Choosing Shrubs in a Garden Design - The Importance of Leaf Texture

When it comes to deciding which shrub varieties to plant in the garden, the task can seem almost overwhelming, especially for the home amateur gardener. The reason for this no doubt stems from the colossal choice available in many countries, though of course not in all. In this article, I'm going to try and simplify matters by focusing on some of the principles of good design, and then applying them to the question of shrubs and bushes. We'll start by determining the one thing you should not do.
*** Avoid picking a plant just because you like it! This may sound counter intuitive at first, but think of cooking a meal. Would you include a certain ingredient, simply on the strength of being partial to it? I would imagine not. That is why I dislike the habit of walking around a garden center with a trolley, picking and choosing plants as though in a supermarket. Personal preference is entirely legitimate of course, but it must never form the basis of the decision. The primary question to ask is "does this species fit into the general scheme?" Think of getting dressed for a Saturday night party. The question you are going to as yourself is "does this tie go with the shirt?" or "this blouse is amazing, but what will it look like with new skirt I've just bought?"
*** Ignore at first the question of the flower colour of a particular specimen. Go back to it after you've determined other criteria first. In the same vein, don't get carried away at this stage by all the coloured leaved plants, especially the purple shrubs. The latter should be used as contrast or emphasis plants, and therefore like highly spiced ingredients in a meal, as sparingly as possible.
*** Obviously at an early stage in the decision making process (for that is what it is) the basic suitability of the plant as a whole, will have been considered in terms of size, and adaptability to the climate e.t.c.
*** This is when the importance of leaf texture comes in, for understanding its significance is the key to being able to make intelligent choices, design wise at least. Leaf texture, whether it applies to trees, shrubs or flowers, can be described as course, medium, or fine, with a multitude of interim states. The main factors determining leaf texture are the size and shape of the leaves. An Oak leaf or an Ash leaf may be described as having a medium texture, whereas a banana plant would be termed course leaved. A dominant texture should be decided on, and the species then chosen accordingly. Avoid placing very course textured plants next to fine textured ones. Do feathery ornamental grasses for instance go with massive leaved plants (course texture) such as Philodendron?
***An understanding of the role of texture also helps in arriving at the correct relationship between the exceptional plants, such as those with coloured foliage, and the majority of the plants forming the composition. An emphasis plant differs by its very nature from the rest either in its characteristics such as size, form or colour. However, it should never differ in every one. It should have at least one characteristic in common with the other plants, and choosing an emphasis plant with the same texture as the others is an excellent way of doing so.
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