Hear, taste, smell, touch as well as see the beauty of the greens. By Nandhini Sundar
It is common to find that when a landscape is designed, the key element or overarching factor addressed is the visual aesthetics of the space, irrespective of the kind of flora chosen or the hardscape used. This conceptualisation of a garden where the appeal is focused on the visuals stems from the general opinion that aesthetics pertains to only one sensory aspect.
Contesting this opinion was the presentation made by Agriculturalist and Landscape Architect Prabhakar Rao on Sensory Gardens at the recently concluded Designuru 3.0, an initiative of the Institute of Indian Interior Designers, Bengaluru Chapter. In his talk, hosted by Assocham GEM, Karnataka Chapter at the design festival, he spoke about gardens appealing to all the five senses rather than just the visual appeal.
Cassia fistula pods
According to him, a garden should address the sense of hearing, touch, smell and taste along with sight. “Currently, 90 per cent of the garden content is of visual appeal, 8 per cent caters to the fragrant varieties and fulfils the sense of smell, 1.5 per cent addresses the taste buds and barely 0.5 per cent fulfils the sense of touch. As for the sense of hearing, it is zero”, he pointed out.
He journeyed the audience through a range of native plants, which included herbs and medicinal plants that would prove to be a feast for all the five senses. “A garden should be experiential and for this it needs to address all the five senses. You should be able to hear, taste, smell, touch as well as see the beauty of the greens, where a walk through the landscape proves to be a rejuvenating experience for all the five senses”, he elaborated.
For instance, one would never consider a choice of flora to bring music into a garden. Yet, there are plants that can do just that and together they can offer nature’s orchestra. Thus there could be bamboo that rattles and whistles as the breeze catches it, yet others that would create a popping sound such as the Acacia pods exploding, or have the Cassia fistula sounding like wooden chimes. “The rhythm created by these feeds the sense of hearing”, he pointed out.
Similarly, the sense of touch is a significant sensory experience and the textures of the various plant species offer this varied sensory experience. “The Stachys byzantine or the Lamb’s ear as it is commonly referred is a fantastic ground cover and so soft to touch that it prompts you to interact with it. Likewise, the ‘touch-me-not’ plant responds to touch and initiates interaction.”
Plants catering to the taste buds prove to be an experience of a different kind with some leaving an almost unforgettable experience. “There are a number of medicinal plants and herbs which kindle the taste buds while also proving to be a cure for an ailment”, he stated. While some of the commonly opted edible varieties are Betel leaves, Brahmi plant, and Spearmint, there are also others which can leave a tingling feeling on the tongue long after tasting, making the sense of taste quite unforgettable.
A fragrant garden is a common choice for many, with lilies and varieties of jasmine topping the list. The sense of sight or visual appeal is likewise the most sought after in a garden, though it is not always the native varieties that are chosen to cater to this experience, contends Mr. Rao. “We have such a rich repository of native plants, one simply needs to dip into this and choose. And most of these native plants, besides addressing one of the five senses, also prove to be medicinal plants or herbs that can be used”, he added.
According to Mr. Rao, indigenous plants are also compatible with the local fauna, conserving their species by serving as fodder. He pointed to the dwindling or almost disappearing green parrot population in the city because of the disappearance of the flora that served as their food. “Some of them also serve as insect repellents, while others such as the Adhatoda, which resembles a lion, keep the cattle at bay”, he added.