PUBLISHED: 10:00 17 October 2014
Most of us, when we think of a beautiful garden, think of colourful flowers and glorious scent but there's so much more we can enjoy. Exeter-based garden designer REBECCA WELLS shows how easily you can make your garden one which delights all your senses
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Each participant in WESC Foundation’s Open Gardens event will receive a fundraising pack with seeds, top tips and guidance on how to host an event
WESC Foundation fundraising manager Jon Duckham with garden designer Rebecca Wells
Rebecca Wells surveys WESC Foundation’s sensory garden
Plants are what make a garden what it is, yet there’s much more to them than the colour of their flowers – although one can have fun with building pleasing planting schemes of restful pastels or riotous clashes.
Hedges and trees give an abiding structure so that, even in the depths of gloomy winter, their clipped forms and bare shapes have a sculptural quality. Evergreens add weight to the winter tracery and, without summer colour, it is easier to appreciate the form of each plant. Plants can have an almost “visual” texture; think of the solidity of a clipped yew as opposed to the gauziness of fennel.
Scent, too, is important and can be so evocative. It is personal in that what I may find heavenly, you may find too cloying or may not be able to smell at all. Some garden scents are decidedly disgusting; the aptly named skunk cabbage, quite frankly, stinks. Children find that delightful!
Scents change with the seasons; in winter and early spring scent is important to attract the few insect pollinators and so is incense-strong, meanwhile summer’s quintessential scent is mown grass and autumn is marked by damp fallen leaves, bonfires and that particular “smell” of cold But what about our other senses? If we grow plants which we can eat, suddenly the garden becomes a place to explore in order to see what is ready. A fruit tree, with spring blossom, summer shade, autumn fruit and colour and a pleasing winter outline is a valuable addition to any garden.
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The smallest space has room for a few salad plants or a wigwam of runner beans and getting children interested in “growing their own” is a brilliant way of encouraging them to eat what they’ve grown, especially if meals can be eaten or cooked outside. The aromatic foliage of culinary herbs flavours our cooking and many make really good garden plants.
We may brush against these herbs as we move through the garden, releasing the scent of their leaves but if we are “hands on” there are other textures to experience; slip off your shoes and walk barefoot on the lawn, stroke Stachys byzantia’s furry leaves (what we, as children, knew as Bunnies’ Ears), touch the mahogany trunk of a Prunus serrula, as smooth as an expensively polished antique or get your hands dirty and get in touch with your soil, so you can understand it better.
For many of us, the garden is an oasis away from the hustle and bustle of normal life. It is not easy, however, to remain focused within the garden if we are distracted by external noise. If we can introduce sound, our attention is held within the garden. Wind-chimes or a “deer-scarer” will do the job, but be careful not to introduce a jangle. Natural sounds might include water bubbling in a fountain either in a pool or on the wall, the different sound of our feet on lawn, gravel or paving, the dry rattle of seed-heads or the wind through the leaves.
Encouraging wildlife into our gardens adds hugely to our experience. Their presence is a sign that the garden is working; a sort of blessing. Insects will come to a wide variety of nectar-rich flowers all year. Birds will enjoy feeders and a bowl of water to drink and bathe in.
A small pond is simple to make and it is amazing how quickly pond creatures will find it. Frogs and other amphibians will breed there. If you are relaxed about being too tidy, leaving some piles of logs to rot or stones in the shade, you will be providing much-needed cover for all sorts of creatures. Your garden will become a much more vital, dynamic, exciting and enjoyable place with layers of rich sensory experience.