A multisensory garden incorporates sight, sound, smell, taste, and touch. Sight is the most obvious sensory experience of a garden, but there are many other senses engaged in the experience of a garden. Enriching a garden to engage each sense removes sterility in life and creates a connection between the brain and the body.
This Instructable describes ways of incorporating the senses into the garden for a holistic experience that goes beyond landscape design. This Instructable does not presume to show how the garden should be used for specific psychological or spiritual healing. The gardener should tailor the garden to meet individual and personal needs and create a conscientious space filled with meaning and life experience.
This Instructable also includes a few tips and tricks to make gardening easier. While the labor of gardening certainly adds to the experience of a garden and is frequently gratifying, gardening is not always easy. It can be tiring, painful, and difficult, but there are places to make the work easier. When you can catch a few breaks and work smarter, not harder, you have more time to spend enjoying what you've created. Hopefully, there's at least one tip that you didn't know already.
Multisensory, Holistic Gardening (Steps 1-6)
Remember Wildlife in the Garden
Gardening Tips and Tricks (Steps 7-22)
Tip 1: Overwinter in Jars
Tip 2: Paint Garden Tools
Tip 3: Take Cuttings for Overwintering
Tip 4: Prevent Plant Tag Fading
Tip 5: Stake Graptopetalum and Other Succulents
Tip 6: Clean Tools with Sand and Oil
Tip 7: Mulch Potted Plants
Tip 8: Make Custom Tree Hangers
Tip 9: Create a Landscaping Cheat Sheet
Tip 10: Share Cuttings with Neighbors, Friends, and Family
Tip 11: Plant after Putting down Weed Barrier and Mulching
Tip 12: Increase Drainage if Water Is Love
Tip 13: Create a Hose Guide with Rebar and Wine Bottles
Tip 14: Prevent Potting Soil from Falling Out
Tip 15: Scorch Weeds
Tip 16: Fertilize in a Tub
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Step 1: Sight
As sight is the most obvious sensory experience of a garden, it is an appropriate beginning. Sights within a garden range from plants to ornamentation to architectural structure, and each component should be considered for the overall visual experience.
With varied plants, there are varied sights. Plants can be green, blue, red, white, purple, etc. They can be small or large. They can be deciduous or evergreen. Consider what you will see through each season of the year when selecting plants. Bulbs might be great for spring through fall, but a yaupon with berries won't disappoint during the winter months. Additionally consider foliage in addition to the blooms and vice versa. There are many colorful leaves that can be enjoyed throughout the year, and there are a great many varieties of blooms, berries, and seeds that are beautiful in each stage. The seeds of a canna are just as intriguing as the blooms. Select colors that are special to you.
Ranging from the fantastic to the understated, garden ornaments add focus, personality, and charm. You can select gazing balls, beautiful boulders, pots, and even the much maligned garden gnome. This is the easiest place to add instant personalization to a garden and provide reminders of the healing process. You can add signs with special meanings or reminders of positive experiences. You can keep it serene and minimalist to eliminate distractions and provide a space for meditation and personal reflection.
You can build a retaining wall out of stone or metal. Your pathways can be hardwood mulch or flagstone. You can fence with split rails or glass bottles. These largely functional structures still add to the visual impact of a garden and will last for months or centuries with proper maintenance. Make conscientious choices when selecting materials and placement, and imagine their functionality and aesthetic for garden experiences.
Step 2: Sound
Sound in a garden can be the traffic of a busy intersection near your home, but it's potentially preferable to have the crunching of gravel as you walk along a path or the melody of a wind chime as auditory fodder. There are a variety of sounds to experience within a garden. Some of these sounds include: the rustling of leaves and blades of ornamental grass, a fountain or stream, or acorns tapping the ground on their descent from a tall oak tree.
