One of the first signs that fall has arrived is the crisp mornings and the leaves falling from the trees. I love to feel the leaves crunch under my feet and truthfully, I'm ready for the garden to rest for the winter. Yes, fall leaves on the ground are lovely, but it's the leaves on the plants that make all the difference.
One of the benefits of gardening in California is that we have an amazing variety of plants that hang on to their leaves – and I love that. Leaves play a huge role in landscaping design and many Bay Area yards are small, so have to make choices. Leaves have a lot to offer in terms of style and feel in a garden.
In terms of plants and garden design, "texture" refers to a visual texture as opposed to the tactile texture. So it's about look, not feel. In garden design, plants are primarily in one of three categories: fine, medium, or coarse (or bold). Many plants we use are basically medium in texture.
So to give a garden a little pizzazz, you may want to have some fine-textured plants as well as coarse (or bold)-textured types. Although, it's true that things like shape and distance can play a role in describing plant texture, it's mostly about the leaves. Plants with small leaves, like spirea or maidenhair fern, are referred to as "finely textured". Plants that have large leaves, such as cannas and hostas, are "coarsely textured". All other plant leaf sizes fall into the middle somewhere.
To create a soft feel in your yard, both small and medium leaves will create that for you. Finely-textured plants play a key role in small gardens, because smaller leaves make a space look bigger by encouraging your eye to follow these plants. The medium-textured ones work the same way, while coarse plants tend to stop the eye. Small leaves will fade into the view, while the larger leaves make a bigger visual impact. Bold plants can serve you well as the focal points of a garden, and they add interest, and perspective.
A garden will appear larger when a coarsely-textured plant or two is placed at the front of the garden. Plant medium to finely textured varieties down the sight line after that -- say, as you walk down a path. This will give the illusion of a larger and deeper garden than you actually have.
Plants with long, thin, strap-like leaves like agapanthus can be either fine or coarse depending on the variety. Those with thin, strappy leaves are considered fine, while the ones with big straps are bold.
Don't forget to use ornamental grasses! They're fabulous for adding texture and they work well in small settings. Mexican feather grass, maiden grass, fountain grass, bamboo muhly, and gulf muhly are all great grasses.
When it comes to choosing plants for the yard, the idea isn't to decide which plant texture is superior, but which combination and location of textures works the best for your yard.