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Sense Appeal!

A traditional Japanese garden is a place of peace, tranquility and harmony, a place where all the senses are satisfied.
Sounds like they’ve got it about right!

The philosophy behind their gardens relies on the basic instincts we use to decipher the world around us.

We distinguish colour through receptors at the back of the eye. The receptors decipher various light waves and our brain converts into colour. The human brain can distinguish well over 6,000,000 colours!

Brain stimulation resulting from the varying wavelengths of light picked up by our eyes produces an energy as it identifies the colour. This energy can have an affect on our moods! Look at the basic colour wheel below...some of the colours appear more dominant or ‘energized’ and you cant help noticing them, particularly yellow! In fact it is said that babies cry more, and there are even more arguments in yellow rooms! On the other hand, pink is a more tranquillizing colour and due to it’s calming affect has often been used to paint the walls in jails.

The Colour Wheel
Contrasting; Different sides of the wheel.
Opposing combinations such as red & yellow, or yellow & blue, do not compete and tend to make each ‘glow’

Complimentary; Directly opposite each other.
Still opposing and giving the maximum contrast without competing. Combinations such as red & green, yellow & purple or blue & orange.

Harmonizing; Colours that adjoin each other.
The colours ‘blend’ in with each other and appear to form sections of unified colour. Combinations of red & orange, yellow & green, blue & purple’.


Colour in the Garden

Colour has a major influence in landscape design and when helping to decide on a colour scheme it is a good idea to have an idea of the relationship between colours and the different affects they can have.

With the addition of tints or lighter or pastel colours and shades or deeper or darker colours, the range of hues are countless. However, whatever the colour, tint or shade the principles of colour relationship based on the colour wheel still remains.
When looking at the colours on the wheel some appear to leap out at you, grabbing your attention! - these are the hot colours; with their respective tints appearing warm. Some colours appear not so dominant and more stable - they are the cold colours; with tints of them appearing cool.

•  Hot, warm colours are, yellow, orange.
•  Cold, cool colours are, green, purple.

The garden’s ambience will vary as the result of using contrasting, complimentary or harmonizing colour schemes. Harmonizing colours, particularly the pastels can be used to soften an area creating a landscape restful to look at and be in. Pastel tints tend to widen or extend an area, particularly useful for background or distance planting in a small garden. Contrasting schemes on the other hand enliven, enrich and emphasize. Bright colours, hot colours are useful for sunny patios, to emphasize features, or to bring forward. The huge range of greys and white are neutral and as such useful to separate or harmonize with other colours. Plants such as Lavender, Stachys, Artemisia, Rosemary, Senecio, etc. The careful use of colour should also extend to hard landscape.

Colours are often used by plants to attract insects whilst others are used for camouflage, or to warn off predators. Colours that naturally occur in spring are the bright new greens of emerging leaves, the rich yellows of daffodils and forsythia, the pinks, blues and reds of tulips, pansies, anemones and peonies. Summer has the brightest sun and brings the bright yellows, oranges and reds of roses, sunflowers, lilies, lupins and petunias for example. Autumn is the time of the blues of the asters set against a backdrop of golden birch and the crimson, gold's, blazing reds and purple of virginian creeper, maples, stags horn. Winter has the clearest days and is the time to enjoy soft greens, blues and greys set against striking bark of red, and gold.

Remember that the majority of colour comes from foliage for most of the year and some impressive displays can be created using combinations of leaf colour. Bear in mind variegated leaves look different from a distance; they normally appear lighter.

The human brain can detect well over 10.000 various smells via the nose! Obviously not all of these are pleasant but a waft from a cottage garden in high summer certainly is! The smell from the garden is often evocative - from a bonfire in the distance to the sweet jasmine on a warm summer evening. The fragrance of a flower can lift the spirits, ease tension and create a state of well-being.

Fragrance in the Garden

Flowers have glands called Nectaries that are responsible for producing a sweet liquid to attract and reward pollinators. The scent, known as Volatile or Essential Oil, is part of the attraction process, for example - flowers pollinated at night by bats or moths, are particularly strongly scented.

The use of plants specifically for their scent to not only ‘ease the mind’ but many ailments as well, is not a recent development. It’s common knowledge that the Romans where responsible for introducing a good proportion of the plants we now grow in the garden today. Many plants they collected from around their empire were favoured for their fragrance; roses and lilies were two such plants. Throughout history, aromatic plants have been used to 'keep the air sweet' and at religious ceremonies. Fragrance Therapy is now a science in it’s own right and is widely accepted within the medical profession.

It’s not just the flowers that carry scent - don’t forget the leaves! There are plenty of plants whose foliage can be just as fragrant as flowers. These are plants that produce nectaries, or to be more specific Extrafloral Nectaries, on their foliage. These nectaries normally occur on the petiole or leaf stalk near to the junction of the leaf, or on plant hairs. Many of these plants are from hot, arid areas and the volatile oils help prevent water-loss. These would include the rock rose, myrtle and herbs such as thyme and oregano. So that’s a bit of plant scent background - how can we use scented plants to enhance our garden?