Note on Wind Chimes:
For those of you who may be turned off wind chimes because of past experiences, try some of the more expensive varieties if your budget allows. My favorite manufacturer of wind chimes is a local company called Music of the Spheres, and they offer a large variety of chimes with a large variety of sounds. I am not paid to talk about them or anything, but I was a nonbeliever in chimes until I heard these. There are other excellent manufacturers as well. This just happens to be one I'm familiar with. I have mine outside my bedroom window where I can hear it as I go to sleep and listen to it when I'm wandering the yard.
Step 3: Smell
Fragrance is too often overlooked in favor of larger, brighter, longer-lasting blooms which is why so many flowers at florist shops smell like nothing, and scent is often forgotten entirely when selecting plants generally. Sweetly scented roses and lavender are sensory explosions, but beyond blooms, there are also sweetly scented leaves such as artemisia and canyon daisy. Brushing by either will release a gorgeous perfume into the air, and for those with a deer problem, they are deer resistant as well.
Step 4: Taste
In order to graze as you gaze, you have to include a few edibles. Herbs are by far the easiest to incorporate into a garden, and some very attractive ones include rosemary, purple sage, and chocolate mint. For some non-herb edibles, there are pansies, nasturtium, rainbow chard, dinosaur kale, variegated satsuma, blackberry bushes, and dandelions. Even weeds can add sensory delight in a garden. Packing edibles among ornamentals is more engaging than ornamentals or edibles alone unless you have a panache for beautiful French kitchen gardens.
Step 5: Touch
Tactile sensations run the gamut in a garden. There's the wind and sun against your face. There's the transition from flagstone to soft grass. There's the velvety softness of lamb's ear and the cat's-tongue roughness of a lantana leaf. Contrast heightens the sense of touch and brings it into consciousness. Consider what you will feel sensually within the garden and what your plants and materials feel like.
Step 6: Remember Wildlife in the Garden
To cover many sensory experiences in a garden, consider the impact your garden has on wildlife and encourage a variety of wildlife to be a part of the experience. Buzzing, darting, pollinating, twittering, crawling. If insects like bees are attracted, then you probably have some sweetly scented plants with bright blooms, and because of global declines in bee populations, it's probably a good idea for the planet to encourage as many of them to feast on your plants. You will see them, hear them, smell what they smell, touch what they touch, and eat what they pollinate. If you get the bees, you will probably get a large variety of other insects such as dragonflies, butterflies, moths, wasps, and ladybugs. Not all of them will exactly be great news, but it means your garden is doing well. In defense of wasps, I should mention that they are great pollinators and help control pesky bug populations that might be destroying your plants. You might want to discourage them from nesting near your front door, but don't flatter yourself too much - they really aren't that interested in you. And of course, there are always birds which are easy to coax into the garden with some seed and fresh water.
Step 7: Gardening Tip 1 Out of 16
Gardening Tip 1: Overwinter in Jars
When it comes to overwintering, one of the trickiest things is water and humidity. For small plants, you can easily place them in jars, terrariums, or fish tanks to keep humidity high and the plants thriving.
- Water the plants well.
- Allow the pot to dry slightly.
- Place the potted plant on a bed of horticultural charcoal.
- Place jar/terrarium/tank in a bright window.
Step 8: Gardening Tip 2 Out of 16
Gardening Tip 2: Paint Garden Tools
Hand tools are incredibly easy to lose, especially if you're as absent-minded as I am. Paint them a bright color that stands out in the landscape. White, metallics, and red are unusual colors in a landscape and stand out easily against greens and browns.
- Clean the tools well.
- Sand very lightly to remove rust and debris.
- Wipe down.
- Apply several coats of spray paint.
Step 9: Gardening Tip 3 Out of 16
Gardening Tip 3: Take Cuttings for Overwintering
Coleus is an immensely popular annual, but you're never guaranteed the possibility of finding the exact same one next year. Each variety comes and goes with the gardening fashion and trends, and if you really enjoy a variety, your only sure way of ensuring you keep it is to overwinter the plant. Rather than overwintering entire plants, consider overwintering cuttings which are much easier to recover from a planting bed and require far less room.
