We experience the world primarily through our five senses. We seek out the things that please our eyes, we put much stock into how delicious our food taste, and we allow music or sounds to determine our moods. And gardens are truly the realm of the senses. Here lies the challenge in designing gardens — it must appease the senses. Too many gardens are created as technical masterpieces but without any connection to humans. Just because a garden has a display of exotic plants and expensive furniture doesn’t mean it has a soul.
Conversely, the simplest garden, tended with love and nurtured through the years, can deliver great joy to those who visit it.
Only those who have experienced it know the feeling — the sheer sensual pleasure of seeing your beautiful front yard every day. Your mood brightens the minute you step into your garden andall your worries start to melt away almost immediately.
Today, I offer some insights into my philosophy when designing a garden — an approach I call “revisiting the five senses”.
Sight Just as art schools teach what is considered beautiful, so it is with your garden. There are certain “rules” you must heed if you want to derive maximum visual benefit.
• Focal Point: This is the heart of the garden. Without one, the design lacks coherence and may seem disorderly. Focal points can be a pond or water feature, an unusual tree or even a large rock.
• View: Beauty isn’t just about how the garden appears. It is more about controlling what you see within the garden. No matter how good your garden looks, if your rubbish bin is in plain sight from where you’re sitting, you simply won’t enjoy your garden. So it is simply a matter of screening off sights that don’t belong — such as the road or the laundry line. Use of lattices and plants are ideal for this purpose. Touch When your garden looks so inviting, of course you want to enter and experience it. A good garden design welcomes you, encourages you to feel it, touch it and stay. You don’t want a garden with a sign that says, “Keep off the grass”. A garden that is inviting to the touch, with cosy seats and a cheerful water feature with lots of greenery radiates positive energy. So design your garden as if it is a part of your home, which it is. It is an outdoor room made for relaxation, for play, for picnics and barbecues, for entertaining or simply for pleasure. Sound People like the sound of a fountain but a leaking faucet can drive one mad. High pitch tends to irritate while extremely low pitch can unnerve. Rhythm can influence our heartbeats to synchronise with it, so a slow steady beat can be hypnotic.
It is impossible to fully control your garden’s aural domain like a studio, but as with sight, good planning can ensure you derive most of the sounds you want and drown out the other noises. Lattices and plants help, to a certain extent, block off noise. Placing a water feature against a solid wall amplifies the effect but if you live in a small house, you don’t want such a loud noise.
Smell and taste The senses of smell and taste are mutually similar in their ability to alter a person’s mood. Can you anticipate the taste when you whiff the aroma of freshly cooked nasi lemak? In your garden, cultivating the sense of smell is more than just the absence of unpleasant odours. Fill your garden with aromatic blooms or fragrant shrubs. At a nursery, choose flowers you are comfortable with, as not all fragrant flowers are equally appreciated.
As for taste, you have to create your own memorable experiences. For me, a barbecue dinner in the garden with family and close friends always feels like the beginning of good times.
When you have a garden that appeases your five senses, there’s not much else left to do to enjoy the blissful sanctuary.