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Weekly Gardening Guide: Sensory Gardening!

July 29, 2015


 
This week we were contacted by a reporter at the London Free Press about an article she was doing on sensory gardens.  We were thrilled to oblige, and then we thought we could share a few of those ideas in this week’s gardening tip.
 
When designing a garden or landscape, it’s important to consider more than just flowers and colours.  Think of the last time you were at the park, or on a nature hike.  You likely noticed the trees, plants, and animals, but the experience goes beyond the visual sphere.  You can smell the flowers, but maybe also the ferns, mosses, or just the overall smell of greenery.  You may have reached out to touch the bark of a tree, or ran your hands through the tall grasses.  You can hear the swishing of the grass, and the leaves rustling in the breeze.  Plants offer a full sensory experience, and by considering the different elements of plants, you can make your garden more appealing and immersive than you ever imagined.
 

Plants for the Sensory Garden:

 
Next to visual appeal, scent is the next most obvious sense to appeal to in the garden.  With planning, you can have something fragrant in the garden all season, such as hyacinths in early spring, followed by peonies, roses and then late-flowering perennials such as Russian Sage.  Lavender is also a popular fragrant plant with a long blooming period, or try the tropical night-blooming jasmine on the deck or patio if you enjoy sitting out in the evening.  Place fragrant plants along walkways or near entries where you are more likely to notice them, or where you might brush up against them and release more fragrance.  If you are lacking space, try small herbs such as creeping thyme that can border a flowerbed or fill cracks in pathways.  Additionally, don’t discount the more passive scents of cedars and pines, which can be just as effective as floral scents.
 
Children particularly enjoy tactile experiences in the garden.  Fuzzy plants like lamb’s ears and artemisia are universally handled by kids, as are the seedheads of grasses like Hamelin or Little Bunny.  As noted, adults are not immune to passing their hands through waving grasses or a  fine-textured tamarix, or absently bopping the blooms of the pincushion flower.  Other textures in the garden are leathery leaves, like those of azalea and rhododendron, or lenten rose, and interesting tree bark like paper birch or paperbark maple.
 
The best sound for the garden is water.  It is soothing and relaxing, and also muffles outside noise to create a feeling of privacy.  However, a water feature isn’t always desirable due to maintenance needs and budget constraints.  Where water isn’t an option, wind becomes important for sound in the garden.  The swish and sigh of grasses is probably the most similar in effect to water in the garden, and most varieties of Miscanthus are perfectly suited to sensory gardens.  Most trees have large enough leaves that the wind rustling them makes a pleasant sound, but this effect can be amplified by using plants with larger, light leaves.  Poplars and weeping mulberries are great examples of plants providing sound in the garden, and smaller plants such as the silver dollar plant have seed pods that clatter like small wooden wind chimes.  Sound is an area to use your creativity, and learn what sounds are pleasant or relaxing for you.
 
Taste, of course, is the other sense, and how much or little of it should be incorporated in the garden is very individual.  It can be as simple as an herb, or a little hanging basket of strawberries or tomatoes, or as large as an apple tree.  An excellent shrub is the alpine currant,

which is extremely hardy,  unobtrusive, great for hedging, and has tiny berries on the inner branches that taste remarkably like gummy bears.  Whichever edible plant you choose, you get to experience the “garden nibble”, which most people find unexpectedly pleasurable whether young or old.
 
 
We hope these few ideas of sensory plants get you thinking about how you can enhance your experience of your garden.  Next time your are out in the garden, try to focus attention on all of your senses; notice what sounds, scents, and textures you enjoy, and what you might like to expand on.  Add in more sensory elements gradually, and stagger them across the seasons so you have year-round enjoyment.  By choosing plants that appeal to you on more than just the visual level, you can become closer to having the experience of your favourite park, trail, or natural space at home.

 

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