- Cut a fresh, healthy, succulent portion of the stem.
- Remove lower leaves only leaving a few on top.
- Place the stems into fertile, fast draining soil so that the upper leaves are just above the soil line.
- Tent if humidity is low.
You will have to maintain the cuttings just as you would a houseplant. When nightly lows are comfortably in the 40s, you can start acclimating them to the outdoors.
While I'm using coleus for this example, you can do this for a large variety of plants.
Step 10: Gardening Tip 4 Out of 16
Gardening Tip 4: Prevent Plant Tag Fading
It's near impossible to keep a plant tag looking nice, but I got a great tip at a nursery once for keeping plant tags readable for a good long time.
- Clean off the tag.
- Write the label with permanent marker.
- Do a quick coat of clear spray paint.
- Apply a couple more coats after the first quick coat has dried.
Step 11: Gardening Tip 5 Out of 16
Gardening Tip 5: Stake Graptopetalum and Other Succulents
Graptopetalum is one of the EASIEST succulents to propagate. All you need is a good, healthy leaf. However, leaves tend to migrate in a pot, so consider fencing your leaves with a few toothpicks.
- Place the leaf where you would like it to grow in the pot.
- Stick a few toothpicks around the leaf.
Step 12: Gardening Tip 6 Out of 16
Gardening Tip 6: Clean Tools with Sand and Oil
Gardening tools, especially pruners, become horribly rusty very quickly with only a little bit of neglect, but there is an easy way to remove rust and prevent it in the future.
- Fill a container with sand.
- Add a bit of oil (e.g., mineral oil).
- Stab tools into the sand/oil mixture.
- Wipe away sand and residue.
Step 13: Gardening Tip 7 Out of 16
Gardening Tip 7: Mulch Potted Plants
Mulch does a lot of things. It helps retain moisture and prevent evaporation. It helps to keep soil in place. It prevents soil from splashing onto plant leaves during a heavy rainfall. It just plain looks good. For all the reasons you mulch a garden bed, you should also mulch your potted plants. You can use glass pebbles, stones, hardwood mulch, seashells, wine corks, beads, and just about anything that will stay relatively in place and won't hurt your plant.
Step 14: Gardening Tip 8 Out of 16
Gardening Tip 8: Make Custom Tree Hangers
Tree branches range all over the place. They can be close to the ground or really, really high in the air which makes premade hangers a bit tricky to use. When I was visiting Zilker Botanical Garden in Austin, I finally looked to see how their staghorn ferns were hanging under a gorgeous oak tree, and wow, their hangers were ingenious. They protected the tree, could be used on low or high branches, allowed for branch growth, and kept the baskets at a waterable height.
- Remove the valve section of a bicycle inner tube.
- Roll a bicycle inner tube back onto itself.
- Cut both ends to a reasonable length removing the middle portion of the tube to allow water to escape.
- Run a length of chain through the tube and attach a carabiner.
- Place the inner tube portion over a branch and clip the carabiner to the hanging portion of the chain.
- Hang a potted plant at the desired height from the ground.
- Cut excess chain.
Step 15: Gardening Tip 9 Out of 16
Gardening Tip 9: Create a Landscaping Cheat Sheet
It's always a nightmare to go inside the house after a tiring day of working in the garden only to discover the phone is out and suddenly remember that where you were digging was right near the phone line. I'm just saying theoretically of course because it's obviously never happened to me... So I created my very own Landscaping Cheat Sheet so I'll always know approximately where the utility lines are and whom to call should anything go wrong. Just print it out, fill out the details, and mark the utility lines on your property.
Step 16: Gardening Tip 10 Out of 16
Gardening Tip 10: Share Cuttings with Neighbors, Friends, and Family
It pays to be generous even if the generosity comes with a motive. For one reason or another, no judgment, plants don't always make it through the winter, which is why it's best to hedge bets on plants potentially making it through the winter at the homes of other people. During the fall, when temperatures are still warm enough, share cuttings of plants with neighbors, friends, and family. This will give the plants enough time to root and get comfy without the strain of summer or the agony of the great indoors. If your plant doesn't make it, perhaps you can get a cutting of the plant in the spring.
