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Garden Designers Roundtable: Texture

Written by: Douglas Owens-Pike


Our specialty at EnergyScapes is planning and transforming landscapes for sustainable results.  This aim most often focuses on a native plant diversity designed to bring benefits beyond the plants themselves.  For example, native plants provide habitat for insects that are the base of food chain, supporting birds, butterflies and other wildlife that people can enjoy viewing in their yard.


A challenge to this approach,  especially in the shade garden, is that flowering is focused on spring ephemerals.  These plants do their work early in the growing season, flowering before the leaves emerge on mature trees.  After the spring blush of blooms we are primarily left with a variety of leaf shapes and sizes, or texture.  Of course, there are fruits beginning to form and other woodland plants that do bloom later in the growing season.  For this post we want to focus on one of our projects located near Lake of the Isles in Minneapolis to see how texture adds depth in this woodsy setting. The below images and captions tell the story.


In 1997 EnergyScapes designed and installed all visible plants except for the two mature elm on boulevard and arborvitae at left front corner of home.











Closeup of front yard.









Maidenhair fern interspersed among foliage.


Meadow rue is another native woodland plant known for its sensual foliage. Its blossom is very inconspicuous chartreuse, but these leaves persist for the full growing season in good woodland soil and with enough water
















In this view the neighbor’s more traditional, horticultural approach to a formal landscape contrasts starkly with design elements in a native garden. In this case, strikingly bright blooms of Astilbe direct the viewer’s attention and create balance with the orange mulch.











This view illustrates the complexity of this native garden. Several layers of green come into focus before a ground covered with last season’s decomposing leaf litter. Here we have finely serrated foliage of ‘Regent’ serviceberry, airy pairs of maidenhair fern leaves on either side of their black stalk, and finally the smooth arc of wild ginger closer to brown leaves. Notice splendid rain drops from last thunderstorm that bring another sparkling quality to this low light setting. The fruit of the serviceberry provides a treat to birds and people alike. They taste akin to blueberries.



This image displays a closeup of the bark of musclewood (“Carpinus caroliniana”) Fluted bark has developed over the 15 years since it was planted in this garden (started at 1” caliper vs. 4” in this view).

Notice the papery, hop-like fruit produced by the musclewood.


























The water feature below was built in the early 1970’s using concrete and limestone.  Limestone was set directly into concrete during the initial construction. The two rocks expand and contract at different rates and over the years extensive cracks developed. The feature was badly leaking and we repaired it by covering the old concrete basin with resilient rubber (EPDM) pond liner.  We salvaged the beautifully aged limestone and set it back on top of the waterproof membrane.



Reflections of the fence top and utility pole on the pond surface contrast with biomorphic shapes of foliage and rock at the water's edge.


















Urns of pink coral bells contrast spiky juniper and the round rock underwater.





























As the heat of the summer bears down upon us this week, take a break to stroll your neighborhood (early or late in the cool of the day). Note how textures of natural or horticultural gardens influence your mood as you walk. We welcome your feedback.


Don’t forget to see what others on the Garden Designers Roundtable have posted on this subject:


Thomas Rainer : Grounded Design : Washington, D.C.
Rebecca Sweet : Gossip In The Garden : Los Altos, CA

Pam Penick : Digging : Austin, TX
Lesley Hegarty & Robert Webber : Hegarty Webber Partnership : Bristol, UK
Deborah Silver : Dirt Simple : Detroit, MI

David Cristiani : The Desert Edge : Albuquerque, NM
Christina Salwitz : Personal Garden Coach : Renton, WA
Andrew Keys : Garden Smackdown : Boston, MA
Rochelle Greayer : Studio G : Boston, MA