Stephen Anderton gives some tips for Sensual Gardening
Pick up the latest gardening book and see how glam it looks. Looks...but that's all. Real gardens have far more ways than just looks of getting to you. The best ones employ all the senses at the same time, - touch, taste, hearing and smell. They are living things like us, not just images staked out upon a page. To make a garden really sing, you need to satisfy all those senses as you plant, so that being in your garden is the richest of experiences. Get it right, and you'll never want to be anywhere else.
Think about the textures you instinctively reach out for in other gardens, - the velvety, softly hairy foliage of Stachys byzantina or Inula hookeri, or the waving cobwebby flowering stems of the grass Stipa tenuissima. How could you not run your hand through them?
There are the rough textures too, of gunnera stems and leaves, and the soft 'baby hair' which covers the emerging foliage in the crown of the plant. There are pattable cushion plants like mossy saxifrages and the hard-as-nails mounds of Bolax glebaria. And there are those spiky plants which add interest by challenging you not to touch them, - agaves and yuccas and colletias.
Gardens make sounds too. I love to hear the swish of leaves from my bamboo grove on a windy summer's night, and it's a temptation always to walk through it, pushing through the yielding stems with arms about your head, even when it has rained and the leaves are heavy with droplets. It soaks you of course, but it's a good feeling, - real Adam and Eve stuff.
But garden sounds could be just bees homing in on a clump of bergamot (Monarda), or the trickle of water from a spout into a basin, or the crack of bursting Euphorbia characias seedheads on a still hot summer afternoon.
Smell is one of the most powerful of all garden sensations, and you should put plants which need rubbing to release their perfume by the side of paths. Line your veg garden path with rosemary or ladslove (Artemisia abrotanum), or surround your terrace with lavender and marjoram, and grow thyme in the paving cracks where you'll occasionally tread on it. Put a lemon verbena (Aloysia triphylla) by the back door, so that tang fills the air as you struggle to find the key with an armful of shopping bags. And have plants which fill the air too, without any rubbing, - regale lilies and lilacs and wisteria, Rhododendron fortunei, and winter-flowering Azara microphylla.
Wine tasters say taste is really 90% smell, and beside so many garden smells, taste may seem just an extra, but it's worth having, for practical purposes. Make sure you have the easy herbs, apple mint in a big pot to throw in with boiling new potatoes, and mounds of feathery green and black fennel to toss into salads with parsley. Grow the coloured-leaved forms of sage, - purple and variegated as well as the grey, as edgings in your borders. Squeeze in herbs wherever you fancy them, not just in a herb garden.
And finally? Get those shoes and socks off, and go barefoot on the lawn. Feel that cool softness. That is why you bother with all that mowing.
There are plenty of sensual plants in our catalogue range – click here to get some ideas