The first thing to consider is that plants release their scent at various times during the day and as we often use different areas of the garden at different times of the day, position scented plants accordingly. For good summer fragrance the obvious choice are the roses. The so-called Old Fashioned Roses are superb, as are many shrub roses. The mock oranges (Philadelphus spp.), the butterfly bush (Buddleia spp.), lilac (syringa vulgaris) and regale lilies (Lilium regale), are also well-worth including. The summer jasmine (Jasminum officianle), honeysuckle (Lonicera periclymenum) and Trachelospermum jasminoides could grow up fences or over a pergola, as could climbing roses of course. The tall rock rose Cistus x aguilarii and myrtle (Myrtus communis) give off a spicy aroma from their foliage so could be nearby. Herbaceous plants to fill the warm evenings with fragrance include stock (Matthiola longipetala), the tobacco plant (Nicotiana alata) and evening primrose (Oenothera biennis). Near border/path edges don’t forget lavender (Lavendula spp.), herbs and allow chamomile (Anthemis nobilis) to creep over path edges.

A few suggestions for spring would be the fragrant flowers and foliage of Mexican orange blossom (Choisya ternata), Viburnum spp. and the evergreen climber Clematis armandii. If you have the room and are prepared to keep on top of it when it finally gets going, Wisteria floribunda can be breathtaking for a while!

Good plants to include in the autumn would be; Osmanthus fragrans, Elaeagnus x ebbingei and Itea ilicifolia.

Scent is particularly useful to ‘bring the garden alive’ during the dull winter months and the Christmas Box (Sarcococca ruscifolia), the winter honeysuckle (Lonicera fragrantissima), Mahonia japonica, witch hazel (Hamamelis mollis), Viburnum bodnantense, and the winter daphne (Daphne odora) will do just that!

There is one final sense our garden should appeal to and that is sound... well that’s not strictly true of course, there is also touch! When we look at ways of satisfying our sense of sound we will also be making the garden more tactile - two birds with one stone you might say!

Sound in the Garden

When we consider how we can incorporate sound into the garden the first thing you think of is the leaves of plants fluttering in the breeze; as you relax on your favourite garden chair on a baking hot day, grasses rustling in the summer breeze seem to cool you down! Plant foliage, or more importantly its size and type, provides us with another opportunity to incorporate variety. As with everything in the garden diversity is the key - whether it’s flower colour or plant type, size, form and scent. Generally speaking, the smaller the leaf the more delicate the sound will be in the breeze and the shape, thickness and texture of a leaf will influence the type of sound - from wispy grasses and paper thin birch to the thick, leathery laurel. For example, the silver birch (Betula pendula), shivers in the most gentle of breeze whereas laurel (Prunus laurocerasus ‘Rotundifolia’), needs a stiff breeze to crackle and crunch it’s thick leaves! The King of the grasses, bamboo would make a wonderful rustling backdrop, particularly the black bamboo (Phyllostachys nigra), though bear in mind it can get very tall! For the garden in winter, few sounds can beat the crisp rustle of dead leaves clinging to the branches of a beech (Fagus sylvatica). Plant foliage will play a leading part in our garden orchestra but there are a few auxiliary players.

The sound of water is without doubt one that is a must and has a part to play whatever the occasion! A dramatic water-spout or an elaborate fountain adds impact and grandeur whereas a delicate bubbling or trickling cascade or water feature adds tranquility to that special little corner of the garden! I have a DIY water feature consisting of a trickling-jug near my patio doors to appreciate the sound from the lounge.

There are sounds from a garden that is, to a large extent an indicator of a gardens health and wider appeal...the creatures that live there or visit. If you have had a look at our wildlife section, I give a brief insight into how to make our garden more suitable to the needs of wildlife. One of the consequences for us of course, is to listen to them going about their life - grasshoppers clicking, bees buzzing, frogs croaking and of course, birds singing!

Wind chimes - love them or hate them? For me they’re are an asset, I have three around the garden! I have a bamboo wind chime our son bought us back from a holiday in Portugal, a small tubular-steel one that has a rich ‘fluty’ sound and a small, thin steel one with a delicate ringing sound.

The final consideration is paths. Gravel, small stones and slate make, not only a relatively inexpensive path, but the sound underfoot is an added bonus. The crunching noise of footsteps creates a rustic feel to any garden and that crunching is particularly loud in the dead of night!

We can’t finish without mentioning a few of the best tactile grasses:
Many of the Stipas would be suitable but the Feather Grass, Stipa tenuissima, with it’s delicate, wispy silky fronds, has to be one of the very best.
There are also many of the Fescues that would be suitable and this one is worth singling out; Festuca glauca 'Blue Fox'. Stunning, silvery-blue upright leaves.
Fountain Grass, Pennisetum alopecuroides. Graceful, arching, foliage with upright ‘bottlebrush’ flowers ranging from greenish-white to dark purple that last into the winter.
Last, but no means least... Carex comans. Many of the sedges are good but this bronze form is particularly nice. A clump-forming Sedge with fine, bronzy foliage that’s tinged a coppery-pink during spring and winter.



Based in Essex, England About Links Courses Contact
HA Home HowlettArtwork on Facebook! Follow HowlettArtwork on Twitter!
The Soil The Plant The Wildlife The Seasons Seasonal Planting Planting Combinations
Sense Appeal! Garden Focus WttG Visitors' Gardens Garden Beauty Garden Questions NPTC Courses