Gardening for the Senses/ The Sensual Garden
While many gardeners choose plants for their visual beauty, you may also want to concentrate on choosing plants that stimulate the other senses. The following suggestions and plant lists will help you choose plants that cater to your sense of taste, smell, touch, and hearing.
A Garden You Can Taste
Fruits, vegetables, and some herbs are perfect for stimulating your sense of taste. As long as you're not spraying your crops with pesticides, you can munch your way across the garden any time during the growing season. If you do spray, check the label to find out how soon you can safely re-enter the garden, and when you harvest the crops. Sprayed crops should be thoroughly washed (only with water) before eating.
Vegetables that are brightly coloured when ripe, such as gold zucchini squash, red leaf lettuce, and purple podded beans, stand out from the surrounding green foliage and make harvesting easier for the visually impaired gardener. Tomatoes and strawberries soften slightly and turn bright red when they are ripe. Peppers, peas, beans, and leafy vegetables such as lettuce and spinach are ready to pick when they feel large enough. The soil can be pushed away to check on the progress of root crops, like carrots and radishes. You may want to grow bush-type varieties, so you don't have to search long, tangled vines for your produce. For more information, refer to HO-32, Home Gardener's Guide, and HO-101, Recommended Vegetable Cultivars for Indiana Home Gardens. (see Purdue University Publications website under resources)
Nasturtiums have a wonderful peppery taste to both leaves and blooms. Mint is very refreshing to chew, and there are dozens of types of mints: not only the spearmint and peppermint everyone is familiar with, but also apple mint, orange mint, and many others can be planted in your garden. Hundreds of herbs can be used for cooking. Be certain that you know what herbs you are eating: some very popular herbs and flowers are considered toxic! For more information on herbs, ask for HO-28, Herb Gardening.
A Garden You Can Smell
An area surrounded by the scents of roses or lily-of-the-valley is a relaxing place to set up a lawn chair and read an electronic cigarette review, the newspaper, or perhaps an adventurous novel. If you have two sturdy trees or can erect two heavy duty posts, sling a hammock between them and kick back to enjoy the smell of lilacs wafting by on the breeze. Every plant has its own scent. Different scents can subtly alter your mood, and your garden can help you take advantage of this. Try to create different "rooms", or pockets in the garden. An area surrounded by the scents of lilacs, roses, or lily-of-the-valley is a relaxing place to set up a hammock or lawn chair. Some heavy scents, like honeysuckle, jasmine and wisteria, can make you feel sleepy, while herbs such as lavender, rosemary, and lemon verbena energize and invigorate you. A stroll through a section of culinary herbs, like oregano, sage, and thyme, will often help with your appetite. Some fragrant plants release their scents when they are touched or crushed. Herbs like chamomile or creeping thyme can be used as groundcovers for pathways, and will release their fragrances as you walk across them. Different herbal paths can lead to various "rooms" in your garden. People using canes, or who otherwise are at risk of falling, may not want to use scented ground covers for pathways. Scented geraniums and other aromatic herbs can be planted along pathways, and will release their scents when touched by visitors. Raised beds can be planted with fragrant ground covers, providing an aromatic resting area. As you discover the wonders of the scented garden, you may feel the urge to keep adding to your collection. You should try not to use too many scented plants together, however, because their different scents tend to blend together and become confusing. If you garden with the different "mood rooms", as described above, you can include many more scented plants, as they will be scattered in different parts of the garden. The following tables list some fragrant plants that are available. Some of the fragrant trees and shrubs listed are not winter-hardy in Indiana; however, they make excellent house plants, and can be moved indoors for the winter if they are kept in containers.
A Garden You Can Feel
Our sense of touch can make the garden an exciting place to explore the different plant textures. Place plants with interesting textures in a small, enclosed garden with comfortable garden seats or mosses places to sit. Garden beds raised to a height of two feet and constructed with edges to sit on bring touchable plants within reach. Choose only nonpoisonous and non-prickly plants for the petting garden.
There are many different textures that you can include in the garden. Some plants have soft, fuzzy leaves or flowers, like lamb's ear, woolly thyme, and pussy willow. Many ornamental grasses, especially hare's tail grass, have fluffy flower heads. The blossoms on some plants, such as hibiscus, gardenia, and most lilies, feel silky to the touch. Blossoms of statice and globe amaranth have a papery feel, as do the seed pods of honesty (also called the money plant). A list of plants with interesting textures can be found at the end of this publication.
