By: Joshua Ellison
To many, a garden is just a glorified bouquet, somewhere to apply an artistic touch and allow nature to do the leg work and, while the aesthetic appeal of this idea is undeniable, to truly
appreciate all that a garden has to offer the senses, we cannot be resigned to be mere voyeurs. A garden can be so much more, and here is a guide to creating spaces that encompass and cater to all of our senses.
Nothing lifts the spirits like a well-planted garden and starting with the most obvious stimuli a garden can offer, it is important to note the psychological effect of particular hues. As we know, artistic flare alone does not make a great gardener, it also helps to have a basic interest in natural sciences and, in this case, physics. Red, for example, has the longest wave length in the light/colour spectrum and as such appears closer than it really is, hence the reputation it has acquired as a bold and attention grabbing colour. Yellows and oranges can be cheerful colours too that are just as stimulating and exciting. Green, by contrast, could perhaps provide quite a bland palette in a garden, despite the fact that at an instinctive level it is also the most comforting as it holds connotations of water. Along with blues, whites and mauves, it can also have the effect of receding in the garden and making borders feel further away than they actually are. These soft colours can also be more effective in shady conditions or in the evening, standing out in the dim light more effectively than their deeper coloured relatives.
The most common sounds of a garden are the simplest – particularly that of the wind through the trees and nearby animals and birds, but it is possible to enhance these sounds with diligence paid to your planting. You could, for example, plant stands of bamboo and wait for the breeze to rustle through them, and you can fill the garden with plants specifically to attract birds and insects. Water features are also excellent for attracting birds and their mating songs, aside from providing their own soundtrack to calm the mind and psychologically cool the air.
There are a myriad of different textures and surfaces that one can implement in a garden to enhance the tactile experience of it. Let’s start with a major component of most gardens, the lawn – nothing quite beats the feel of cool, soft grass between your toes. Then there are the other surfaces – smooth, sawn paving, warm decking and tactile sandstone spheres, for example. In terms of planting, the exciting textures of foliage and flowers are almost endless, from the soft, felted leaves of Lamb’s Ears (Stachys byzantina), to the squirrel-tailed flowering stems of Pennisetum setaceum and the smooth, shiny, mahogany-coloured bark of the ornamental cherry, Prunus serrula. They all beg to be touched, caressed and enjoyed. There’s fun to be had too – who can forget playing with Snapdragons (Antirrhinums) when they were a child?
There’s no end to the recommendations we could make where the sense of smell is concerned, anything from lavender, to honeysuckle, to roses would provide a palpable feast for your nose. But look beyond flowers and appreciate the fragrance of foliage too – of course herbs are obvious choices, but some ornamental shrubs and trees also have aromatic foliage. The aroma of Nepeta, for example, can drive your cat wild with excitement, hence its common name – Catmint. For us, there are lemon-scented geranium leaves, the fresh smell of pine and the pungent fragrance of Choisya ternata (Mexican Orange Blossom), among many others. For best effect, try to plant your scented specimens close to entrances and pathways, where you can more easily appreciate their fragrance as you pass by.
To achieve a truly delectable, edible garden your best bet would be the addition of a mini-orchard, vegetable patch or herb garden, and nothing beats homegrown produce. However, if this is an impractical measure for you, or if yours is a purely flower-based garden, you can still grow edible plants. Introduce easily grown Nasturtiums to your plot, as these make for an excellent, colourful and peppery salad garnish during blooming season. A patch of Daylilies (Hemerocallis) wouldn’t go amiss either as these vivid blooms have a sweet, nutty flavour (and have earned a reputation in Chinese cuisine as excellent flavouring for soups!) Climbing plants can also provide floral interest as well as an edible bounty. Try Passion Flower (Passiflora caerulea), for example. It has exotic-looking purple and white flowers and these are followed by orange, egg-shaped fruits, which, while the bright red pulp is not perhaps as flavoursome as the variety you’d buy in the supermarket, is still stunning over ice-cream or in Champagne!