What you grow in the garden can be the perfect antidote ta stress. Kim Wilde explains how a few well-chosen plants are all you need to revive your senses.
Walking in a garden can do you as much good as any prescription from your doctor. Most of us suffer from the stress and pressures of a hectic and overloaded schedule. Gardens are wonderful places to unwind in, and they provide plenty of stimulation for the senses. When I was promoting my music albums around the world, travelling constantly and inevitably stressed and weary, just a few minutes in the garden would revive me. I'm quite sure that gardening became my therapy - just think of all the therapists' bil1s I must have saved.
A garden in which you can experience a sense of sound and movement feels alive and fu11 of energy, while one that is still seems rather lifeless. Of all the garden plants, it is probably the grasses that respond best to a gust of wind. Bamboos, too, are among the most musical plants. Stipa gigantea is a particularly good choice. It resembles oats on giant (2.2m) sterns, which rise above grey-green leaves. This elegant grass would grace any border. Its sterns glow in sunlight, and last all winter. The leaves and branches of trees can be useful in creating sound. Poplars are especially good at masking the sound of traffic with the rustling of their leaves. Populus trernula (aspen) has slender leaf stalks that allow the leaves to tremble in even the slightest breeze. Always plant popIars with caution - they're fast-growing and their roots will invade foundations and drains if planted near the house.
Try to place scented plants in a sheltered, warm spot, where they will emit their perfume more readily. Arbours and pergolas are perfect hosts for scented climbers, such as the evergreen star jasmine (Trachelospermum jasminoides), which fills the air with a delicious scent from mid to late summer. Clematis armandii 'Apple Blossom' is also evergreen and has clusters of creamy white, vanilla-scented flowers in early spring, Give it plenty of space.
For lovers of unusual plants and chocolate aromas, Akebia quinata is a vigorous, hardy, semi-evergreen climber with drooping purple flower heads in mid to late spring. It's a good choice for asunny or semi-shaded spot. Winter is often the time when our spirits need a good lift and there's an abundance of strong scents to come to the rescue. Top of the list is Christmas box (sarcococca), which, as well as being evergreen, releases a mouthwatering scent from small, cream flowers. The honeysuckles Lonicera x purpus ii and L. fragrantissima have a powerful fragran~e throughout winter. Plant these large shrubs in an out-of-the-way corner as they're of little interest after they've flowered.
The desire to eat home-grown vegetables was the initial reason I started gardening - I wanted my fledgling family to know what it was like to be able to pick raspberries fresh trom the cane. Even if you haven't got room tor a full-scale plot, vegetables and fruit can be cultivated in pots. Herbs, salad leaves, strawberries and many vegetables will thrive happily as long as they're kept weil watered. Use old sinks, troughs, hanging baskets or wooden boxes for a small-scale kitchen garden, making sure they all have drainage holes at the base. Place in a sunny position and keep an adequate supply of fertiliser to hand. Try Balconi Red and Balconi Yellow tomatoes (1.99 per packet; 2.99 tor one packet of each colour) trom Thompson & Morgan (01473 688821), which will bear clusters of delicious fruit on a bushy plant that requires no pinching out of shoots.
For a gorgeous addition to a salad, seed companies also sell edible flower seeds. These include nasturtiums, heartsease (Viola tricolor), borage (Borago officinalis) and pot marigolds. As well as being prolific self-seeders, they all turn salad into an edible work of art and their unique flavours will make a refreshing change.
As well as enhancing our gardens, colour can greatly affect our moods. For example, warm colours such as red, orange and yellow are stimulating. They also make a garden seem smaller than it is because warm colours leap out at you, foreshortening a space.
Cool colours, such as blue, violet and green, produce a tranquil, caltning effect and make a small space seem larger as these colours appear to recede. This is a useful tip to remember when you're choosing plants for a small area.
Growing plants from seed gives you the opportunity to nurture something right through, from tiny seedling to perfect plant. It fills me with immense satisfaction to care for my seedlings and watch them develop. Touching and nurturing plants can have a profound impact on your sense of wellbeing. There are many plants that it's hard to resist touching - especially herbs, which release their aroma with only the slightest encouragement. Silky rose petals, too, can feel so uplifting to stroke.
Including feel-good foliage in the garden is especially important for sight-impaired people. Stachys byzantina has thick, woolly grey leaves and feels - as its common name would suggest - like lambs' ears. Plant it at the front of a border in a well-aralnea, sunny position. Prunus serrula is an ornamental cherry with a glossy mahogany bark which, as well as looking striking throughout the year, is almost impossible to resist running your hand over.
Go for garlic
The great thing about growing garlic is that it can be done straight from the clove. Now is an ideal time to plant garlic as it does all its growing in colder weather. It prefers well-dug soil, fertilised widI sulphate of potasb. Break the bulb into cloves and plant 5cm deep, with the root facing down. The cloves need to be placed about lOcm apart. Green shoots should appear by February.
If you live in a cold area, plant the cloves in a tray with large cells - one per compartment - and cover with compost. After overwintering in a cold frame, plant out in spring.
Garden to visit
Powis Casde, Welshpool, Powys SY21 8RF
(01938 557018). Renowned for its lush, vibrant planting schemes, this is one of the National Trust's - and Britain's - best gardens. Don't miss the lower formal gardens and hillside terraces. ff you're lucky you might catch a glorious sunset, too. Open daily, except Mondays in August (but open bank holidays). Closed on Mondays and Tuesdays during September and October.
Q: Although I love autumn and the rich colours of the trees, I hate sweeping up leaves from the lawn. Do you have any tips for making this easier?
A: Try mowing the leaves from your lawn. Just set the blades to high and shred them. The basket will collect the debris ready for use on a compost heap.
Things to do in September
- Make your own compost from autumn debris
- Harvest fruit and vegetables when ripe
- Clean the greenhouse ready for the winter.
- Wash windows to let maximum light in
- Sow winter lettuce
- Plant spring-flowering bulbs (not tulips)
- Sow new grass seed
- Don't forget to buy spring-flowering bulbs early to get the best quality
What's in bloom
- Dahlia 'Bishop of Llandaff'
A vivid display of velvety fiowers, ideal for borders.
- Chrysanthemum 'Bronze Fairy'
A showy chrysanth which presents an autumnal profusion of golden pompoms.
- Aster amellus 'King George'
Large violet fiower heads with yellow florets. A welcome addition to any garden.
- Viburnum opulus 'Compactum'
Red, maple-like leaves and a show of glossy fruits, after a flourish of white flowers.