As I start to consider my senses, I very quickly become aware that my nose is working overtime due to a couple of rusting but beautifully shaped tin containers, both full of very sweetly scented hyacinths. I was given the containers a few years back but this is the first year that I’ve been realistic and selected something appropriate to plant in them, and these last ten days or so they’ve blossomed perfectly.
Sense of Sound
Searching beyond the heady scent of hyacinths which are now overpowering the viburnum behind, it is my hearing that is next triggered. Taking a few moments to tune in, I first begin to hear machinery from a nearby housing development, thankfully though the noise is muffled due to distance!
A few seconds later and sounds from a lofty jet plane can be heard, again at such a mileage that it fails to interrupt my thoughts, unlike the small planes that pass much nearer on a circuit from a local airfield – although, even those have long since passed into the accepted local sounds that make up the brilliantly diverse area in which I live.
Before long all mechanised sound fades away and peace blankets the gardens around and about, that is, until I tune in to the bird calls and bee buzzing. I first connect with starlings clicking, rasping and whistling, although they’re nowhere to be seen. However, I’ve hardly completed that last sentence before a tall robin booms confidently from the birch tree just beyond the garden wall.
A few minutes later and a Jenny wren also appears on the fence top for ten seconds or so, adding a few notes to the symphony. I continue to sit very still and a house sparrow stops in the top of a firethorn, emphatically fluttering from tree, to wall, to shrub, when almost immediately I begin to hear cooing from wood pigeons on rooftops here and there. Like it or not, the birds add a hugely important element to the gardens, and so a little seed, a suet block and some water is worth every effort to make them welcome.
Now to hit a few low notes, when on this warm spring day I begin to pick up another intriguing layer of sound. As intense as this buzzing is though, it isn’t as I first thought a bee humming above the garden, but a hover fly – a fly in a bee’s clothing that is, with a much softer buzz. This little garden visitor hangs in the air, brazenly in the very middle of the garden I might add, picking up aromas in the breeze I guess.
Having first heard and now observed the hover fly – I might not have if I hadn’t stopped to consider my senses, I next observe that bees themselves aren’t actually stopping in the garden for long today. I can hear them clearly, and one or two have looped up and over the wall, and down around the foliage, but there’s not much drinking going on at all, strangely. Maybe my garden nectar bank could do with a little more investment in the form of a few more early season flowers. Importantly, I might not have noticed this if I hadn’t stopped to listen, and I mean really listen to the sounds in my garden today.
Sense of Sight
Stopping now to consider the garden view that spans out beyond my screen, and there aren’t vast acres I can assure you, I still see green; lots and lots of green. It’s a very humble lot as gardens go, but it’s full of plants that are showing their keenness to get growing in twenty twenty one. Seemingly everywhere I look just now there’s a recently opened flower, a bursting bud or a blade of growth freshly emerging from a stem or the soil.
My garden view is, for me at least, a sight to behold. Shaded and compact it might be, and something of a rented hotchpotch, but it’s my garden, and it’s full of plants that I’ve collected or grown from a seeds or a cuttings. To be able to look upon each of these beauties on any given day is to remember the journey I’ve had with each and every one. Yes, looking upon a plant might encourage me to recall a tale of woe, yet more often it’ll be a tale of joy, and don’t we all live for those encounters?!
Sense of Taste
Okay, so far I’ve considered the sense of smell, sound and sight, so next in line is the taste test. Now, if I were to suggest I could actually taste my garden right now, it would be something of a lie, unless the chocolate filled pastry I’ve just woofed down with coffee counts? Maybe not…
Seriously though, I have to confess that the garden just isn’t tickling my taste buds just now.
Last year however, I can remember vividly the taste of onions and tomatoes, peas and pea shoots following a spring of lockdown seed sowing. There were also chilli peppers and potatoes, radishes and basil; it was quite a grow from home year all things considered.
Sense of Touch
As for touch, and to finish this sensory spell in my garden I’m going to attempt to feel my way around. First stop on my tour is a dirt splashed, bulbous blue glazed pot right beside my chair. As I reach down into the middle of the pot, my thumb and forefinger squeeze a strong pencil like spike of new growth that is signalling, just like its neighbours, its intent for the growing season ahead.
Just a little further into the garden and amongst a collection of terracotta and clay coloured pots, I now crouch down to lift the head of a cute little snakes head fritillary flower. Gently, as gently as I can that is, I pinch a petal between my thumb and forefinger, and pulling carefully away feel a waxy texture across the surface of its painterly chequered petal.
Around the single pot of establishing fritillaries are numerous other containers, some covered across their surface with fresh blue-green tulip leaves of maybe six inches from base to tip. Every leaf appears to have twisted and buckled as it has unfurled, yet every apex points purposely outwards, looking to make its own way.
These tulip leaves, despite knowing that raindrops shoot across their surface have a soft, textured feel, not slippery as I’d imagine. Mind you, even though it’s tempting, I’m not going to run my fingers through the nest of tulip leaves in case I snap one of the long awaited flower stems that are emerging like beaks looking for nourishment.
Now, at this point I’m not going to head down the hole of exploring more of the many senses, as five is more than enough for one of my posts. But, I will look to finish by saying a tiny bit more about what my sensory garden means, especially as I sit here now and consider how I connect with it.
I see my garden as a nectar withdrawal place for passing insects, and a feeding place for feathered friends – even the odd mouse on occasion too. I feel a connection with my humble garden that no other place can provide, giving as it does a largely private space in which to unwind and recharge my batteries.
I feel the pull of my garden even when I’m working away, knowing that my own garden plot needs attention too. On returning home from any day working in any given garden, I’m scanning my front and side borders to see what’s changed. Honestly, the roof of the house could have been removed and I’m sure I’d not notice, so fixed am I on the plants I’ve chosen to dress its lower brickwork.
Once inside I’m not much better I have to say. Naturally my family comes first, but next on my priority list is a trip to the rear windows to look at the view I’ve seen a thousand times before. It hardly changes by the day, even by the week, but then everything changes too. Different light, a new bird, a new flower, a weedy pot; it never stays the same for long. There’s always something for me to see with a new day’s eyes.
My garden therefore, even with its motley appearance has turned into a sensory garden whether I planned it or not. It’s full of things that force me, in a very gentle way to interact. As soon as I step into the garden I’m immersed in a multi-sensory environment with sounds, sights and smells that envelope me instantly – even if sometimes I’m not even aware of it.
I don’t quite know what I’d do without access to a garden, but I know I’d be much poorer and probably lifeless without it. Here’s to my garden, to any garden in fact and their multitude of layers. Here’s to the fantastic array of wildlife that freely performs and animates, to the foliage and flowers that fill the air with scent and continually renew their offer, and here’s to the fruits that are given with just a little effort to nourish and enrich us from within. Aren’t gardens simply amazing?!
Until next time, thanks for stopping by. Kind regards, Gary Webb.