pictures black and white. I do an OK job with this but struggles so there is invaluable info here to move me to the next stage in my learning….thx

  22. HolleyGarden says:

    Great post. I am going to love reading all the W4W posts on this. Since I have mainly a rose garden, I find it challenging to incorporate enough varying textures into my garden to keep it dynamic. I’m going to try that black and white photo tip!

  23. noelmorata says:


    beautiful and informative, you’ve placed so much thought and examples of these ideas and they are fantastic., thanks for sharing this topic

  24. b-a-g says:

    I’ve thought a bit about colour when planning my garden (though you wouldn’t be able to tell by looking at it). Never considered texture – thanks for the tips.

  25. Marguerite says:

    Great collection of photos and different gardens here. I agree with using lambs ears where you can touch them. I can never resist soft fuzzy leaves or rubbing up against a herb for the smell it leaves on my hand.

  26. GirlSprout says:

    Thanks for the thoughtful and insightful post. Your post made me think about things in a new way.

  27. Donna, it took me a while but this post so inspired me to look at Pattern & Texture in my garden … that I did a post about it. Thank you for sharing your knowledge and talent so readily with us all. You have no idea how much you help me to be a better gardener.

  28. Rosie Gan says:

    This post is going to be great as reference material for us all. Thank you so much, Donna. Wonderful photos used for illustration.

  29. Laurrie says:

    I always plan to spend time on your blog. There is so much to look over and study. Your garden shots are about so much more than blooms… I love that steps and bark and stones are your garden treasures too. And design. Oh, and great plants too.

  30. Donna,
    Thank you for a MOST informative post with a wealth of beautiful photos to illustrate your topic. I have passed this link on to several gardening friends. –John

  31. Gaz says:

    What an enjoyable and informative post, wonderfully illustrated.

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