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Leaf textures increase garden interest, appeal
By Norman Winter
Central Mississippi Research & Extension Center
Most of the regular readers of these columns know I am a tropical nut. I can identify with Jimmy Buffet's lyrics: “I have a Caribbean soul I can barely control.”
With that thought in mind, I probably should tell you about all of the citrus and papaya sold at our three garden and patio shows in the last 30 days. I'll save that for another day. Instead, I will challenge you on one of the finer things in the garden: texture.
Fine texture is what I want to emphasize. When I describe tropical plantings to you, I am almost always talking about big leaves with coarse texture -- sometimes we even refer to them as bold textures. Recently, I challenged you to use grasses, most of which have a fine- or thin-leafed texture.
Today, take that down one more notch to an even finer texture. Once we add these types of plants, our borders are magically transformed to gardens that capture interest and make visitors want to linger to enjoy the stark contrasts in leaf structure.
One such planting that I saw at a friend's garden offered just about everything you could want from a combination planting without flowers. It had the huge and almost furry leaves of the silver sage, Salvia argentea, which is perennial in zones 5-8. The silver sage is a short-lived perennial that is sometimes referred to as a biennial. The silver appearance comes from its fine hairs.
But it was the fine-leafed partner, an herb referred to as bronze fennel, that made the planting. Known botanically as Foeniculum vulgare, it is perennial in zones 5-11. These leaves might be considered “extra fine.”
Bronze fennel is a culinary delight with aromatic leaves and seeds that are used in Italian dishes. Bronze fennel is also great in butterfly gardens or in any landscape. To keep plants bushy, cut foliage back as needed until time for it to produce flowers and seed.
Another planting I saw mesmerized me with its fine texture and silver shadows. Well-placed pockets of silver and gray leaves are ever so striking in gardens normally dominated by a sea of green. This garden had Beacon Silver lamium and Silver Mound Artemisia, both of which intensified the color of the Wildfire Violet verbena.
The lamium and artemisia are cold hard hardy in zone 3-8, and the verbena is hardy in zones 6-9. Even though we think of artemisia as an herb, it was definitely at home in this perennial garden. The beautiful and interesting planting may have looked delicate, but in actuality, it was also drought-tolerant and ruggedly tough.
Just like a complementary color scheme that offers excitement by having polar opposites in color, we can create a similar fervor in the garden by playing up the differences in leaf texture. As you shop at your garden center this spring, think about texture choices along with your color choices.