A new appreciation for truly bold garden texture

Erin Schanen


I talk a good garden texture game, but I’ve come to the conclusion that I may not be as good at it in practice as I once thought I was. The problem is that we have very few bold texture plants to work with in our Wisconsin gardens.

One look around a Florida botanical garden (this, along with a study of native beach grasses, falls under the category of “research” for gardeners) and you get a great appreciation of what bold or coarse texture in a garden really is. Wide, strappy foliage is not the accent in these gardens, it’s the background on which finer textured plants shine.

It’s no coincidence that so many tropical plants have large leaves. Those extra square inches (or feet) of leaves help plants cool themselves more effeciently through transpiration in the hot, humid climates they have adapted to. Wisconsin gardeners don’t need to look at the size of plant leaves to know that overheating is not an issue here.

When faced with a garden full of tropical beauties — bromeliads, crotons and Cordyline fruticosa (ti plant) — it’s not difficult to have the kind of great texture contrast that makes a good design.

But what are us northerners to do when even the plants recognize that it’s too cold for coarse texture?

There are a few commonly grown plants that we can rely on, and many of them are shade lovers (see previous note on transpiration). Hostas are the poster child for cold-hardy bold leaves, but there is also Ligularia, Rodgersia and some Brunnera cultivars.

Sunny spots can get a dose of bold texture from plants such as Salvia argentea (silver sage), a fuzzy-leafed biennial with large scalloped leaves that can easily be grown from seed, or the similar looking perennial Stachys byzantina (lamb’s ear). More exotic plants, like Senecio candicans ‘Angel Wings,’ a truly silver-leafed annual, can also bring bold texture.

Vegetables can be an unlikely source of bold texture. I grow rhubarb as an ornamental because of its huge leaves, but I’m not mad about the pies it helps produce. Swiss chard has big, bold, shiny leaves and pretty stems as well. Lacinato kale is not only my favorite variety to grow for eating, it also has great blue-gray foliage that serves as excellent bold texture in an ornamental garden.

But when all else fails, I have no problem resorting to the best bold plants there are — those lovely tropicals. Cannas, elephant ears and turmeric (grown both for its edible roots as well as its Japanese beetle-resistant cannalike leaves) all offer a dose of texture contrast in our gardens. Unless you’re ready to go all in on the tropical look and have the greenhouse to accommodate that, it’s best to use these big, bold, heat-loving plants sparingly and with some repetition.

My eyes have been opened. Bold texture is really bold and it makes everything else in a garden look better. In fact, I might just find a way to work a banana into the mix this summer. Now that’s bold.



Click Here to Send a Letter to the Editor

Ozaukee Press

Wisconsin’s largest paid circulation community weekly newspaper. Serving Port Washington, Saukville, Grafton, Fredonia, Belgium, as well as Ozaukee County government. Locally owned and printed in Port Washington, Wisconsin.

125 E. Main St.
Port Washington, WI 53074
(262) 284-3494


User login