Neil Sperry

Landscape ‘transitions’ are all about color and texture. Here’s how to make them work

We watched our son play basketball in his 40-and-over league this past Sunday evening. He pointed out a slender, comparatively short guy on the other team by saying, “Watch him. He’s really fast.”

In the end, Brian’s team won, but that guy was amazing. And sitting there on that bleacher seat was when I decided on my topic for right here today. “Transitions” are as important to gardeners as they are to ball handlers like “that guy.” Let me point out some of the ways. See if you’ve even thought about them.


Fine landscapes have color schemes, both at any given time, and for any given season. Think of the various parts of your landscape as “rooms.” Each room needs to have its own special set of colors, and if you can see from one room to the next those colors need to be harmonious — they need to work well together in your landscape just as they do in the real rooms inside your house. As you move about in your gardens, the colors need to transition smoothly.

Similarly, as the weeks pass, your flowering plants’ colors may change as well. In the spring you might showcase Easter egg shades of bright pinks, yellows and blues, while by summer you want the cooling tones of lavenders, light yellows, pastel pinks and purples. In fall, of course, it all shifts to orange, yellow, burgundy and rust. And at each step along the way you need to make a smooth transition from one set of colors into the next.


You want a nice mix of textures blending together in your landscape’s plantings. Large-leafed plants have coarse-textures, while plants with small leaves show fine textures. Coarse textures bring a bold, “look-at-me” statement, while fine textures drift off into the background. You want a nice mix of both, but you don’t want the changes to be too dramatic too quickly. Look at great landscapes around you for a few weeks, and the secrets to effective use of textures will begin to become obvious.

Landscaping ‘A’

Our grandparents thought of landscapes as “foundation plantings” to conceal the ugliness of old pier-and-beam houses that sat atop blocks instead of concrete foundations. They were 24 or 30 inches off the ground to allow crawl space for access to utilities beneath. They planted tall shrubs in straight rows, but now the better landscapes often use curved beds with two or three layers of shrubs and groundcovers for a transition from turfgrass height up to 30 or 36 inches – sometimes even taller when solid walls are involved. And there’s that word “transition” again, a stair stepping of heights within our plantings.

Landscaping ‘B’

As our landscapes put some years under their hoses, things begin to change. Shade trees grow larger and turfgrass begins to thin. Shrubs have been trimmed, probably too many times, and they’re starting to wear down. The garden soils we prepared so carefully have run out of organic matter and our flowers just aren’t giving the pop that they once did. It’s time for a landscape “remodel.” We’re going to have to transition from those original sun-loving plants that we started with on to plants that are tolerant of shade. It’s not a penalty we pay for wanting shade trees in Texas. It’s just a new door that has opened, and it’s brought with it a new set of chances. How we respond to them determines how successful we’ll be in the long run.


Professional turf managers use the word “transition” in a very specific reference. When you overseed a lawn with ryegrass in the fall so you’ll have green grass all winter and into the spring, there is a time in May when the ryegrass begins to die out and your permanent turf, probably bermuda, begins to green up and take over. They refer to that 10 or 15 days as “transition.” They give it a name because it’s the one time that the lawn looks a little less than perfect. It’s the time that you’ll want to mow the lawn frequently to mow out the browning ryegrass. Fertilize the bermuda to speed up its greening. And talk like a pro. Tell all your friends, “Oh, it’s just in transition.”

Perhaps the most important message I can bring you out of all this random thinking is that a landscape is a moving target. Things are always changing. They’re always “in transition.” Keep an open mind about your gardens. Be willing to accept new ideas. Be willing to try new plants once you’re pretty sure they’ll succeed. Keep that feeling of transition and change going. Static landscaping becomes dull and lifeless. Keep moving through life like that guy dribbling the ball and firing off shots last night. You’re gardening life will be a lot more exciting.

You can hear Neil Sperry on KLIF 570AM on Saturday afternoons 1-3 pm and on WBAP 820AM Sunday mornings 8-10 am. Join him at and follow him on Facebook.