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Bring the 5 Senses into Your Garden

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By Nzong Xiong

RISMEDIA, July 28, 2008-(MCT)-Ever smell a flower and know you’ll never forget its heady fragrance? Maybe you ran your fingers over some leaves that left you pondering the texture?

Plants can stimulate our different senses for various reasons. Flowers might have bold, exotic forms to dazzle our eyes or foliage that have soft fuzz for our fingers to touch.

Whether you garden in a container or a flower bed, try growing plants that will excite your sense of taste, smell, sight, hearing and touch.

They can add a different sensory experience to your garden that everyone can enjoy.

“Gardens are more than just something to look at,” says Leonard Ichimoto, a nurseryman at H&E Nursery in Clovis, Calif. By growing a selection of these plants, it’s another way of connecting with the earth, he says.

“If you’re a gardener, it’s a way to stimulate all the senses-not just seeing nice flowers, but also touching interesting textures and hearing sounds.”

To give you some ideas, The Bee has asked Ichimoto and Pam Geisel, the statewide coordinator for the Master Gardener Program at the University of California at Davis and a former Bee garden columnist, to jot down plant suggestions for each of the five senses.

Other plant ideas are from Cindy Krezel’s book “101 Kid-Friendly Plants” (Ball Publishing, $19.95). Plant descriptions are primarily from the “Sunset Western Garden Book” (Sunset Books, $34.95).

Taste

1. Sungold cherry tomato: Orange-colored, cherry-size tomatoes that are the “best-tasting cherry tomato on Earth!” Geisel writes.

2. Chocolate mint (Mentha piperita cv.): This herb smells like chocolate mint. “This mint is wonderful when a sprig is placed in lemonade or on chocolate desserts,” Geisel writes.

3. Pineapple guava (Feijoa sellowiana): The oval, grayish-green fruits are 1-4 inches long and have soft, sweet-to-bland pulp with flavor somewhat like pineapple.

But Ichimoto likes this plant more for its blooms, which have white petals that are slightly purple on the inside, as well as red stamens. The edible flower petals are “sweet as sugar and can be put in salads or eaten off the tree,” he writes.

4. Society garlic (Tulbaghia violacea): It has bluish-green, narrow leaves. Leaves and flower stems have an onion or garlic odor if cut or crushed. Leaves can be used in cooking.

5. Shiso (Perilla frutescens): This plant has broad, ovate, deeply toothed leaves that can get 5 inches long. Leaves can be bronzy purple or green.

Ichimoto remembers his grandmother growing this plant for pickling purposes. “It has a bitter taste, but (it) really makes Japanese ume (pickled plums or apricots) taste good,” he writes.

See

1. Abelia x grandiflora “Kaleidoscope”: A compact shrub with variegated green, pink and yellow leaves and white flowers. The foliage “turns really red in winter,” Ichimoto writes.

2. Angel’s trumpet (Brugsmansia): A large woody shrub that produces large pink, apricot or yellow bell-shaped blossoms.

3. Maidenhair tree (Ginkgo biloba): A deciduous tree with broad, fan-shaped foliage. “The ginko leaf is beautiful and elegant in shape with startling yellow foliage in the fall,” Geisel writes. “The tree is a great pest-free garden tree.”

4. Garden hydrangea (Hydrangea macrophylla): A deciduous shrub with thick, shiny, coarsely toothed leaves and clusters of white, pink or blue flowers, depending upon the soil’s pH. “Treat the plants with aluminum sulfate for dark blue flowers-a visual treat!” Geisel writes.

5. Coral bark maple (Acer palmatum “Sango Kaku”): A vigorous, upright, treelike Japanese maple that has yellow fall foliage. “In the winter, when the leaves are gone, this variety of Japanese maple has striking coral-pink branches that really stand out,” Ichimoto writes.

Hear

1. Golden rain tree (Koelreuteria paniculata): A deciduous tree that has showy 8-14-inch flower clusters in early to midsummer and seedpods in the fall. “When (the pods) rattle, they make an interesting sound,” Geisel writes.

2. Chinese lantern plant (Physalis alkekengi): A perennial often grown as an annual, it produces decorative, papery, 2-inch calyxes that resemble lanterns. “The lanterns rustle in the wind,” Geisel writes.

3. Bamboo: When the wind blows through a clump of bamboo, it creates a rustling sound, Ichimoto says.

4. Palm trees: “I love the sound of the palm tree leaves rubbing together in the wind,” Geisel writes. It “makes me think of paradise.”

5. Southern magnolia (Magnolia grandiflora): An evergreen tree that grows large, white flowers that are 8-10 inches in diameter.

While the tree itself doesn’t make any sounds, what the blooms attract does. “The big white flowers in early summer are inviting to the bees,” Geisel writes. “Their buzzing when you walk under them is striking.”

Touch

1. Lamb’s ear (Stachys byzantina): A perennial with dense, ground-hugging rosettes of soft, thick, woolly white leaves.

2. Fiber optic grass (Isolepis cernua): A perennial that grows small brown flower spikelets at the ends of drooping, threadlike green stems. It “feels funny when you touch this marsh grass,” Geisel writes.

3. Flannel bush (Fremontodendron): An evergreen shrub or tree with leathery leaves that are dark green above and felted underneath. It has showy, yellow blooms. The leaves are “like sandpaper, really rough and stiff,” Ichimoto writes.

4. Cockscomb (Celosia): There are two main types: one kind of cockscomb has plumy flower clusters that look like tangled masses of yarn in shades of pink, orange, red, gold and crimson. The other kind has velvety, fan-shaped flower clusters of yellow, orange, crimson, purple and red.

5. Pussy willow (Salix discolor): A deciduous tree or shrub that grows 15-25 feet tall and 12-15 feet wide. The catkins of male plants are soft, silky and pearl gray.

Smell

1. Pink breath of heaven (Coleonema pulchrum): An evergreen shrub with tiny pink flowers and “wispy foliage,” Ichimoto writes.

“Brush up against it or pinch a stem and you get this wonderful fragrant scent. If women smelled this good, no man would be single.”

2. Gardenia (Gardenia jasminoides): An evergreen shrub with glossy bright green, lance-shaped leaves and intensely fragrant, single or double white flowers.

3. Sweet olive (Osmanthus frangrans): An evergreen shrub with oval, glossy medium-green leaves that can grow to 4 inches long. It has a “sweet apricot smell in late summer on tiny white flowers,” Geisel writes.

4. Chocolate-scented daisy (Berlandiera lyrata): Sometimes called chocolate flower, this bushy perennial grows yellow blooms with red-striped undersides and chocolate-colored stamens. The flowers have a fragrant chocolate smell.

5. Lemon verbena (Aloysia triphylla): A deciduous or semievergreen shrub with lemon-scented foliage.

“The lemon fragrance is clean, sweet and lovely,” Geisel writes. “One whiff of the smell, and I predict you will not want to live without this luscious-smelling herb.”

© 2008, The Fresno Bee (Fresno, Calif.).
Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.

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