This blog is called Tranquil Garden so it is about time for me to post some info on how you can make your garden and yard more tranquil for all of the five senses – sound, smell, sight, taste and touch. If you are into growing your own food like I do, you may find that all of your focus is on making your garden produce. However your garden can also be a refuge from the stresses of everyday life.
Our senses are very powerful in determining how we feel at any given moment. What we hear, smell, see, taste and feel impact our lives more than we perhaps are conscious of.
So if you are trying to achieve the goal of a tranquil garden you might want to try these ideas for providing your five senses with a relaxing and calming environment. Most of these ideas involve planting the appropriate plants and trees so some expense and effort will be required.
Water features are probably the best way to add soothing sounds to your garden. The sound of a waterfall or fountain splashing provides a peaceful backdrop to the rest of the garden. It can also help to mute the sounds of traffic if you leave near or on a busy street.
We have two ponds, one in the front which is a cement-walled round pond with a statue of a girl pouring water, and one in back that is more natural looking with a small stream and waterfall. I’ve recently posted a video of the back pond in case you missed it.
These features can be expensive and time-consuming to build and also require yearly maintainenance so that is something to keep in mind. There are self-contained fountains however that can be placed in a large waterproof container so even if you don’t have a large garden you can enjoy the sound of water.
The other way that sound may fit your gardening budget more easily is a wind chime. There are metal chimes, bamboo chimes and wooden chimes of all shapes and sizes. Pick one that is a soothing sound you like. The bamboo and wooden chimes typically sound very earthy with their thonking sound, while metal wind chimes have higher pitches and more of a mechanical sound.
A chime obviously requires some breeze to activate so it’s effectiveness will depend on where you live and what the weather is like. We live near the ocean so we typically always have slight breeze even in summertime. Ideally position the chimes high enough so they can catch even the slightest breeze – we have both of our chimes (one metal, one bamboo) hanging above our second floor deck. Especially if it is a heavy metal chime make sure to fasten it securely so that it doesn’t fall on anyone especially during a windstorm (we sometimes unhang ours during a storm mainly because they can be quite noisy if constantly moving).
The final suggestion is meditation music – often this music has nature sounds such as waterfalls, ocean waves, bird calls, etc. If you live on a busy street put some headphones on and even if you don’t meditate, you can listen to the music to provide your ears with calm and relaxing sounds as you relax in the garden.
Flowers are probably the first thing you will think of when looking for ways to add nice smells to your garden. Fragrant roses, sweet peas, lilies, lilac or jasmine are just some of the flowers that will perfume the air in your garden. You may want to be areful about how strong the scents are – if you are sensitive to getting migraines or headaches or have hay fever allergies you won’t want to plant a lily directly beside where you sit in your garden. When you have such flowers in pots or other containers you can move them around if you find them to be too strongly scented. Some flowers also have stronger scents at nighttime so an evening walk amongst your flower beds is well worth it.
Other plants that will also impart nice smells are some of the popular herbs such as basil, peppermint, rosemary, thyme and lavender. However these usually require some form of disturbance to release their scents. We have a lavender plant next to our driveway where I love to grab a flower and rub it between my hands just before getting in the car. And we have thyme on the edge of the path next to our raspberries where as we pick the fruit, we get this nice smell of thyme wafting over us as we step on the plants.
Vegetables and Fruits
These you would think fit more under the Taste sense but these can also impart beautiful scents when you pick them and when you prepare them to eat. Nothing beats the smell of a fresh peach, a juicy tomato or a bell pepper still warm from being picked just a minute ago from the pepper plant. I also love the smell of fresh celery, fresh peas, fresh carrots (compare to the store-bought ones) and fresh beets.
I work with a lot of cedar lumber, building various garden structures such as my raised beds, compost, greenhouse and deck railings. Always when I cut the cedar I feel so calm and peaceful as the aroma of the wood is so special. However rather than spending your time cutting lots of cedar lumber, instead you can get cedar chips to put on paths and in beds to suppress weeds but also to provide that fragrant scent, especially after a rain or after watering. Other wood mulches may also provide some scents especially if they are fresh – experiment with what you like best.
Gardens usually are a kaleidoscope of colour and textures. Mainly greens punctuated with whites, reds, pinks, yellows, blues, purples, oranges and even blacks. Nature has a knack in combining colours that work well together.
Vegetables and Fruits
Most vegetable gardeners will find enough delight in the colours and textures of their vegetable plants. Think multi-coloured Swiss chard and beets, frilly kale, bright green lettuce and little green or purple UFOs (kohlrabi). You might not want to limit them only to your raised veggie beds or in orderly rows. They can be planted in amongst other ornamental flowers to enjoy anytime you stroll through the garden.
What most people equate with a beautiful garden is of course flowers. They come in all shapes and sizes and colours. While colour is usually the first thing that a person notices, the textures as well help to define the plant and provide interest for the eyes. In terms of colours sometimes less is more – aim to have a consistent colour palette and beds that have swaths of colour instead of just haphazardly having flowers of every imaginable colour (I’m guilty of this).
Having colour throughout the year can be a bit difficult especially in colder climates. Having a wide variety of flowers that bloom at different times works best and it may take a few years to get the right balance.
