Making Sense of this Garden

Posted by & filed under Annuals, Formal Gardens, Perennials.

Raised bed in the Sensory GardenAfter a few days, the spider lilies started to creep me out, so I left the Japanese Garden in search of a new place.  I ended up in the Sensory Garden in front of the education building.  This is a good spot for people watching – most folks walk by this garden on the way to the Rose Garden or the Children’s Garden, so you really get to see all kinds.  This garden is full of all kinds of plants as well.  After all, it is intended to appeal to all your senses.  Here are some interesting plants for each category:

Sight: Of course most people take in the garden visually as they walk by.  There is a lot to appeal to the eye.  Colorful plants like lantana, salvia, asters and cigar plant jump out for everyone.  But a closer look is worth the effort.  There Muhly grass (Muhlenbergia capillaris)are subtle colors, such as the wispy pink of the muhly grass starting to bloom.  And don’t underestimate how shades of green play, from the bright chartreuse of the sweet potato vine to the glossy dark green leaves of the spindle tree; they add to the visual richness of this garden.

Touch: The variety of texture on display provides a nice visual rhythm as you look at the garden, but really these plants are begging to be touched.  There are soft plants that you just want to stroke gently – lamb’s ears, muhly grass and the leaves of the blue star flower.  The papyrus looks feathery but it’s not.  Some plants scream stay away, tempting you to touch despite the danger.  Be careful around the vicious thorns of the hardy orange or the spiky leaves of the agave. 

Rootbeer Plant (Piper auritum)Smell: Of course plenty of plants here have strong fragrances.  Basil, rosemary, mints and other herbs share of their customary odors.  Some plants surprise you, however.  The bold leaf of the Mexican pepperleaf near the education doorway has an unexpected aroma when rubbed.  Its other common name gives you a clue, root beer plant.  The plant is fully aware of this surprising trait.  Just look at the long white flower – some shoot straight up like an exclamation point while others curl into a question mark – predicting that you will go “Huh?!?” when you smell it.

Taste: A few plants here are quite tasty.  The blueberries are quickly eaten by birds and perhaps a gardener or two.  Hardy oranges are yummy if prepared into a jam or preserve.  Some eggplants are hiding their oblong fruit behind showy annual flowers.  Of course some plants are edible, just not for people.  The balloonplant, popular with people for its delicate translucent green pods, is a member of the milkweed family.  That means this plant is a treat for monarch butterfly caterpillars.

Sound: Once you filter out the airport noise and the off and on hum of the air conditioner units nearby, this garden does have some very nice sounds.  If a Balloonplant (Asclepias physocarpa)breeze blows, many plants rustle very nicely. Other plants provide seed pods that rattle and buzzing bees add to the symphony.  This sense may be the most challenged in the garden, but the careful visitor can still find some plants that play a tune.

As I share all these wonderful traits with you, I have realized that I am the perfect plant for this garden.  I am a beautiful, cheery yellow (sight).  My toothy leaves look dangerous, but they are actually soft and kid friendly (touch).  For centuries my leaves have been used in salads and lots of people talk about dandelion wine, even if they don’t drink it (taste).  As one of the top choices for honeybees, I clearly provide a sweet perfume to attract my buzzing friends (smell).  And of course, whenever you read my blog, you hear my little voice in your head (sound).  Now if only the gardeners would listen.

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