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Spring is Still Springing

Spring is Still Springing

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Spring is in full swing with luxurious growth everywhere. Blossoms abound; the very air trembles with scents. Everyplace we go is a veritable celebration of life. A perfect time to breath deeply, smile broadly, and enjoy your garden.

Garden Appreciation

Enjoying your garden is not as easy as it may, at first, seem. The problem is that gardeners often have a curious condition I call the "Chronic Gardening Syndrome". It is always lurking beneath the surface, and manifests by an irresistible urge to pull a weed, remove a dead flower, pinch back a growing tip, etc. There is always something to do in the garden. Always!

So a special skill has to be developed to let you just appreciate things as they are and see what is. Never mind the "what will be". For now, put all thoughts of gardening work aside and look, with the eyes, of an art critic, at the wonders that have grown here. Note that, by working backwards, these same criteria are used in designing a winner garden in the first place.

Wine tasting, art or music appreciation have their own techniques for getting the most and really experiencing the matter at hand. So too does gardening have very special ways to enjoy and fully experience all the individual parts of the garden as well as the totality.

The Big Picture

First is the big picture upon entering the garden. The look, feel, sound, and smell of the place. Upon entering, we get an immediate impression. Is it the sultry tropics, an alpine forest or a desert oasis? Are we in a Spanish patio, a casual farmyard, a formal estate, or a child's playground? Do we feel private and secluded - a secret place, or is this a public display for all to see. This is mood. This sets the tone for all else, and only within this overview will the elements combine in harmony or clash in a jarring cacophony of color and form. This level is available to everyone.

Anybody can walk in and experience the garden, but to take it to the next step and hone the senses to get the fine points takes a bit more. The senses each give us a part of the whole. By being aware of them we can get so much more.


In the garden smells are so much more than the fragrance of flowers. Of course the heady scent of roses, jasmine, honeysuckle or hyacinth are quite overwhelming. But there is so much more that the discerning nose can experience. The richness of moist earth. The nostalgic aroma of a freshly mown lawn. The leaves of conifers (evergreens), herbs, or others whose essential oils are released either through the heat or through the leaves rubbing together in the wind.

And there are the other smells that add to the picture. A barbeque or other cooking wafting in on the breeze has a strong effect on our psyche. Perhaps wood has just been cut and that sawdust smell lingers in the air. The "dark side' can also be smelled. Gasoline or other smells from power equipment. (Hey, some people like that smell and if so - enjoy! There's no accounting for taste.) Trash, a compost heap, manure, stagnant water, or the volatile plastic odor from new lawn furniture or a vinyl tablecloth can all make our stay in the garden decidedly unpleasant.

Take the test. Close your eyes and inhale deeply through your nose. Focus on what you smell. See how many other fragrances you can recognize. See how the smells change in different parts of the garden. Variations in weather will also make a difference. Once you have noted the smells, move your focus to other senses, but come back periodically to sniff the air.


We all delight in the background chirp of birds. It adds a rich dimension of life to the garden. Each species has its distinctive song, besides different calls for different purposes. Some are warning. Some are staking out a claim. And some, recent research shows, are just the bird expressing a joy in life. Time of day is a big factor here, with dawn and dusk being peak hours.

Plants have sounds, too. A wind or breeze can start many giving off sounds surprisingly unique. Listen carefully to hear the soft sighing of pines, the dryish clatter of bamboo or palms, or the rustle of poplar leaves or Tipuana fruits. This subtle background rhythm enlivens your garden. Last night, with focused ears, I took a walk specifically to hear the trees of my neighborhood. It was amazing how many subtly different voices they had.

Some go farther and add a water feature. The play of water on stone or a splash of a fountain is extremely captivating. It may take some playing to get the right angle for the right sounds. This can make all the difference between a soothing babbling brook or a tension produced by a splattering splash.

Some add the counterpoint of wind chimes. Make sure you like their sound before committing to them. Bamboo or metal have very different sounds, evoking very different moods.


The sense of touch is also important, yet overlooked in many gardens. The way the walk feels also makes a mood. Again, focus only on that and experience the difference. The hardness of a stone or concrete walk, as opposed to the bounce of wood or the slight give of a dirt path or a springy stem on lawn. Senses combine in the crunch of gravel underfoot compared to the muffled tread on bark. Even a railing, a door, a wall, a trellis all give more than just the visual effect in their part of the garden symphony.


So much is involved here that it needs an in depth treatment, but we all appreciate that design is primarily a visual effect. Look at the bigger picture. See how trees or buildings outside the garden proper are really a part of the full setting. See how the eye is drawn to focal points, or how we feel when there is no place for the eye to rest.

To really see the lighting contrasts in your garden, use an old trick of artists: squint. By narrowing your eyes you eliminate color and detail and will just see play of light and dark.

See how light changes through the day, and how different surfaces (including leaves and flowers) reflect the light differently. Some transmit light in a warm glow. Others make a dancing pattern of light as the sway slightly in a breeze.

Of course, the sights of the garden are the main feature. But awareness of all the other factors combine to give a total garden experience. The ultimate affect includes all of these. And knowing that can help you to garden better. So go out there once in a while and don't do anything except pause and enjoy your garden.

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