Documents: Special Interest: Horticultural Therapy:

Using Common Sense
by Teresa Watkins
October 15, 2000

Gardens should always take thought. My different theme gardens have been in the works for years now. I try to complete at least one new garden a year. Planning is the key to success. In a few years, my son, Patrick, will be leaving home, (sigh) and I'm planning towards ultimately having no grass to mow, (grin). Patrick thinks this is a marvelous idea. Of course, every summer he wishes that my planning would go a little faster, but I'm working on it. When my dad sees another new garden germinating, it concerns him, too. I know he thinks it's almost un-American not to have a grass lawn. "Why, Teresa, where will the dog go?" I know my wheaten Scottie, Sheila will find a place. She always does.
When selecting a theme, you have a variety of choices. So many that it can boggle the senses. Hey, that's it! We will begin with our eyes, ears. nose, mouth, and hands. Let me give you a few ideas of garden themes using all six of your senses.
Do colors excite you? That can be a start. A red, white and blue garden with pentas, salvias, and dianthus could be grown in time for the Fourth of July. It would create an explosion right in your front yard. How about an all white tropical flower garden that lights up the yard at night when the moon is full? White impatiens, White Nancy lamiums, spathiphyllums and white caladiums glow at night under an oak tree. Are you blue? Then you can have bushy plumbagos surrounded by blue daze and sprinkled with masses of Meadow sage blue salvia. Seeing red? Red dianthus and trailing verbena are spectacular in window boxes that can take our Florida sun and heat. Maybe creating a colorful butterfly garden that lures the winged creatures to visit Mother Nature's living room is your idea of a garden fantasy? Then you should think about growing tall Mexican bluebells, ever blooming dianthus, sweet alyssums, multicolored pink and purple pentas, red jatropha, and yellow cassias for decor. Pastel colored impatiens in the spring, and warm red and gold chrysanthemums in the fall. You can have it if color is the focal point for you. . .
Would you like to sit outside on your patio and enjoy your garden without leaving your chaise lounge? Do you want to stop and smell the flowers after your hectic day? Then an aromatic garden might be of interest. At any time of the day or night you could walk through your garden and catch a scent of heady aromas. Depending on the season and sunlight, it could be honeysuckles, wisteria, roses, orchids, or buddleias. At night, walking slowly through a starlit, stone-covered path, you can happen upon a fragrant moonflower vine covered with large, white saucer-shaped flowers or sweet-scented night-blooming jasmine. Nicotina, and alyssum are annuals that are easy to grow here in Central Florida and have an incredible smell. Selecting flowers to plant in your garden that have romantic perfumes that give EsteƩ Lauder and Calvin Klein a run for their money is a distinctive garden theme.
Tasting the fruits of your labor with an edible garden is a delicious thought. You can take thyme to select chocolate or apple mint, lemon basil, and pungent garlic from an herb garden. Grow lettuce, tomatoes and onions for a salad garden, or have a dessert garden with melons, citrus, strawberries, pineapples and many other types of fruit available year round and seasonally in Florida. Eggplants, okra, sweet corn, and bell peppers could entice you to be a farmer with a vegetable garden. Edible landscaping is a tempting theme that has been used by landscapers ever since the infamous Garden of Eatin'.
Do you have or know any children? A garden filled with plants that arouses their curiosity and allows them to touch the plants at whim is an excellent idea. Picture your child or grandchild touching soft lamb's ears and fuzzy succulents, being tickled with feathery flowers from ornamental grasses or standing next to giant sunflowers that they can reach for. Growing up, my mother would show us how to pinch snapdragons so that the dragon's jaws open and close. Planting and making teepees out of blue sky vines (thunbergias) is an exciting project. Teaching a child about flowers and nature is a wonderful way to spend some quality time with them. But for those of you who don't like children or animals... Cacti and a Southwestern themed garden can definitely make a point!
You can hear your garden whisper to you when you plant a variety of tall grasses that sway in the wind. Different shapes and textured shrubs will add interest with sound. Birds captivated by running water from a goldfish pond, chirp and tweet their little hearts out letting you know how happy they are with their new found home. Waterfalls or little ponds by your patio will create an atmosphere of being far away from the hustle and bustle of the big city. They can drown out the noises of a busy intersection for you. Hanging wind chimes can soothe frazzled nerves after a long day at work. Add to your garden's ambiance by incorporating music and sound into your design.
You might be wondering what I consider the sixth sense used in garden themes? Your mind, the "anima" or soul, as Thomas Hill, author of "The Soul's Code" suggests, is your sixth sense. The possibilities are exciting. Would you like an intellectual or historical theme? Then you can plant an Elizabethan or Shakespearean garden. A Sunday school class could do research for a biblical garden. How about a geographical garden with plants from each of the different states or countries? Quixotic mazes made with podacarpus hedges or scarlet red bean vines can be done with a little imagination. Or maybe you would like to drift into a spiritual atmosphere... A meditation garden with a Zen theme or a small private reading area under a gazebo or arbor is very simple to achieve. Reflection in a garden can be fulfilling. Gardening can satisfy a yearning within us to be at peace. It will insist that you wait patiently for seeds to grow, for roots to take hold, flowers to bloom, and for leaves to return each spring.
Using all your senses in choosing a garden may seem complicated, but it will be worth the effort. Just thinking about it before you start will allow you to develop a plan and know the course of action you will need to take. But most of all, it will give you a feeling of accomplishment when you are finally looking, hearing, smelling, tasting, and feeling the gardener come alive inside you, and that will lead you to contentment and your sixth sense, your Soul.

Teresa Watkins, with the University of Florida, is the Florida Yards & Neighborhoods program coordinator for Orange and Lake counties. She is a Master Gardener, landscape consultant, and garden columnist for Garden Guides and Lifestyle magazines. Her column, "Gardening with Soul" is so titled, because she believes that everything, including animals, plants and trees, that breathes and grows, has a soul. Teresa's experience ranges from working with a major do it yourself garden center and a private nursery, to designing specialty themes such as English cottage, butterfly, xeriscape and tropical gardens. She is a former radio talk show host of an award-winning garden question and answer show, and hosts public TV shows. Teresa conducts University of Florida landscaping workshops for homeowners on how to maintain a "Florida Friendly" yard, attractive, low cost and low maintenance with environmentally sound practices. She is hosting a new gardening show, called "The Gardener's Hotline" on WCEU, TV Channel 15, Daytona Beach. Teresas articles first appeared on

Email: Twatkins@GNV.IFAS.UFL.EDU
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