TEXTURE in the Garden - a Guest Post by Yuliya Bellinger

Lamb's Ear

 One of my assignments to my graduate students in the landscape design program at Columbia University was to take a paragraph from the book, 'The Hidden Dimension' by Edward T. Hall and share a personal experience related to the topic of the selected excerpt. 'The Hidden Dimension' is a time honored classic on the role of spatial understanding in culture.

The following is an essay that the talented designer, Yuliya Bellinger, wrote. I think it is so lovely and wanted to share it with you. Simple is beautiful.  

TEXTURE in the Garden By Yuliya Bellinger

“Texture, about which I have said very little, is appraised and appreciated almost entirely by touch, even when it is visually presented. With few exceptions …it is the memory of tactile experiences that enable us to appreciate texture. So far, only a few designers have paid much attention to the importance of texture and its use in architecture is largely haphazard and informal. In other worlds, textures on and in buildings are seldom used consciously and with psychological or social awareness.”

Edward T. Hall, The Hidden Dimension, page 62

My fellow gardeners often disapprove of my compulsion to touch plants.  Occasionally, I even tear a leaf, crush it in between my fingers and smell it (with their permission, of course). There is something about this interaction that makes my experience of their garden complete.
It might be, that it evokes my childhood experiences of exploring the world.  After spending almost every summer at my grandfather’s farm and running barefoot for those two summer months, I miss the interaction with the earth and what it sprouts. 

Walking through an overgrown patch of a lawn with stalks of grass caressing my legs immediately reminds me of the carefree summer time.  One of my most luxurious “touching” experiences is walking on moss.  The softness and coolness of moss cannot compare with any high quality carpet.
My garden guests are often pleasantly surprised and even shocked how vegetation can be so unexpectedly soft, fuzzy, silky, coarse, spiky, rough, thick or thin.  


They react as if the appearance of a plant completely belied how it feels.  Touching a sago palm is met with a shock of its almost synthetic smoothness, or lamb’s ears that are softer than any teddy bear.

Texture is an underrepresented quality of space today, and too often unexplored by visitors because of the societal constraints or visual dependency we are more likely to rely on to experience flora.  Signs like “DON’T TOUCH” and “KEEP OFF” are enough to get everyone discouraged.  And even when they are invited to explore and experience, people tend to be reserved about touching.  

I was very encouraged after visiting the Brooklyn Botanic garden’s fragrance garden, specifically “plants to touch” section.   It is elevated to accommodate people in wheelchairs and the blind to make interaction with the plant life effortless.  How I would love to see more outdoor spaces that encourage a tactile experience; an equally enjoyable, important, and too often neglected component of a garden.

Mood Moss from Moss and Stone Gardens


  1. The Bermuda Botanic Garden has a Sensory Garden for the blind. All the signs are written in Braille to help the visitors to identify the plants. Healing gardens do not allow people feel the different types of textures. The Healing Garden in Harvard, MA will be adding a sensory garden with aromatic shrubs and trees; see http://www.healinggarden.net/documents/SensoryGardenPlan.pdf. I like to include some of silver textured plants into my home gardens such as Artemisia Silver Mound , Licorice Plant, Lamb’s ear, Silver sage, Lavender cotton, Blue fescue, and Sea holly.

  2. Thank you so much for this! I remember writing this so well :)


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