Gardening with All Five Senses

It’s that time of year when garden clubs, Master Gardener groups and community organizations hold garden tours. Walking through gardens created by talented amateurs is a great way to learn new things and get ideas for your own garden. One lesson that struck home with me this past week is the importance of gardening with all five senses.

Chimes bring gentle sound to the garden.

Chimes bring gentle sound to the garden.

Gardens are, of course, largely visual experiences. The shapes of plants, the colors of blooms, the straight or curving lines of beds and borders, the way trees, shrubs, perennials and groundcovers look when they are stacked near each other. But we experience gardens with all five of our senses.

This struck me very strongly while walking through a garden on the Northfield Garden Tour, where the home owner had used pine needles as a mulch and path material in a deeply shaded garden. The needles had a softer give than wood chips or hardscaping would have. The touch of feet on pine was gentle, like walking on a deep natural carpet. Plants that are soft, hard, fluffy, pointy or sharp, all add to the sensual experience of the garden.

A carpet of pine needles give this garden a soft, serene feel.

A carpet of pine needles give this garden a soft, serene feel.

Scent is said to be the most evocative of the senses. (If you want to remember a tropical vacation, just sniff the suntan lotion you used.) In the garden, there are many opportunities to introduce scent. This summer, I visited Sweden during June. The mock orange trees grow very large in the damp Swedish climate and the scent of mock orange filled the air along the street where I was staying. It was enchanting, and you could see passersby slow down to drink in the lovely smell. Lilies, old-fashioned roses and many heirloom perennials have delicious scents; plant them and enjoy.

Another garden I visited had chimes in one corner. When you walked through the garden, breezes would stir the chimes, adding a musical note to your time there. My favorite garden symphony, however, comes from the song of birds, the croak of frogs and the rustle of branches against each other. If you add water features and plant a few native plants with seeds, you are almost assured of getting birds in your garden. Enjoy watching them and listening to their calls.

Kale adds beautiful texture and you can harvest some for dinner.

Kale adds beautiful texture and you can harvest some for dinner.

Taste is another way to experience your garden. Even if you are not a vegetable gardener, consider planting a small pot of herbs. Parsley, basil and chives are three herbs that grow readily and are easily used in cooking. (If you get enough basil, please try the incredible Basil Gelato we recommended last week. That’s a sweet garden in a bowl.) One garden on the Hennepin County Master Gardener’s Learning Tour did a great job of combining edible plants in ornamental beds. So much texture and color — and you can pick that kale for a tasty side dish.

Do you think about all your senses when gardening?

—Mary Lahr Schier