Deb Babcock: Sensual gardening
January 18, 2010
Steamboat Springs — A garden affects all of our senses, even though we often are not aware of it. Most of us enjoy the beauty of the colors, shapes, the play of light and shade, and the graceful movement of grasses, leaves and foliage as plants sway in the wind. We also breathe in the aroma from scented plants and allow the herbs, spices and flavors of various plants to tingle our taste buds. But other plants in the garden call out for us to caress them — such as textured plants like lambs ears and mosses — or to enjoy the spiky tingle of globe thistles or the waxy feel of succulents. Even our auditory sensors are lulled by the wind blowing through grasses and trees or rain dripping off foliage onto a stone pathway.
If you'd like to design a garden or part of your garden to appeal to the five senses, start with the basics. Decide where it will be placed and note the amount of sun, water and wind that will affect the plants you place there. If you have some plants in mind that need special protections, create a microclimate by well-placed rocks, berms or other structures.
A garden that faces the southern or western sky will have lots of sun and probably not much shade. Therefore, the plants you choose need to be able to withstand long hours of sunshine, afternoon heat and somewhat arid soil. Conversely, if your garden faces north or east and gets lots of shade, the plants you choose will need to be ones that enjoy fewer hours of sun and can handle moister soil.
As you choose plants for color, consider using a color wheel and seeking plants with complementary colors. A monochromatic garden in many shades of one color can be just as lovely as a garden with a riot of red, yellow and orange flowers. Don't forget the foliage as part of the color scheme, also. Many xeric native plants sport leaves that range from a pale, dusky grey-green to variegated greens, browns, purples and blues to brightly colored foliage in pinks and purples.
For texture, there are many highly touchable plants that grow in Zone 4 gardens here. These range from the soft mosses for shady gardens to lambs ears, pussytoes and the wonderfully waxy textures of ice plants and sedums in sunny gardens. You may even want to bring in spiky plants for a different texture, such as the wonderful globe thistle.
Don't forget aroma as you choose plants. Fragrant roses and peonies will add color and aroma; as will daffodils, which will bring early season color to the garden, also. Many of the herbs that grow well here also will provide fragrance. Consider thyme, rosemary, mint and sage.
Among some of the edible plants that grow here, violets offer a nutty flavor in salads, coneflowers and sunflowers will provide seed for birds and fruit-bearing shrubs will provide shelter and food for birds attracted to your garden.
For sound, you can plant grasses or tall iris that allow the wind to blow through for wonderful whistling and rustling noises. Or place a fountain or wind chimes for the soft music of water splashing or musical tinkling when the wind blows.
Ah, so many plants to tingle the senses. Have some fun during these cold days of winter and consider planning a garden that will touch all your senses this coming spring.
Deb Babcock is a master gardener through Routt County's Cooperative Extension Office. Call 879-0825 with questions.