BY JOEL M LERNER
Sandra Leavitt Lerner The
A fountain enhances a landscape design.
Sandra Leavitt Lerner for Washington Post
Among the pleasant tactile sensations of the garden is the contact of ferns brushing your ankle as they spill over onto a pathway.
Sandra Leavitt Lerner for Washington Post
A garden railway can be designed and built into the landscape.
WASHINGTON, DC - It's understood among landscape designers that the aesthetics of a garden go considerably beyond visual beauty to encompass sound and touch.
Hearing twigs crack underfoot, leaves rustle overhead or a brook babble can bring back memories and enhance a walk. If you soak your feet in a stream, you're also bringing your sense of touch into play. Because water enhances the pleasure of a garden so much, it is often added to a landscape design in the form of a fountain or other aquatic feature. The sound of water, such as a cascade or waterfall, offers interest year-round.
Pets, moving water, singing birds and whistling wind melded with a passing train, plane, truck or automobile, even neighbors talking in yards close by, can combine to create a symphony in the garden. But sound also can be a cacophony you want to keep out, such as airplane and highway noise, playgrounds, dogs barking or construction.
Design your garden to incorporate or disguise noise. Engineering a fountain or other water feature can act as camouflage and conjure up images of a vacation - eating alfresco in a French cafe or being in a quiet meditation space where the sound of water becomes your mantra. Adding sound and retraining your ears to hear nature can add a new dimension to the landscape. Water is the most popular way to do that, but there are others.
With the slightest breeze, you can use specific foilage for a rustling sound. You can also use wind chimes, available in wood, bamboo, ceramic, glass and metal. My favorites are stainless steel, tuned to a specific cord, that ring like a town clock or pipe organ when the wind blows.
As with sound, there are pleasant and unpleasant experiences associated with the sense of touch. The pleasurable characteristics can be subtle, like the contact of ferns brushing, almost tickling your ankle as they spill over onto a pathway. Or maybe it's the texture of a leaf that encourages you to touch it, such as soft lamb's ears (Stachys byzantina). The furry, silvery foliage makes a pleasing perennial border where its downy leaves can be "petted", something I do almost every time I see it.
If you'd rather not bend down to pet fuzzy leaves, install olympic mullein (Verbascum olympicum). This tall (four to seven feet), long-lived perennial can be used in the border for architectural interest (six- to eight-inch-long leaves), as much as for its interesting, long-lasting flowers. Its yellow flowers are grouped on one- to two-foot-long panicles and remain colorful for six to eight weeks in summer.
If your yard has become a shortcut for the after-school crowd, thorniness can be desirable. If eroding soil and foot traffic is a problem, a thicket of native Virginia rose (Rosa virginiana), which offers flowers, fall color and thorns, may solve the problem.
I saw a clever use of a weeping blue atlas cedar (Cedrus atlantica "Glauca Pendula") at Wave Hill garden in Bronx, New York.
It was trained along a shade trellis, with its weeping branches hanging down to form a curtain that required you to part them to walk into the next garden room. Features such as this can take years to achieve their purpose but will eventually become innovative outdoor structures providing tactile design.
You can also make your garden sound and feel appealing by breaking it into rooms using plants, sitting walls or any other means of spatial enclosure. Make one of the garden rooms a drum or resonance room. A tom-tom shaped drum and padded stick set could be placed among the plants. You create the tonal quality in the space with the drumstick or simply let the drum play to the beat of a rainstorm.
Another room could house a garden railway. Get an engine with a whistle and snowplow. The "G" scale train is the most popular type and can be designed and built into the landscape.
Joel M. Lerner is president of Environmental
Design in Capitol View Park, Maryland, and
author of Anyone Can Landscape(Ball 2001).
Contact him through www.gardenlerner.com.