There are few places better for relaxing and recharging than in a garden you've created with your own hands. While spring holds a special charm with its promise of renewal, summer and early autumn provide perfect weather to enjoy the fruits of your labors and, perhaps, to add a few items that can truly engage your senses. Gardening really is a sensory experience, stimulating your sense of sight, smell, taste, sound and touch.
You might not initially think of gardening as home improvement. But adding plants and creating landscape features can bring life into your whole home -- and you can do it in a single day with a minimum of effort.
While such a project may eventually spread throughout your landscape, let's start small. Think small flower beds around a patio or a fragrant screen of roses around a pool. And, of course, container culture... a decorative pot, filled with sweet-scented annuals is the perfect small-scale project for the porch, balcony, deck, patio or front steps. Let's look at a few ways a garden will enhance your sensory experience:
A well-planned garden is harmonious - utilizing complementary or contrasting color schemes, working with a palette that blends with 'hardscaping' (arbors, fences, walls, walkways, etc.) and decorative mulches. While daytime garden viewing is in no danger of becoming obsolete, the evening garden is rapidly gaining in popularity. Moonlight gardens become increasingly important, as stressed-out homeowners seek solace at the end of the workday. Perennials and annuals with white blossoms (palest blues and pinks are also fine) or silvery foliage are most visible by night especially when washed by moonlight.
Perennials (plant these once and enjoy year after year) are particularly well-represented by the following white, summer bloomers -- rose mallow, hollyhock, astilbe, goat's beard, echinacea, campanula, lily, tall phlox, shasta daisy and dwarf bleeding heart.
Annuals (single-season plants, all summer) allow one to experiment with white, in pots as well as in garden beds. Alyssum, candytuft, petunia, cleome, swan river daisy, baby's breath, cosmos, impatients, and morning glory offer many white-flowered hybrids.
Hardy vines, like Clematis 'Henryi' (blooms all summer), Clematis paniculata (sweet autumn clematis, blooming late summer/ early fall), or variegated kiwi vine (Actinidia kolomikta - male has white, silver and pink leaf variegations) are a great way to add evening interest. They sparkle by moonlight, as they clamber up trellises or across arbors.
Accents like lamb's ears, silver mound, Japanese silver painted fern and dusty miller are wonderful silver accents. The white and creamy variegations of hosta gleam at twilight. And don't forget roses! Hardy shrub roses will border walkways or present an informal hedge. 'White Meidiland', 'Seafoam' and 'Iceberg' (floribunda) fairly glow each evening.
Top on our list for evening fragrance is the white moonflower, night-blooming cousin of the morning glory. Plant this annual vine near outdoor seating or adjacent to open windows, for an unbelievable treat. Many old-fashioned annuals possess great fragrance, with nicotiana, Virginia stock and heliotrope as prime examples. Border pathways with scented geraniums and various herbs. Plant woolly or caraway thyme between stepping stones. Essential oils are released, each time you traverse those paths making a trip through the garden a delightful and heady experience. Many old rose varieties, as well as the newer 'David Austin' roses, offer fragrance from spring until frost. You can really create quite a "scent-sational" area!
Don't relegate herbs to the vegetable garden, where their looks, scent and flavor may be "lost in the shuffle." 'Spicy Globe' basil is neat and fragrant, as a border. Lemon basil is just waiting for you to brush against it and it smells good enough to eat, so go ahead and harvest some for supper. Let oregano spill into the walkway, reminding you to try that new pasta dish tonight. Grow annual borage for its cucumber-flavored leaves, dropping the sky blue star-shaped flowers into cool, summer drinks. Apple, chocolate, pineapple and orange mint (surround roots with very deep edging, as you plant - it can be invasive) add coolness, with a twist, to entrees, desserts and beverages.
This one is easy! Plant fountain grass beside a patio or maiden grass beside a bedroom window and relax or fall asleep to the gentle rustling of the sturdy foliage. Hang a tinkling wind chime from an arbor. Raucous "buoy bell" chimes are best left to larger, common spaces within the landscape. Install a water feature for a truly soothing sound. It needn't be a garden pool or elaborate fountain. A small, ready to install water fountain can grace a deck, hang on a wall or reside on a table... just plug it in! Although birds are busily dining on insects and native plants, supplement their diet with a little wild bird food during the summer. They'll reward you with constant birdsong.
Plants with a fuzzy or "furry" leaf (like lamb's ears) are soft to the touch and absolutely delight children. Brush your hand across the hairy foliage of scented geraniums and be rewarded with the release of scented oils.
Remember, this summer project is all about having fun! Maintain a simple birdbath and enjoy the antics as birds drink and bathe. Plant a butterfly bush and keep track of the butterfly species and hummingbirds that visit summer to fall. Hang a hummingbird nectar feeder, near deck or patio, and enjoy these "flying jewels." Don't have a garden, or even a yard? Grow herbs in a big strawberry jar or in hanging pots, plant fragrant annuals in window boxes, hang some vinyl or wooden lattice for night-blooming moonflower, plug in that miniature fountain, hang a melodious wind chime and enjoy! What spa? Day or evening, you can relax in your own little world and watch as your troubles melt away. Not a bad day's work, eh?