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YOLO COUNTY NEWS
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Sustainable gardens can tickle all five senses

The Corsican hellebore (Helleborus argutifolius) features brilliant chartreuse flowers. Mia Ingolia/Courtesy photo

By
April 21, 2011 |

Learn more

What: UC Davis Arboretum plant sale

When: 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday, April 30

Where: Arboretum Teaching Nursery, on Garrod Drive across from the Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital

Info: http://arboretum.ucdavis.edu

By Diane Cary

What is the difference between looking at a photo of a beautiful garden and being in the garden itself?

Simple: The real garden engages all your senses, not merely the sense of sight.

The fragrance of flowers, the pleasure of the breeze on your skin, the inviting sounds of trickling water or rustling grasses, the springy feel of grass underfoot — all these add richness and depth to the experience of being in the garden and invite visitors to linger, relax and feel connected to the timeless rhythms of the natural world.

Central Valley gardeners can create a sustainable garden that entices visitors to use all five of their senses — while still conserving water and avoiding chemical fertilizers and pesticides — by choosing appropriate plants for their garden conditions.

The UC Davis Arboretum plant sale on Saturday, April 30, will offer a wide range of plants adapted to local conditions, with a focus on gardening for the senses. The sale will take place from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the Arboretum Teaching Nursery, on Garrod Drive across from the Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital.

Arboretum staff and volunteers will be on hand to provide expert advice, and shoppers can see demonstration planting beds with examples of many great plants in striking combinations. For more information, visit http://arboretum.ucdavis.edu.

Here are some suggestions for ways to introduce more sensory appeal in your home garden, along with some outstanding sensory plants for valley gardens that will be available at the sale :

Touch

* Use plants with varied forms and textures that invite visitors to reach out and touch. Contrast soft and supple plants with spiky succulents, or lacy foliage with broad leaves. Under tall trees you could try the spiky Spanish dagger (Yucca gloriosa “Lone Star”) with its mauve-toned leaves, in a pool of pigsqueak (Bergenia crassifolia) with its big, dark green, cabbage-like leaves.

* Grow plants that spill onto a pathway, so that visitors brush against them as they walk or can easily reach out to let a silky flower stalk slide through their fingers. Pixie Spanish oats (Stipa gigantea “Pixie”) has dense tufts of dark-green leaves with long-stemmed golden heads like giant oats.

* Use plants as walkable groundcovers — not just standard lawn grass, but a variety of tough, low-growing plants can tolerate being walked on. Yarrow (Achillea millefolium) can be used as a lawn substitute, especially the running types like “Cassis” or “Cerise Queen.”

* Add plants that produce interesting seed pods or berries, or dramatic textured bark, to invite touching in all seasons. The native toyon (Heteromeles arbutifolia) is one of the best shrubs to plant to provide colorful winter berries for holiday decorating, as well as food for migrating birds.

Taste

* Plant culinary herbs throughout the garden to encourage your visitors to taste a variety of delicious flavors as they walk by. Betty’s dwarf oregano (Origanum “Betty Rollins”) has fragrant leaves that can flavor a pot of spaghetti sauce. Common sage (Salvia officinalis “Berggarten”) has broad pewter-colored leaves that are attractive even in a light winter frost. Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis) comes in many forms, like low-growing “Prostrata” for the front of the border and tall “Missus Jessop’s Upright” for the background.

* Add edible plants to the ornamental garden. Many new varieties of cabbage, lettuce and other leafy greens come in a range of colors and look great mixed with perennials. Pineapple guava, also called feijoa (Acca sellowiana), is a small tree that produces striking red and white edible flower petals and sweet, aromatic fruit.

* Many flowers, including those of culinary herbs like mint and sage, are edible and can be sampled in the garden, picked and added to salads, or used to garnish any dish.

Sound

* Add the sound of trickling water with a fountain or watercourse to create a relaxing ambience.

* Grow tall clumping grasses and other flexible plants that produce a soothing rustle in the breeze. Gold bar eulalia grass (Miscanthus sinensis “Gold Bar”) forms an eye-catching clump of green and yellow banded leaves, with showy burgundy flower plumes in fall.

* Add plants that produce interesting seed pods or berries, to invite birds to feast in your garden. Oregon grape (Berberis aquifolium) is tough and adaptable, produces lots of blue berries, and rewards the gardener with golden flowers on reddish foliage in spring.

* Plant nectar-producing trees and shrubs to attract birds and insects to your garden, then enjoy their songs and humming wings. Pitcher sage (Salvia spathacea “Las Pilitas”) is a California native with magenta flowers that attract hummingbirds. Hummingbirds also enjoy the nectar of the coral yucca (Hesperaloe parviflora) and perch on its branched flower spikes.

Smell

* Seek out plants not only for the fragrance of their flowers but also for their scented foliage. The native San Diego sage (Salvia clevelandii) is a small shrub with divinely fragrant foliage and attractive “shish-kabob” blue flowers.

* Plant herbs and other fragrant plants next to walkways, so that visitors brush them and release their fragrance as they pass. Try lemon thyme (Thymus citriodorus), a low-growing drought-tolerant herb with a bright citrusy scent. Silvery artemisias like Artemisia “Powys Castle” or the native Artemisia californica release a light, earthy fragrance when touched.

* Grow perfumed vines and climbing roses on arbors to allow more airflow to carry the fragrance. It’s especially delightful to sit under an arbor covered with a fragrant plant in bloom. Try white chocolate vine (Akebia quinata “Alba”), with its delicately-scented flowers, or winter honeysuckle (Lonicera standishii), that brings the sweet scent of spring in January.

* Plant roses throughout your garden rather than grouping them together in one location so that their lovely scents surprise visitors repeatedly.

Sight

* Create visual interest by grouping plants with varied form, height, color and texture. The velvety rose-purple flowers of Buchanan sage (Salvia buchananii) look stunning against the chartreuse flowers of Corsican hellebore (Helleborus argutifolius). Dark blue California lilac (Ceanothus “Concha”) and golden Cape balsam (Bulbine frutescens) make an eye-popping combination in early spring.

* Plant tall grasses that will sway gracefully in the breeze.

* Create a sense of mystery by planning paths that disappear behind tall plantings, to draw visitors further into the garden.

* Take advantage of a “borrowed landscape” — plan your plantings to frame and highlight a view or a beautiful tree in your neighbor’s yard.

* Add some outdoor lighting to illuminate your garden at night.

* Choose plants that attract birds and insects to create a sense of movement in the garden. Island pink yarrow (Achillea millefolium “Island Pink”), a California native, has rose-pink flowers from spring to fall that attract bees and butterflies.

— UC Davis Arboretum

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