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 Plants and Our Senses

Plants give us pleasure and can bring healing through all five of our senses, either physically or more indirectly via memories and moods.  This is directly related to horticulture therapy because by using this knowledge we could make horticulture therapy even more helpful.  Our five senses that plants can awaken are sight, sound, smell, taste and touch.

Sight is a very important part of our senses.  Seeing structure and shape can give people very different feelings.  If the design of the garden is horizontal the feeling may be calming and likewise if vertical it does the opposite.  A curved design gives the impression of gracefulness.  People also vary in their color preferences.  Everyone has different psychological, emotional, and physical responses to color but there are basic principles that can help you to mix and match colors for the effect that you want in your garden. 

Red Stimulating, also a warning color, draws attention
Green Peaceful, subtle, restful
Yellow Color of sunshine, cheering 
Orange Warm and rich
Blue Sedating color, sadness, can be lifted by using complementary color
Pink Soft, restful, warm
White Deeply calming

   Even though you might not think of the sound that a garden can make it really does impact the way that we feel.  From the rustling of leaves and stems in the breeze to the tinkling or rushing of water it can really have a psychologically healing effect.  It can also serve as a gateway from noise pollution, urban and workday stresses. 
Wind soothing sounds can be made by the air blowing through bamboo or grasses giving gentle rustling sounds. 
Water waterfalls and fountains can be a refreshing feature, cooling the air and delighting the ear.
Insects and animals:  plants that attract insects such as butterflies and bees will produce yet another pleasing sound to add to your garden.  Also if adding a water feature the sound of frogs is a possibility.

Smelling the scents that plants give off for pollinators can attract humans also.  Smell is one of the strongest stimulators of the memory.  Garden environments that have well known happy associated scents can be a strong antidote to depression.  Some things to think about when incorporating smells into your garden:
  • provide walls to shelter garden from breezes
  • not overwhelming plant scents need to be planted close pathways

This hand sign to the left means "I LOVE YOU" in sign language.  Certain plants are great to touch with their variety of textures.  Leaves have feel different such as waxy, smooth, or rubbery like the water lily.  There are also some leaves that have tiny white hairs all over them that give them velvety feeling (Pelargonium).  Also the bark on certain trees such as Cork Oak or Paper Birch is very interesting to touch.  Touch is very important to people who would be interested in horticulture therapy because they can't always use all of their other senses to enjoy the garden.  With this in mind plants made to touch need to be needle free and able to withstand being handled.

Taste is obviously one of the most common associations with growing plants.  Herbs and many foods that most of us enjoy come from plants.  The most beneficial part of raising plants that provide food, from a horticulture therapy point of view, is the feeling one gets from being self sufficient.