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Kitchen Gardening

Planting for Scent, Touch, and Sound

Our gardens should be a feast for all of the senses.

  • Lamb's Ears simply beg you to touch them.   Photo by Carl Lewis under the Creative Commons Attribution License 2.0.
  • Honesty (Lunaria) produces seed pods that rustle in the wind.   Photo by Manuel under the Creative Commons attributions license 2.0.  
  • You may not want to plant a gardenia in your vegetable garden. But you can plant one nearby so you can enjoy her fragrance. Photo by Tatters under the Creative Commons Attribution License 2.0.

Sometimes vegetable gardeners get so caught up with planting for our bellies (food), that we neglect the other senses when it comes to gardening.

Taste and sight are typically at the forefront of our minds when we plant a garden. Occasionally we’ll remember to plant for scent, while touch and sound are the last senses (if we think of them at all) that we plant for and it’s a shame. Because our gardens can — and should be — a feast for all of the senses.

Scent in the Garden

I can’t think of one good reason not to include a little scent in the garden. The difference between seeing a garden and experiencing it is fragrance. Think of using scented plants like you would salt at the dinner table. A little goes a long way, but including it makes a huge difference.

Keep in mind that plants release scent in numerous ways. Flowers offer seasonal fragrance and at the top of my scented flower list is stock, pink jasmine, gardenias, and honeysuckle vines. Then there’s chocolate cosmos, lemon verbena, and rose or peppermint scented geraniums.

Some plants produce volatile oils that release their scent when the sun warms their leaves or you brush past or stoke them. Rosemary, lavender, santolina, and southernwood are in this category.

Consider growing plants that perfume the evening or night air. Sweet Rocket (Hesperis matronalis), night-scented stock (Matthiola longipetala) and Flowering tobacco (Nicotiana sylvestris) are night scented flowers.

Look also to herbs for incorporating interest as they add color, texture, and scent to the garden.

A Touchable Garden

At first glance, having a garden that encourages touch may seem to be geared towards children. While that’s a valid reason to grow touchable plants, I’m past my childhood by forty decades…and I still like to touch.

Lamb’s ears (Stachys byzantina), the silky flowers of gladiolus or corn tassels, the smooth bark of manzanita shrub (Arctostaphylos spp.), or the rough-and-smooth textures found on a giant sunflower all fall into the touchable category.

Garden Sounds

Sounds that are born in the garden speak to us way deep down. Past the synthetic sounds of beeping, ringing, whirring, of man-made machines.

Garden sounds are buzzing bees, singing birds, rustling leaves or grasses, crunching gravel, and splashing water hitting soil…rocks…our feet. These sounds both calm and ground us. It’s not hard to intentionally plant for natural sound as well as add things such as trickling water.

Plants such as Love-in-a-mist (Nigella damascena) that develop seed pods after blooming that hold tiny seeds inside like a shaker, make a nice sound in the soft breeze. Honesty (Lunaria), develops gorgeous silvery seed heads that rustle in the wind.

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