Step 17: Gardening Tip 11 Out of 16
Gardening Tip 11: Plant after Putting Down Weed Barrier and Mulching
I have tried several different tactics when it comes to weed barrier and planting and have finally decided that it's best to put down the barrier and the mulch before the plants with the exception of large plants such as trees and shrubs.
- Put down weed barrier and mulch.
- Place plants where you would like them.
- Scoop away mulch from the planting spot.
- Cut an X into the barrier.
- Shovel dirt into a wheelbarrow or bucket.
- Add appropriate amount of dirt back into the hole.
- Smooth barrier around the plant.
- Return mulch.
Step 18: Gardening Tip 12 Out of 16
Gardening Tip 12: Increase Drainage if Water Is Love
If you're the type of person who believes water is love and just can't understand why all of your plants don't appreciate your love, then you might want to add some extra drainage to your pots. You can add perlite, vermiculite, sand, rocks, grit, etc. and use unglazed terracotta pots. The goal is to allow the soil to drain away some of the excess lovin' that your plants might not enjoy so very much. If you can't change your gardening behavior, you can at least tailor the soil.
Step 19: Gardening Tip 13 Out of 16
Gardening Tip 13: Create a Hose Guide with Rebar and Wine Bottles
Running over plants with a heavy, water-filled hose is not what plants like best. What plants like best is a hose guide, and there are a huge variety of them. One very simple and inexpensive one is a wine bottle.
- Plot where your hose needs to travel to reach all your plants.
- Pound a piece of rebar into the ground with a rubber mallet at each change of direction.
- Place a wine bottle over the rebar.
Step 20: Gardening Tip 14 Out of 16
Gardening Tip 14: Prevent Potting Soil from Falling Out
Martha Stewart is keen on shards of pottery for preventing soil from draining out the holes at the bottom of a pot, but I'm not. I like the water to drain as quickly as possible and the soil to stay in the pot as much as possible which is why I use a piece of metal cage wire and a bit of gravel.
- Cut a piece of metal cage wire to fit in the bottom of your pot.
- Hold in place with a finger.
- Add gravel to just cover the hole or the bottom of the pot.
Step 21: Gardening Tip 15 Out of 16
Gardening Tip 15: Scorch Weeds
Some weeds are just about impossible to dislodge especially if they've found their way into small cracks in the pavement. You can certainly use herbicides like horticultural grade vinegar or small prying tools like a screwdriver, or you can go for a high-propane approach and scorch them to death! It's immensely gratifying and very, very easy.
- Attach a propane torch to a tank of propane.
- Ignite the propane.
- Adjust flows.
- Burn weeds until black.
Step 22: Gardening Tip 16 Out of 16
Gardening Tip 16: Fertilize in a Tub
Many potted plants and hanging baskets are in near constant need of fertilizer, and fertilizing them can be tricky. The fertilizer and water can run out. The plant might get too much or too little. It's hard to know what to do with left over fertilizing solutions. Stuff. However, a tub makes the process much simpler.
- Fill a tub with a diluted solution of fertilizer and water.
- Place the plant in the tub to absorb the solution for a few minutes.
- Remove plant and place near a landscape plant that also needs fertilizer.
- Return plant to its spot.
- Fertilize remaining landscape plants with the remaining solution.
Step 23: More Gardening Tips and Ideas
For more gardening tips and ideas, please see my other Instructables:
Confessions of a Serial Plant Collector
Make Your Own Pot Lifter
Remove Cactus Thorns with Ease
Coastal Floral Arrangement with Succulents
Turn Your Front Yard into a Garden
Grow Onions from Discarded Onion Bottoms
Garden in the Hell Strip
Grow a Lawn of Truncata for the Holidays (and the Rest of the Year)