A Garden You Can Hear
The sounds that a garden makes can create subtle moods in visitors. The whisper of weeping plants, such as willows and birch, has a calming influence. The rustling of ornamental grasses and bamboo can create a sense of excitement and activity, and make excellent audio signals to help gardeners orient themselves. The accompanying list suggests just a few plants you may want to include for their interesting sounds.
The garden is a magical place, and should be enjoyed by everyone! This publication is a brief introduction to the world of gardening for people with impaired vision. The books listed below are a must for anybody who is serious about gardening despite disabilities.
Accessible Gardening for People With Disabilities by Janeen R. Adil. Woodbine House, 1994
The Enabling Garden: Creating Barrier-Free Gardens by Gene Rothert. Taylor Publishing Co., 1994
The Able Gardener by Kathleen Yeomans. Storey Communications, 1992
Garden for Lift by Lynn Dennis. University Extension Press, University of Saskatchewan, 1994
Get hands-on advice from your local Association for the Blind. They have helped many people adjust to diminished sight. You should also visit some of the Midwest's botanical gardens, such as: the Chicago Botanic Garden in Glencoe, Illinois; Morton Arboretum in Downers Grove, Illinois; the Missouri Botanic Garden in St. Louis; and the Indianapolis Museum of Art. Many have sample gardens specializing in plants with unique textures, aromas, and other characteristics.
Trees and Shrubs
Butterfly Bush - Buddleia davidii
Citrus* - Citrus sp.
Daphne - Daphne sp.
Frangipani* - Plumeria sp.
Gardenia* - Gardenia jasminoides
Jasmine - Jasminum nudiflorum
Lilac - Syringa sp.
Mock Orange - Philadelphus sp.
Rose - Rosa sp.
* These plants are not considered hardy in Indiana. If you wish to grow these, you may want to treat them as potted house plants, and move them indoors during the winter.
Clematis - Clematis sp.
Climbing Rose - Rosa sp.
Honeysuckle - Lonicera sp.
Jasmine - Jasminum nudiflorum
Passion Flower - Passiflora sp.
Sweet Pea - Lathyrus latifolius
Wisteria - Wisteria floribunda
Fragrant Ground Covers
Chamomile - Anthemis tinctoria
Sweet Woodruff - Galium odoratum
Creeping Thyme - Thymus serpyllum
Woolly Thyme - Thymus praecox
Basil - Ocimum basilicum (many cultivars)
Beebalm - Monarda didyma
Chamomile - Anthemis tinctoria
Heliotrope - Heliotropium arborescens
Hyacinth - Hyacinthus orientalis
Lavender - Lavandula angustifolia
Lemon balm - Melissa officinalis
Lily - Lilium sp.
Lily-of-the-Valley - Convallaria majalis
Mint - Mentha sp. (many cultivars)
Peony - Paeonia hybrids
Pinks - Dianthus sp.
Sage - Salvia sp.
Scented Geranium - Pelargonium sp. (many cultivars, all with different scents)
Stock - Matthiola incana
Thyme - Thymus vulgaris
Violet - Viola odorata
Cape Jasmine - Gardenia jasminoides
Cockscomb - Celosia cristata
Feather grass - Stipa pennata
Gay-feather - Liatris spicata
Globe Amaranth - Gomphrena globosa
Hare's Tale Grass - Lagurus ovatus
Lamb's ears - Stachys byzantina
Lily - Lilium sp.
Love-lies-bleeding - Amaranthus caudatus
Mullein - Verbascum sp.
Obedient Plant - Physostegia virginiana
Poppy - Papaver nudicaule
Pussy willow - Salix discolor
Rose mallow - Hibiscus coccineus
Squirrel-tail grass - Hordeum jubatum
Statice - Limonium latifolium
Woolly thyme - Thymus praecox
Wormwood - Artemisia sp.
to Listen To
Animated Oats - Avena sterilis
Ballon Flower - Platycodon grandiflorus
Bamboo - Many species
Chinese lantern plant - Physalis alkekengi
Honesty or Money Plant - Lunaria annua
Pampas grass - Cortaderia selloana
Pearl Grass - Briza maxima
Trees to Listen To
Birch - Betula sp.
Pine - Pinus sp.
Poplar - Populus sp.
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