Ornamental bushes and trees
One way to provide visual interest even in the depths of winter is to have evergreen bushes and trees that retain their foliage throughout the year. While they may be covered in snow during the coldest part of your winter, they still provide form to the garden instead of having just a flat expanse of yard.
However deciduous trees can be spectacular when they are in full leaf. We have a Katsura tree in our front yard – every year in spring it starts off a muted shade of yellow and red and turns green in late spring. In the fall around October or so it turns a bright orange that is so bright it colours our living room orange in the morning when the sun is shining on it.
Then there are the ornamental cherry and plum trees that line our streets here in Victoria and provide a blossom “snowfall” that other colder areas of Canada are envious of. In Japan the progression of the blooming cherry trees from the south of Japan to the north is documented on the news reports every day in early spring and visitors from around Japan and the world travel to see the amazing show that nature puts on.
Japanese maples are also a popular “transplant” from Japan here in our city and we have one in our front yard next to our pond. While it is already a muted red starting in spring and during the summer, it turns a brilliant red in fall. As with cherry trees, the progression of maples changing colour on the hillsides in Japan is also reported on the news every night.
You can have the nicest flowers, most colourful vegetables and fruits, but if your fence is falling down, you have piles of debris everywhere (I’m guilty of that) and you have tools scattered haphazardly around the garden, it will be hard to enjoy your garden visually. Unless you already have lived so long with the mess that you no longer see it.
A bit of cleanup and some light repairs can help. I went whole-hog early this spring and redid my compost and raised vegetable beds in new cedar lumber, stained a golden colour and surrounded by mulch. I also cleaned and restrained my cedar greenhouse and am working on doing the same with my deck railings. I still have to attend to the pile of used lumber and other firewood that is right now stacked up underneath my deck. It’s just a matter of having the time to tackle this big job.
Putting down a layer of mulch as a final step to tidy up garden beds and suppress weeds will also help freshen up the garden.
If you can afford it, adding lights to your landscapes is well worth the cost and effort. Gardens look different at night and lighting up pathways, significant trees and built-up structures helps to highlight the garden in a new light (pun intended). It also makes the garden safer for a nighttime stroll.
There are many options available in lighting including solar lighting that doesn’t require any wiring to make installation as simple as sticking the lights into the ground.
Just having vegetables and fruit and edible flowers in your garden is already a feast for the taste buds. However not all are that handy to eat right off the plant or tree.
Berries are great for snacking – in fact berry pickers are usually asked to sing or whistle to make sure they are not eating more than they are putting in their collection containers! Other fruit may not be as accessible if it is growing on taller trees, so you may either need a fruit picker or ladder to enjoy the tastes of an apple or a plum. If you are lucky though there will be fallen fruit – just make sure if it is damaged that it hasn’t been nibbled on by an animal or has some insect crawling around in it. The saying holds true: what is worse than finding a worm in your apple is finding half a worm!
If you do manage to get the fruit into the kitchen then you have the options of baking a pie or some other baked good, making jam, or preparing it for freezing or canning. Cooking will sometimes bring out the natural sweetness in a fruit that might not be noticeable if you eat it raw.
Fresh peas straight out of the pod are great for snacking. Tomatoes, especially cherry tomatoes, are also great for snacking right off the vine. Carrots can be plucked out of the ground and after a quick rinse can be munched on just like a rabbit. You’ll be amazed at how fresh everything tastes! Of course some vegetables benefit from some cooking even if it is just a quick steam or saute with some spices and herbs. And you never want to eat potatoes or some kinds of beans (kidney being the most dangerous) raw.
You may want to pick the herbs and use them in cooking as has traditionally been done. But some gardeners like to chew on a basil leaf or some other herb such as mint as they walk through the garden.
Texture in the garden is subtle but it is there. Especially noticeable if you happen to brush your hand against a thorny rose bush! But aside from the cuts and scrapes I usually get gardening, there are textures that don’t draw blood.
Leaves and Stems
Leaves and stems of plants can vary in texture: rubbery or waxy, fuzzy, smooth, bumpy, spiky, etc. Brushing your hands through the plant or rubbing a leaf can impart a sense of calmness and a connection to the plant and nature in general.
Hug a tree! Not only environmentalists trying to save old growth trees from the chainsaw should hug a tree. You can too. Trees have so much life running through them as their trunks are the main conduit for nutrients and water – some people can actually feel this when they hug a tree! Just don’t hug a fruit tree where you have applied a sticky band of resin – don’t ask me how I know this.
Who hasn’t walked barefoot in a lush green lawn? Connection to the earth is very important and there is actually a meditative practice of “grounding” or “earthing” that can provide many health benefits. Texture underfoot can range from the softness and coolness of grass to the more acupressure-activating bumps of walking on a pebble or stone path.
You will have to watch out for bees and wasps that might be buzzing around in the grass to avoid being stung. And if you have thorny plants like roses be careful to collect up any fallen or pruned branches as stepping on one of those when barefoot is not fun!
Hope this post has inspired you to find ways to stimulate your five senses to find calmness and tranquility in your own garden. If you have any other ways that you enjoy your garden in any of the five senses, be sure to mention them in the comments below.