Awaken Your Senses in the Garden

“I go to nature to be soothed and healed, and to have my senses put in order.”
–  John Burroughs

Have you visited our gardens recently? Some blooms are starting to fade away but there is still plenty of color and interest. Sarah has done a wonderful job designing so that there’s always something in bloom throughout the garden out back and the Topsham Garden Club makes sure you are greeted with attractive plantings each time you visit. The weather has been lovely as of late. Why not take a stroll through our grounds the next time you visit? Before you do, may I share a secret with you? To enjoy the full beauty the garden offers, you must slow down and engage all of your senses. A world of details and sensations will open up for you and you’ll notice things that perhaps you haven’t before.

The more senses you use, the more information you will receive. Since each sensory system utilizes different parts of the brain, you’re also boosting your brain power; combining the use of one’s various senses leads to more and stronger connections within the brain and the result is a more thorough, meaningful experience. In addition, there’s increasing science-based evidence that tells us time spent in nature is good for us. A quick online search will lead you to some of the studies in a promising, growing collection. Benefits being reported include:

  • reduced stress and anxiety and lower risk of depression
  • improved blood pressure and cholesterol
  • better able to direct attention / focus
  • feeling more positive emotions and outlook on life
  • an increase in compassion, generosity and other prosocial behaviors.

I’m guessing that you already know through personal experience that you simply feel better and your mood is improved after spending some time outside. It takes only a few moments of your day to enjoy nature and reap the benefits. Here are some things to try to awaken your senses in the garden:

Before you begin, stand still for a moment to take in the general sights, sounds, smells, temperature, sun and breeze on your skin. Take a few deep breaths and center yourself in the present moment.

Patterns: The gardens are full of patterns! Pause to look at any one plant and you’re sure to notice a variety. Look for spirals & coils, symmetry, fractals & branching, spheres & circles, stars, spots & stripes. I’ve provided a book list below if you’re interested in learning more about patterns in nature.  Some of them are children’s books but I recommend you still take a peek.

Textures: When is the last time you felt a leaf out of curiosity? Chances are likely that is has been a while. It’s so easy for us adults to become indifferent to things we have experienced often enough. Reconnect with your childlike wonder and notice how some of the plants feel. The Lamb’s Ear is a favorite for children and adults alike – it’s so soft and fuzzy! Try contrasting the texture of the stiff Yucca leaves with some delicate and frilly leaves. I recommend you also feel both the top side and under of different leaves. Trust me, the two sides can feel quite different on many leaves.

Scents: You may be surprised to learn which plants in the garden have unique scents and that it’s not just flowers that can smell good. Rub the foliage of the Yarrow and take in the scent left on your fingers. Take a whiff of the flowering panicles of the Prairie Dropseed grass. What do you think it smells like? I’ve heard everything from cilantro to vanilla to buttered popcorn. What other plants can you find that have unique scents? Don’t be afraid… experiment a little and take a sniff.

Sounds: One of my favorite discoveries in the garden is that the dried seed pods of the False Indigo sounds like a rattle when shaken. Now I can’t help give them a shake when I pass by in late summer or fall. I also like how the stiff Yucca leaves sound against one another when I wiggle my hand back and forth among them. Notice other sounds around you – the breeze through tall grasses, birds calling, crickets chirping, etc. Closing your eyes can help you focus more when listening.

Color & Light: Compare and contrast the shades of green. You’ll find deep greens with a red or purple tint, pale yellow-greens, blue and silvery greens. Watch how foliage colors change throughout the seasons. Notice how light and shadows play on the plants highlighting certain features, changing the tone of a color, adding depth and contrast.

“Nature will bear the closest inspection. She invites us to lay our eye level with her smallest leaf, and take an insect view of its plain.”
–   Henry David Thoreau

If you have only a few brief moments or want to start with a limited amount, I suggest the following plants as you’ll be able to explore through most, if not all, of your senses.

  • Yarrow
  • Russian Sage
  • Wooly Thyme
  • Lamb’s Ear
  • Dianthus
  • Catmint
  • Salvia
  • Mullein

Be sure to visit regularly. You’ll notice something different each time you do and you’ll be well on your way to developing keener observation skills and awareness of the natural world.

Until next time, stay curious & get outside to notice nature!

(your friendly library nature nerd)

Resources to cultivate your curiosity: