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Sensory Gardens

Use relaxing sights, sounds and smells to create a sweet garden retreat.
by Lisa Meyers McClintick
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Hammocks are a traditional outdoor relaxation method. Credit: fotolia.com/EkaterinaPokrovsky photo

Hammocks are a traditional outdoor relaxation method. Credit: fotolia.com/EkaterinaPokrovsky photo

At Nature’s Nest Bed and Breakfast, a historic farm west of Minnesota’s Twin Cities, owner Cathy Rose excels in both bountiful gardening and welcoming guests. She has created sitting areas and places to relax throughout her property, which includes a farmhouse, paths along the Crow River and a more remote rustic cabin for guests to unplug.

When her guests amble outside, many head for the standalone screened-in porch, which features a suspended double bed inside. This feature offers the ultimate getaway indulgence: a chance to lie back, close your eyes and focus on senses one at a time.

Fragrances drift across peonies and irises in the nearby flower gardens. Songbirds chirp and trill from the nearby woods. Chickens occasionally chatter from inside the barn, while soft breezes blow through the screen.

“Whenever you close your eyes, you’re allowing your other senses to awaken. Smells become more potent. Sounds become clearer,” Rose says. “Our guests love the relaxing effect the hanging bed offers.”

You can replicate that kind of sensory garden at your cabin as a place to recharge your energy after a busy day or to relax on the weekend. Here are some cabin landscape ideas to get you started on your own version of backyard therapy.

1. Create a border.
People tend to like walls, hedges and alcoves — an outdoor space that feels cozy, safe and private.
“We like boundaries,” says Marty Wingate, Seattle-based author of Landscaping for Privacy: Innovative Ways to Turn Your Outdoor Space into a Peaceful Retreat. “But it doesn’t have to be your whole property.”

Pick a corner or set up a secluded sitting area, and create a screen. “The easiest way is with a hedge,” says Wingate. She suggests a mix of evergreens (especially for year-round screening), deciduous shrubs, small trees and perennials for blossoms, fruit and fall colors. “It provides interest in all seasons,” she adds.

Among her favorite shrubs is European elderberry, which features variegated leaves, and delicate clusters of aviary-attracting flowers and berries.

2. Include pleasing aromas.
Besides color and size, consider shrubs for their fragrance — something you can enjoy as you close your eyes or stroll through the yard by moonlight. Look for hardy shrub roses or carefree carpet roses that sprawl along a walkway or in front of taller plants. “A lot of roses these days don’t have to be babied,” Wingate observes.

Other fragrant shrubs include heady lilacs, wispy and spicy Russian sage, and jasmine and gardenias in warmer climates. For perennial plants, consider spring hyacinth, peonies, lily of the valley and lilies. Include a few herbs, such as lavender, basil, thyme and mint, to release aromas as you gently brush past.

Use the sounds of water streams to create a  calming atmosphere. Credit: fotolia.com/zigzagmtart photo

Use the sounds of water streams to create a
calming atmosphere. Credit: fotolia.com/zigzagmtart photo

3. Seek soothing sounds.
Adding shrubs, trees and plants to your yard not only provides privacy; it also helps muffle sound, Wingate notes. But it can be especially challenging to block the rumble of motors, whether they’re coming from cars, boats or planes.

“The best thing we can do is to mask the noise,” she adds. “The No. 1 thing is a water feature.”

Garden centers or landscapers can help you choose a self-contained fountain that burbles, build a riffling pond or create a one-of-kind fountain from materials such as copper pipes. The more hard surfaces the water hits, Wingate says, the louder the sounds from the water feature will be.

If a soothing silence surrounds your property, consider adding new notes such as wooden or metal chimes and feeders to encourage songbirds.

4. Relax.
Movement draws your eyes, and can become a visual focal point and the heart of your outdoor space. Have you installed a fountain or feeder that lures wildlife? Do you have an outdoor fire pit to lick away the chill? Is there a strategic spot near an open grassy area where you can sip a drink while watching kids play? Other focal points can be ornamental grasses that sway, colorful sculptures and garden ornaments that spin in the breeze.

The most important part of a sensual sanctuary, though, is a comfortable place to kick back. Skip attractive-yet-uncomfortable yard chairs, and seek cushioned ones with footrests, reclining chaise lounges or an old-fashioned hammock.

Once all is place, take time to wiggle your toes through the grass or to amble along a warm brick patio. Simply inhale the calming fragrances, tune out the to-do lists, and tune in to the cadence of the great outdoors.

“It’s very important that folks are able to get out of the city and be surrounded by nature — even if it is raining,” Rose says. “The sound of rain alone can relax folks.”

Published in Country's Best Cabins
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