Monday, 13 January 2014


We all know the five senses - sight, hearing, taste, smell, touch. But are there more?

In a garden sight will predominate - not just colour but shape, not just shape but movement, shades and shadows, the visual composition of the garden with lines leading to and across things, using focal points for statues, a shrub, a dramatic plant. And contrast is important - variegation, light an dark, green and red, other complimentary colours. Placing one particular colour next to another can heighten its intensity, change how the eye and the brain register the hue, taint, shade.

With hearing we do not just experience plants like grasses, the aspen, leaves in general rustling in a breeze, but intrusive sound from cars, rushing of water, birdsong, the susurration of the wind, a croak of frogs (is this a collective noun?) and call of spring lambs. Sometimes, if you listen carefully, there are stranger noises - the squeak of a mollusc, one's own heart beating, the squelch of a boot in wet ground. Of course we can make our own garden music with chimes and water features. Listening to running water is one of the pleasures of life.

The we come to taste and the fruit and vegetables of the garden, the tang of clean icy water, the subtle flavour of good soil sucked off a finger. The is nothing better than sinking one's teeth into a ripe Victoria plum and letting the sweet juice trickle around the mouth, except, perhaps a strawberry, or, even better, a raspberry. The there is the delight in pulling up a young carrot, brushing off the soil and crunching into its orange flesh, the joy of running ones finger through a pea pod and consuming the contents. For more exotic tastes try biting into a lovage stem, chewing parsley or excavating a pignut and letting the pepperiness fill your mouth.

Taste and smell are inseparable senses. I know, as an ex medic, that the two interplay and loss of one can deeply affect the experience of the other. However a garden is full of scents - not just the heady scents of flowers like sweet peas but the aromas of herbs, their leaves gently crushed in the fingers, the smell of warm compost, dry grass in the sun, even good horse manure. And different collections of plants can have widely various associations. The scent of the herbs and plants of the limestone pavements around south Cumbria is wonderful but completely unlike that of a mountain grassland, a peat bog, duneland and so on.

And so to the last of the official five - touch. I know holly leaves are spiny but the glossy surface between is such a contrast to, say, the featheriness of catmint (nepeta) or lavender. Soil can be gritty or sandy, wet or dry, full of organic matter or just clay and many other - I want to say feelings but that is not right - textures is better. Bark on trees can be smooth like the birch or rough and fissured like oak, papery or abrasive. In ponds and streams we come into contact with sliminess (and with slugs and snails), smoothness and the sensation of water rushing through the hands, the satisfaction of squeezing mud through the fingers. And with water comes cold, warm, hot. I have not included nettle and insect stings etc etc.

The list is endless but there are other senses!

I have just been picking up the windfall sticks off the top banking before I have to stay away as the bulbs are coming through. When I had finished I had another deeper sensation - backache. That is not really touch but something much deeper.
When I am gardening and gradually keel over backwards (Oh! the travesty of old age) it is due to a disruption of the sense of position, of balance.
And then there are the times when a shiver goes down my back. I look around but can see no cause but it is a strange perception.

And where do a feeling of delight, an aura of peace, of happiness come in? The first snowdrops announcing a new year does involve sight but more?

They are common in the garden - inner senses?

So now I bow to thirst and hunger and head for the kitchen to assuage my senses.

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